A judgment is a court order granting certain rights to the winner of a lawsuit. A judge might issue a judgment against you if a creditor or debt collection agency sues you for failing to repay a debt (e.g., a loan or credit card bill).
In the past, judgments counted as black marks on credit reports. Now, however, thanks to a 2015 settlement, judgments are no longer included on consumer credit reports at all. 1
Despite this, mistakes happen, and it’s still possible for judgments to erroneously appear on your report. If this happens, you need to know what to do to get them wiped from your report once and for all.
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How can you remove a judgment from your credit report?
As mentioned, judgments aren’t supposed to appear on credit reports anymore. If your credit report has a judgment, it means the credit bureaus either:
- Missed removing an old judgment
- Accidentally reported a new judgment
In either case, removing the judgment should be as simple as filing a dispute with the credit bureaus. Alternatively, you can appeal the judgment with the court, or simply wait for it to fall off your credit report naturally.
We’ll describe all 3 methods in detail below.
1. Dispute the judgment
Disputing a judgment works just like disputing any other item on your credit report. You’ll need to send a credit dispute letter to each credit bureau that’s including the judgment on your credit report.
Use the credit dispute letter template below to draft your letter:
If you mail your letter, send it by certified mail. You can also file your dispute online; just remember to document any confirmation numbers you receive so that you can follow up later.
Refer to the credit bureau’s contact information in the table below to figure out where to send your judgment dispute letter.
Where to Send Your Judgment Dispute Letter
|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
|Dispute online||Experian's online dispute form||Equifax’s online dispute form||TransUnion’s online dispute form|
2. File an appeal with the court
If you think the lender or debt collector that sued you didn’t follow the proper legal steps or they sued you over a debt that was past its statute of limitations (the amount of time that someone can take you to court over unpaid debt), then you can file an appeal with the court for a vacated judgment.
If you choose this method, it’s a good idea to talk to an attorney who specializes in consumer debt. They’ll tell you whether they think you have a realistic chance of succeeding and help you proceed.
Theoretically, having the judgment vacated should cause it to drop off your credit report (in addition to absolving you of any responsibility to pay it). However, since the judgment is on your credit report by mistake in the first place (meaning the bureaus aren’t aware of it), that might not happen the way it should.
If you’re able to get the judgment vacated, wait a few weeks and then request free copies of your credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. Check these to verify that the judgment was actually removed. If it wasn’t, then you’ll still need to file a credit dispute, as described in the step above.
3. Wait for the judgment to fall off your credit report
If you don’t want to go through the hassle of disputing your judgment, you can simply wait for it to fall off your credit report.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, judgments used to be able to stay on your credit report for up to 7 years or until the statute of limitations on the debt was up (whichever period was longer). This is probably still how long you’ll need to wait for the judgment to disappear on its own. 3
This is obviously the method that takes the least work, and it can be comforting to know that even if you do nothing, the judgment will be removed from your report eventually.
However, in the meantime, having a judgment on your credit report can hurt your chances of getting access to new credit, so it’s generally worth the effort to file a dispute and get it removed immediately.
How do court judgments affect your credit?
If a judgment appears on your credit report by mistake, it might still cause a drop in your score in some credit scoring models. This isn’t something you need to worry about because you can immediately dispute the judgment and get it removed.
However, judgments are public records. Even if they’re not on your credit report, lenders can still see them if they run a full background check on you instead of just checking your credit (which many lenders do). This means that even if a judgment won’t impact your actual credit score, it can affect your finances and loan options in other ways.
How judgments affect your loan options
Many lenders will perform an in-depth evaluation of your finances and public records before giving you a loan, especially mortgage lenders.
To qualify for certain mortgages, you may need to provide a letter of explanation detailing the circumstances that led to the judgment. You might also be required to pay it off before you can be considered. 4 5
Ultimately, how much a judgment will affect your borrowing power and for how long depends on the status of the judgment.
Judgments can have one of four statuses:
- Vacated: A vacated judgment is one that’s been deemed invalid or void. It won’t hurt your applications the way a valid judgment will, so if you can, you should get your judgment vacated by filing an appeal.
- Satisfied: This is a paid (valid) judgment. Although it’s worse than a vacated judgment, a satisfied judgment looks a lot better to lenders than an unpaid one.
- Unsatisfied: This is an unpaid judgment. Lenders may be reluctant to give you credit if you have one of these because it means you haven’t fulfilled your past debt obligations.
- Renewed: These are unpaid judgments that your creditor or debt collector has reinstated before the end of the statute of limitations period. These judgments can stay on your public record for longer than other types.
It’s generally best to resolve judgments as quickly as possible—either by making payments toward the debt or fighting to have the judgment vacated.
Confronting your judgment head-on will show creditors that you can take responsibility and handle your commitments, which in turn will make them more likely to lend money to you.