Credit reports sometimes contain errors serious enough to affect your credit score. One such error might be the inclusion of outdated debts. Fortunately, there's a fairly simple way to remove old accounts from your credit report once the reporting time limit is up.
Time Limits for Negative Information
By law, credit bureaus are only allowed to list negative items for a certain amount of time. For most negative information, the time limit is seven years or seven years plus 180 days for a charge-off. Bankruptcy, however, can stay on your credit report for up to 10 years.
An account closed in good standing may remain on your credit report much longer than seven years.
Normally, you don’t have to do anything to remove old debts from your credit report after the time limit has run out. The credit bureaus will automatically delete the negative items from your credit report once they're scheduled to be deleted. However, if old accounts are still on your credit report, you can use a dispute process to have them removed.
Note that the credit reporting time limit applies to negative items. There's no law requiring credit bureaus to remove old accounts that do not contain negative information. Instead, the credit reporting time for these is based on credit bureau reporting guidelines.
Sending a Dispute Letter
The credit report dispute process is fairly simple. Write a letter to the credit bureau letting them know you’re disputing the information because it is outdated. Send your letter via certified mail with return receipt requested so you’ll have proof of the date the letter was sent and a signature from the person who received it.
Include copies of any proof of the last date of delinquency to help support your dispute.
If the credit bureau doesn’t respond within 30 days, it is in violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. The certified mail receipt will help if you decide to involve the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or file a lawsuit against the credit bureau.
As long as the dates on your credit report show that the old account already should have been removed, your dispute should go smoothly. However, if your credit report is showing a delinquency date that’s within the credit reporting time limit, you’ll have to send proof that the delinquency date is inaccurate. An account could have an inaccurate date after it’s sent to a collection agency, who often give debts a new date when reporting to the credit bureau. This is illegal, and you’re well within your right to have the account removed as long as the original date of delinquency was more than seven years ago.
Once you dispute, the credit bureau is required to do an investigation with the business that reported the account and update your credit report if the business agrees that your dispute is accurate. However, if the credit bureau doesn't fix the error you disputed, you'll have to take additional steps to clear up your credit report.
When to Dispute With the Creditor
If the credit bureau has done its investigation and has verified with the creditor that the account was within the credit reporting time limit, you should now dispute with the lender that listed the negative information. Your dispute letter will look very much the same. State that your credit report shows an inaccurate delinquency date for the account. Give the true date of delinquency if you have it. You may be able to get the delinquency date from an old billing statement, past due notice, or previous credit report if you saved any of these.
Just like credit bureaus, the business is required to investigate and respond to your dispute within 30 days and have the credit bureau remove the account from your credit report.
Don't Confuse the Statute of Limitations
Make sure you’re not confusing the credit reporting time limit with the statute of limitations on debt. It’s a common mistake because both have to do with how long companies can take action on delinquent accounts. The credit reporting time limit is defined by the Fair Credit Reporting Act and specifies how long accounts can stay on your credit report. The credit reporting time limits are pretty much the same for every type of debt (except bankruptcy) regardless of your state of residence.
The statute of limitations on debt, on the other hand, has nothing to do with the credit reporting time limit. Instead, it defines how long a creditor can bring legal action against you for a debt. The statute of limitations varies by state and by type of debt. It doesn’t result in an automatic dismissal of your debt. Instead, you have to prove the statute of limitations has passed if you want any lawsuits filed against you to be dismissed. Debts can still appear on your credit report even if the statute of limitations has passed.