Remove Debt Collections From Your Credit Report

Image shows a woman looking over papers and working on a calculator, taking notes as she goes. Text reads:

Image by Daniel Fishel © The Balance 2020

Many creditors send your account to a debt collector if you've left it unpaid for several months. The debt collector will then have the job of pursuing you for payment by calling you and sending letters, sometimes even making an offer to settle on the debt.

Once the debt collector has been assigned or sold the account, part of their practice is to list the account on your credit report showing that you have an outstanding debt. Because it indicates a severe delinquency, having a debt collection on your credit report hurts your credit score. Even though a collection will affect your credit less as it gets older, the entry will remain on your credit report for seven years for future creditors and lenders to see and scrutinize. The best option for dealing with collection accounts is to have them removed from your report.

Dispute if It's Not Your Collection

If it's not your debt, you're not required to pay it and collectors aren't allowed to list it on your credit report. Dispute the error with the credit bureau reporting the collections account and have them remove the debt from your credit report for good. Provide copies of any evidence you have proving the debt doesn't belong to you.

Even if the debt belongs to you, that doesn't mean the collector is legally able to collect from you. If the debt collector first contacted you within the past 30 days, you can request debt validation. This process requires the collector to provide proof that you owe the debt. If the collector can’t validate the debt or doesn’t respond to your request, the debt has to be removed from your credit report.

Dispute After Seven Years

According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), past due accounts can only remain on your credit report for seven years from the first date of delinquency. Sneaky collectors often try to re-age a debt, making it look like the account became delinquent later than it actually did. This keeps the debt on your credit report longer.

If the seven-year reporting period is up (starting from when you first went delinquent with the original debt), dispute the debt from your credit report. Any proof you have regarding the first date of delinquency will strengthen your dispute.

Dispute When Collectors Sell

Collection accounts often change hands. Debts are assigned and sold to other collectors, so there’s a strong possibility the collection agency listed on your credit report isn’t the agency that's currently collecting on the debt. When this happens, you can have the older collection removed by disputing it with the credit bureaus. If the debt collector fails to respond to the dispute, the credit bureau should remove the account since it has not been verified.

Ask for a Goodwill Deletion

It may be a long shot, especially with collection agencies, but a goodwill deletion request is another option for having debt collections removed from your credit report. A goodwill letter works with accounts that you've already paid. In the letter, you essentially ask the collector to show some mercy, perhaps because you fell on hard times after a major life change, and remove the collection from your credit report.

When All Else Fails

If you’re not able to get the collection account removed from your credit report, pay it anyway. A paid collection is better than an unpaid one and shows future lenders that you’ve taken care of your financial responsibilities. Once you've paid the collection, just wait out the credit reporting time limit and the account will fall off your credit report.

Article Sources

  1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "My Debt Is Several Years Old. Can Debt Collectors Still Collect?" Accessed Dec. 18, 2019.

  2. Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information. "Disputing Errors on Credit Reports." Accessed Dec. 18, 2019.

  3. "15 U.S. Code § 1692g. Validation of Debts." Accessed Dec. 18, 2019.

  4. Federal Trade Commission. "A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act." Accessed Dec. 18, 2019.

  5. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Fair Debt Collection Practices Act CFPB Annual Report 2019," Page 10. Accessed Dec. 18 2019.

  6. Bank of America. "Get Help With Bad Credit and Financial Hardships." Accessed Dec. 18, 2019.