Collection accounts can hurt your credit scores for a long time. If you have collection accounts on your credit reports, you may be wondering, “Can credit repair remove collections from credit reports?” The short answer is, "maybe."
Here we’ll explain several options for getting collections off your credit. But first, you need to understand how collection accounts on credit reports work.
Collection accounts may be reported for seven years plus 180 days from the date you first fell behind with the original collector. Let’s say you missed your credit card payment due January 1, 2015 and the account ended up in collections. The clock starts ticking in January 2015 so that means it can be reported until June 2022.
There are two common myths about collection accounts on credit reports:
Myth #1: My credit scores will improve if I pay off collection accounts. This may or may not be true. It depends on the credit scoring model that is being used. Newer credit scoring models (specifically FICO 9 and VantageScore 3 & 4) do ignore collection accounts where the balance is zero. Older versions of FICO scores, however, still consider collection accounts to be negative whether they are paid or unpaid. And those older credit scoring models are still used! (Especially in the mortgage industry.)
Myth #2: A collection agency must remove a collection account if I pay it off. This is also not true. Collection accounts may be reported for the time period allowed by law (7.5 years in most cases), regardless of whether they are paid or not.
There are some exceptions for certain medical bills but it’s a myth to think that medical collections will not hurt your credit scores.
Medical bills may not be reported on credit reports for 180 days after the date of service, presumably to give time for insurance billing to be resolved. If your medical bill winds up on your credit reports after that time frame and insurance pays it, you can get it removed. In addition, veterans may have certain medical bills that are paid or will be paid by the VA removed from their credit reports.
In addition, newer credit scoring models (FICO 9 and VantageScore 3.0 and 4.0) give less weight to unpaid medical collection accounts.
If a debt collector can’t collect on a debt, it may sell it to another collection agency. When that happens, you can wind up with two collection accounts on your credit reports for the same debt. Dispute the older of the two accounts with the credit reporting agency, letting them know it’s a duplicate account. They should remove the older one.
You should check your credit reports with all three major consumer credit reporting agencies:
They don't share information with each other, and a collection account may appear on one report but not another.
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It's incredibly frustrating to be stuck with negative information from collection accounts on your credit reports. Here are your options:
1. Negotiate. Collectors aren’t obligated to remove an account just because you pay it. But if you have a legitimate dispute about the debt, you may want to push hard for this option. This is known as "pay for deletion" and some collectors are willing to do that as long as they get paid.
Credit reporting agencies have frowned on this in the past but in recent years some major collection agencies have stopped reporting consumers who either settle the debt or get on a payment plan and stick with it. It doesn’t hurt to ask! The time to negotiate is before you pay the debt. And you must get it in writing, or it’s your word against theirs.
2. Dispute the debt. If an item is inaccurate or incomplete you have the right to dispute it. There are two ways you may go here:
Option #1 is to dispute it directly with the credit bureaus. You have the right under the Fair Credit Reporting Act to dispute the account with the credit reporting agency that is reporting it. (If it’s on more than one of your credit reports with Equifax, Experian or Transunion, you’ll need to dispute it with each one.) If the collection agency does not confirm it, it can no longer be reported on your credit reports.
Warning: If you haven’t paid the debt, disputing it could get the debt collector interested in trying to collect the debt again.
Option #2 is to dispute it with the collection agency that is reporting it. You can dispute it with the collection agency in writing or verbally if you believe any information being reported about the account is wrong (for example, you believe the amount of debt is wrong or the dates are wrong). If you do, the collection agency should report it as disputed on your credit reports while they investigate your claim that it is not accurate.
Important: If you dispute the collection account directly with the debt collector (not the credit bureau) and your credit report does not show the account in dispute the next time your credit report is updated, get a free case evaluation with a consumer law attorney right away.The attorney may be able to help you at no charge to you, (debt collectors pay). The attorney may be able to get the account off your credit reports, and you may be entitled to damages.
3. File a lawsuit. If a debt you have disputed is too old to be reported, or if you have legitimately disputed it and the debt collector or credit reporting agency continues to report it, you may have a case for credit damage under the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act. In addition, the collector may have also violated the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act as well as state or federal consumer protection laws. A consumer law attorney can help you determine if you have a case against the collection agency.
4. Hire a credit repair company. There are many valid warnings about credit repair organizations, and there are very good reasons to be cautious. At the same time, they help consumers with credit report problems day in and day out and some have good success with collection accounts on credit reports. You'll find information about getting credit repair at an affordable price here.