Stains on your credit report can take a serious toll on your life by making it difficult to secure new loans, get good interest rates, or even land an apartment or get a job.
Many people with damaged credit turn to credit repair professionals for help. That isn’t a bad idea, but the costs of professional credit repair can be significant, and the truth is, there’s nothing a credit repair company can do for you that you can’t do for yourself (for free). Read on to learn how to repair your credit on your own.
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Can you remove negative information from your credit report?
Yes, you can sometimes remove negative information from your credit report. It’s relatively easy to do this for information that’s inaccurate, i.e., marks that were added to your report by mistake.
Removing accurate information from your credit report is also possible, but it’s much harder, and there are no guarantees it will work.
How long does negative information normally stay on your credit report?
If you don’t take any steps to remove it, negative information usually stays on your credit report for 7 years, although there are exceptions.
The table below shows how long before different entries and accounts are removed from your credit reports.
Amount of Time Negative Information Can Remain on Your Credit Report
|Negative Item||Credit-Reporting Limit|
|Late payment||7 years|
|Collection account||7 years|
|Chapter 7 bankruptcy||10 years|
|Chapter 10 bankruptcy||7 years|
|Hard inquiry||2 years|
It’s possible to get any of the items listed above removed from your credit report. To do so, you’ll need to get the cooperation of either the credit bureaus that produce your reports or the company that provided the information (known as the “data furnisher”).
As mentioned, you can do this on your own, without hiring outside help. In fact, if you do hire a credit repair company, they’ll follow the exact same process that you’ll use yourself.
We’ll explain the primary methods you can use to remove negative information below.
How to remove negative items before the 7-year limit
If you can’t wait 7 years for derogatory marks to fall off your credit report, then you have three options.
The first method is a reliable way of deleting outright errors from your credit report. If you want to delete legitimate (correct) information, you’ll have to use the second or third method, both of which have a much lower chance of success.
1. File a credit dispute
The most popular way of removing information from your credit reports is to file a credit dispute with the credit bureaus reporting the derogatory items.
If the information turns out to be inaccurate, the credit bureaus are legally obligated to remove it for you.
All you need to do is send a dispute letter to the relevant credit bureaus along with supporting documentation, if you have any.
This documentation could consist of receipts proving that you paid a given debt on time, or personally identifying information that shows the bureaus confused you with someone else (e.g., someone with a similar name or Social Security number, which has been known to happen).
Create your credit dispute letter with the template below:
Where to Send Your Dispute Letter
Below you’ll find the mailing addresses of all three credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax). It’s also a good idea to also send a letter to the original creditor or debt collector that reported the information to the credit bureaus.
|Where to send your dispute letter||Experian|
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
|TransUnion Consumer Solutions
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016-2000
|What you’ll need to send|
|Dispute online||Experian's online dispute form||Equifax’s online dispute form||TransUnion’s online dispute form|
You may have to repeat the process with all three credit bureaus
Unfortunately, if one credit bureau removes information from your credit report, the others don’t necessarily have to. This is because the three credit reporting agencies keep separate records on consumers. Check your credit reports to find out whether you need to go through the same process with the other two credit bureaus.
2. Negotiate pay for delete
If you’re trying to remove a legitimate negative mark, your options are more limited. You’ll need to contact your data furnisher and negotiate with them to remove the item.
If you’re trying to delete information associated with a debt you haven’t yet paid, then you may be able to get your creditor or debt collection agency to remove it in exchange for payment. This method is known as pay for delete.
To negotiate pay for delete, use our free template to write a letter.
Send your letter it to your creditor or debt collector (whoever’s name is showing up on your credit report). Watch for their reply, as they might write back with a counter-offer of some type.
3. Ask for a goodwill deletion
If you’re trying to erase a negative mark on your credit report from a debt you’ve already paid, then you can ask your creditor for a goodwill adjustment. This is a credit-repair approach where you essentially ask your creditor (or a debt collector) to remove negative marks from your credit report as an act of compassion.
It helps if the circumstances leading to the derogatory mark were beyond your control (e.g., loss of income, divorce, or unforeseen medical expenses).
All you need to do is send your creditor a goodwill letter explaining your situation along with any evidence you have to back up your claims.
When should you hire a credit repair company to remove items from your credit report?
If you’ve tried to repair your credit yourself using the methods above and they didn’t work, it’s understandable if you’re considering hiring a credit repair company.
This isn’t a bad idea, exactly, but as we said, credit repair companies can’t do anything that you can’t do on your own. Whatever company you hire, they’ll be limited to the same three options described above—and if they’re a legit company, they’ll be completely open with you about that.
When it makes sense to hire a credit repair specialist
There’s really one circumstance in which it makes sense to hire a credit repair company: when you want to keep trying to delete negative items from your credit report, but you don’t want to spend the time to do it yourself.
For example, if your debt collector rejects your first pay for delete offer, it’s still possible that they’ll agree to your second (or third). Similarly, the credit bureaus might refuse to remove the first item that you dispute, but agree to remove a different one if you keep sending letters. A credit repair company can save you from having to go through round after round of negotiations.
In the end, that’s all that credit repair companies do—save you time and energy. If you decide that’s worth spending your money on, that’s a perfectly valid choice. Just make sure you understand that their success rate won’t necessarily be any higher than your own.
Other ways to repair your credit by yourself
If the methods above didn’t work (or if it wasn’t enough to fully repair your credit), don’t worry. Removing negative items from your credit report isn’t the only way to fix your credit.
Here are other ways you can get your credit back on track:
Build up your positive credit history
Adding positive credit activity to your credit report can be just as effective as erasing bad credit. Even with a very bad credit score, you can try the following approaches to start rebuilding your credit:
Get a secured credit card
Unlike an unsecured credit card, secured cards (e., cards that require a security deposit) are low-risk for credit card companies, so they usually come with little to no credit score requirements. This means you can get one even with a tarnished credit history.
Get a credit-builder loan
Become an authorized user
If someone with a spotless payment history adds you to their credit card account as an authorized user, your credit file could quickly fill up with positive information as their entire account history is added to your credit reports.
Get credit for rent or utilities
You can counteract the negative marks in your credit report by adding your on-time rent and utility payments. All you need to do is sign up for a rent-reporting service or bill-reporting service like Experian Boost.
Add a consumer statement to your credit report
If you can’t get negative information off your credit report but you feel like the marks are unjust or that they don’t reflect your true creditworthiness, you can add a consumer statement to your credit reports explaining your side of the story.
Your consumer statement will be visible to potential lenders, and it may help counter the damage of delinquencies or other derogatory marks. You can add, modify, or remove a consumer statement at any time.
The statement can be specific to a certain account or refer to your entire credit history. You’ll usually have a choice of different pre-written statements to choose from, or you can write your own up to a certain length (100 words for Experian, 100–200 for TransUnion, and 475 characters for Equifax).