Remove Late Payments From Your Credit Reports

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Credit scores predict whether or not you’ll make payments on time, so it's no surprise that late payments can drag down your scores. But you can rebuild your credit. Get back on track by making payments on time, and see if it’s possible to remove late payments from your credit reports.

Accurate, or a Mistake?

Late payments appear in your credit reports when lenders report that you paid late. That can happen in one of two ways:

  1. You actually paid late, and the lender report is valid.
  2. You never paid late, and the lender or credit bureau made a mistake adding the payment to your report.

If the report is accurate, it is difficult and time-consuming to get the payment removed from your reports—it might not be possible at all.

If the late payment is an error, it should be relatively easy to fix the error: File a dispute explaining that your report contains a mistake, and demand that the payment be removed. Use a courier (like FedEx or UPS) or send the letter by USPS with a Return Receipt request. Lenders must correct errors, and failing to do so is a violation of the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Fixing the error may take several weeks, but you may be able to accelerate the process using rapid rescoring. Paying for a faster fix typically only makes sense if you’re in the middle of a home purchase or another significant transaction.

How to Get Late Payments Removed

Just ask: The simplest approach is to just ask your lender to take the late payment off your credit report. That should remove the information at the source so that it won’t come back later. You can request the change in two ways:

  1. Call your lender on the phone and ask to have the payment deleted. The first person you talk with most likely will not be able to help you. Politely ask to escalate the issue and speak with a manager or a department that can approve your request. Once you have them on the line, make your case politely.
  2. Write a letter and ask for a removal. Often known as a goodwill letter, these requests allow you to formally explain why the payment should be removed. Include proof that supports your case—the more, the better.

    If the late payment is accurate, you can always ask lenders to remove the payment from your credit reports. They are not required to do so, but they may be willing to accommodate your request, especially if one or more of the following apply:

    1. You paid late due to a hardship like hospitalization or a natural disaster.
    2. The late payment was not your fault, and you can document the cause (for example, your bank made an error and will provide a letter explaining the problem).
    3. You can offer them something in return, like paying off a loan that you’re behind on.
    4. You usually pay your bills on time and you made a one-time mistake (or you have been paying on time recently).

    Hardship reasons help, and you get even better results if you ask nicely. Remember that you’re asking another human being to help you with something that—technically—isn't required. This is a stressful and important situation for you, which makes it especially challenging, but your odds are always better if you can calmly explain your case and ask for help.

    Negotiate: You might also have success if you offer your lender something that they want. For example, if you’re behind on payments, you might propose paying everything you owe right away (possibly including penalty fees) in exchange for getting late payments removed. Alternatively, you could offer to set up automatic payments to ensure that payments arrive on time in the future. Get any agreements in writing before you send a large payment to your lender.

    Pay it off: Another simple option is to just get caught up (or pay off the debt you owe). However, the late payments in your credit history will remain for seven years, making it harder to get approved for the best loans and insurance rates. After that time, the payments will “fall off” your credit reports—they’ll no longer be shown to others, and they won’t be part of your credit score. If it’s the only option you have, it’s better to have a few late payments (that you eventually caught up with) than charge-offs.

    Get legal help: Some situations are so complicated or unfair that you need professional help. An attorney licensed in your area can review your case and offer guidance on additional options. Federal and state laws might offer relief.

    If You Don’t Succeed

    Try again: Your initial request may not be successful. That’s okay—ask several times and try your luck with a different customer service representative. Ultimately, you might not be able to get those payments removed, but it’s worth a few tries.

    Rebuild your credit: Especially with late payments in your reports, you need to rebuild your credit to raise your scores. The most important thing you can do is to avoid additional late payments—get your payments in on time going forward. Send payments several days early, and sign up for electronic payments (at least for the minimum payment) to prevent problems. Adding new installment loans and making those payments on time might also help, but only borrow if it makes sense to borrow. Don’t just borrow to game the credit system—it costs money, and you need a strategy for it to work.

    Borrowing with poor credit: Your scores will be lower if late payments remain on your credit reports, but that doesn’t mean you can’t borrow money. The key is to avoid predatory lenders (such as payday lenders) who charge high fees and interest rates.

    • FHA loans can provide funding to buy a home, even if you don’t have perfect credit. Your credit reports must be free of late payments for the last 12 months (24 months is better), but a few issues in the distant past should not derail your loan application.
    • Manual underwriting allows you to qualify for loans that lenders wouldn’t otherwise approve. Instead of having the application rejected by a computer (because of your credit history), you can have an actual person review your situation. Additional information, like extenuating circumstances and the fact that you pay rent and utility bills on time, might make a difference and lead to approval.
    • A cosigner can help you get approved for auto loans and student loans. Your cosigner applies for a loan with you and promises to make the payments if you stop paying on time. Lenders evaluate the cosigner’s credit scores and income to determine the cosigner’s ability to repay the loan. That may be enough to help you qualify, but it’s risky for cosigners. For more details, see how cosigning works.

    Why Late Payments Matter

    Your payment history is the most significant factor in your FICO credit score, with a 35 percent weighting. Even if your credit reports are in good shape, one late payment can damage your credit, and those “lates” will stay in your credit reports for up to seven years unless you do something about them.

    Broad impact: Lenders evaluate your credit to approve or decline loan applications, but your credit also shows up in other areas. Strong credit can make it easier to get a job, buy affordable insurance, and rent a home or apartment.

    How many points? The impact of one late payment depends on several factors, including whether or not your lenders ever report late payments to credit bureaus.

    • How late? Payments less than 30 days late are unlikely to appear in your credit report. After that, payments get categorized (30 days, 60 days, 90 days, and so on, until the lender resorts to a charge-off). Paying 90 days late has a more severe impact than paying 31 days late. Paying a few days late might not affect your credit, but you will probably have to pay penalties to your lender, and you risk having your account closed.
    • How often? One or two late payments will undoubtedly damage your credit, but the damage is limited if you avoid making a habit out of it. If you regularly pay late or you have late payments on multiple loans, the impact is greater.
    • How recent? A late payment affects your credit score within a month or so. Scores are designed to predict the future, and fresh information is meaningful for the scoring model. Still, it can be helpful to remove late payments that are several years old because any negative items in your credit will weigh down your scores.