Many creditors send your account to a debt collector if you have 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 the account sold, part of their practice is to list the account on your credit report showing that you have an outstanding debt. Because it indicates 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. Report the collections account and ask to have it removed from your credit report. 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 they do not respond to your request—the debt has to be removed from your credit report.
Dispute After 7 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 did. This re-aging 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, wait out the credit reporting time limit, and the account will fall off your credit report.
To be sure, however, consumers can request their own credit report for free every 12 months from the three major reporting agencies. It is worth checking your report to be sure the negative information has been removed. It's also important to note that the information may still be kept on file and can be released under certain circumstances, such as when applying for a job that pays over a certain amount or applying for a credit line or a life insurance policy worth a lot. You should also check with your state Attorney General's office for more information, as state law may offer additional protections.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How many points will my credit score increase when I pay off collections?
Your credit score may or may not improve when you pay off a debt that's in collections. Some newer models of scoring take this into account, but older ones don't. You can monitor your score before and after paying your debt to see if it improves.
How long does it take before a bill goes to collections?
There's no set time period for creditors to send your debt to collections. Once you miss a payment, you're considered delinquent, but most creditors will make several attempts to contact you and work with you to bring your account back into good standing before they send you to collections. The more you can communicate with your creditors, the better your chances are of keeping collections off your credit report.