how to remove negative items from credit report
Updated March 27, 2020

How to Remove Negative Items From Your Credit Report

Credit Repair

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You’re working hard to improve your credit. But you have two or three – or maybe several – negative entries on your credit report that are making it difficult to make any progress. Is there a way to remove those negative items from your credit report?

In a surprising number of cases, the answer is yes!

Now, note you won’t be able to remove all types of negative credit entries. Unfortunately, legal situations such as a bankruptcy, foreclosure, or judgment are going to remain on your report.

However, other negative items like late payments, collections, and charge-offs may be removable.

Let’s make it clear from the start that – while it’s possible to remove negative items from your credit report – it’s never guaranteed. Still, it could be worth the effort.

Let’s look at the most effective ways to remove negative items from your credit report.

Dispute Credit Errors

  • credit dispute form
    Dispute Credit Errors
    • Basics: You file a dispute with either the credit bureaus or the creditors. By law, they must remove credit errors from your report.
    • Good For: Those with actual errors on their credit reports.
    • Bad For: Those whose negative credit marks are not errors.
    • Cost

      Free.

    • Time Required

      30-60 minutes per creditor. You will need to research your creditor's contact information, and either call or write an email or letter.

    • Success Rate

      High. If the negative mark is indeed an error, federal law requires its removal from your report.

Carefully study your credit report, making a list or highlighting any negative items that appear on it. Are there any you see that look like they may be errors?

If so, you’re entitled to have those entries removed or corrected under federal credit law.

But you won’t be able to have them removed simply by making a phone call. Unfortunately, there’s a definite guilty until proven innocent process that works with credit reporting.

The three credit bureaus – Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax – will report whatever information is provided to them by the creditors. If there are any errors, it will be up to you as a consumer to formally dispute and prove the inaccuracies.

You can file a dispute with either the credit bureaus or the creditors.

It’s often easier to go through the individual creditors. They’ll report the corrected information to each of the three credit bureaus. That will prevent you from having to go through each of the three credit bureaus yourself.

Whether you go through the individual creditor or the credit bureaus, the dispute should be done in writing and not by phone. (Creditor contact information should be available on your credit report.) Written exchanges are absolutely necessary, so you’ll have a written record of the results. If you try to do it by phone, promises can be made and later denied.

Disputing Credit Errors Through Individual Creditors

You may want to start this process by calling the creditor to get the name and phone number of the correct party to contact about disputing errors. This might make the process faster than if you simply send correspondence to the general email or company address.

When you have the email or mailing address, compose a well-written letter explaining why the negative item on your credit report is an error.

Your letter should include the account number of the account in question. You should also include a copy of the section of your credit report where the credit error is reported.

Never send the entire credit report; otherwise, you’ll be sharing information with the creditor it doesn’t need to have!

If you have any documentation supporting your claim, copies should be included with your letter. Most creditors won’t simply take your word for it; documentation will provide proof.

Ask the creditor to remove the negative information from its records and also – very important – to report the updated information to each of the three credit bureaus.

You must also ask for written confirmation of the error from them. Whether it’s a letter or an email, it may be necessary if the creditor fails to report the corrected information to any or all of the three credit bureaus.

If the creditor agrees, wait 30 days and then get another copy of your credit report. You’ll want to make sure the entry from the creditor has been updated.

If it hasn’t, follow up with the creditor by email and gently remind it to make the correction with the credit bureaus.

What if the creditor doesn’t fully cooperate?

Disputing Credit Errors Through the Creditor Bureaus

There are two reasons you’ll want to go this route. Either the creditor has confirmed the negative information reported is an error – but has failed to report it to the credit bureaus – or the creditor is simply being uncooperative.

If so, you can follow the same process with the three credit bureaus. The contact situation is the same here – do it either in writing or by email. The letter will be similar to the one written to the individual creditor. You’ll also need to provide supporting documentation.

If the creditor has confirmed the information is in error but has not reported it to the credit bureaus, its letter will be sufficient evidence to have the negative item corrected by the credit bureaus.

You can contact the credit bureaus at the following websites and phone numbers:

You may even be able to get legitimate negative items removed by contacting the credit bureaus. You can open a dispute about any item and request the credit bureaus investigate. Even if the information is reported correctly, if the creditor is unable to verify the stated delinquency, the credit bureaus are required to delete it.

You can do this only maybe once or twice each year; otherwise, the credit bureaus will consider your disputes to be frivolous. Also, be aware that this technique works best on older delinquencies where the creditor is less likely to have documentation of the negative event.

There are other ways to have legitimate negative credit items removed from your credit report.

Write a Goodwill Letter to the Creditor

  • remove late payment with goodwill letter
    Goodwill Letter
    • Basics: You write a letter to your creditor politely asking it to contact the credit bureaus to remove your late payment from your credit report.
    • Good For: Those with one-off late payments at creditors with whom they have a long positive history.
    • Bad For: Those with multiple late payments at all of their creditors.
    • Cost

      Free, other than the cost of a postage stamp to mail each letter.

    • Time Required

      30-60 minutes per creditor. You will need to research your creditor's contact information, write the letter, and mail it.

    • Success Rate

      Low. You're essentially begging your creditor to voluntarily remove your late payment.

As the name implies, a goodwill letter is an attempt to get a creditor to remove a negative item from your credit report as an act of goodwill.

You’ll need to write a letter in this case as well; however, it will need to use a completely different tone. You won’t be disputing the validity of the negative item. Instead, you’ll simply be asking the creditor to remove the item from your credit report.

This is extremely unlikely to work if you have multiple negative items with the same creditor or similar experiences with other creditors. It will work best in situations with isolated credit issues.

For example, let’s say you had a credit card with the same bank for the last 10 years. But your report shows a 60-day delinquency three years ago. If that’s the only negative item in your history, you may be able to convince that lender to remove it.

It will help if your letter indicates the delinquency was caused by extenuating circumstances, such as a job loss or a medical issue. Providing documentation supporting that circumstance will help your case.

As a different example, let’s say you had a loan account that was charged off three years ago. But shortly after the charge-off, you paid it off in full. You may be able to take a similar approach with that lender, requesting it remove the negative item since it has long been paid.

No Guarantees!

Understand that the creditor is under no obligation to remove the negative item in either situation. But if your general experience with that creditor has been satisfactory, or an obligation has been long paid, the creditor may agree to it. It’s certainly worth a try.

If the lender does agree, ask it to confirm this in writing and to correct the information with the three credit bureaus. If it doesn’t, you may be able to send a letter to the credit bureaus and have it corrected directly.

Offer a Settlement on Charge-offs or Collections

  • offer a settlement
    Offer a Settlement
    • Basics: You offer to pay the past-due balance in exchange for having it removed from your credit report.
    • Good For: Those who can afford to pay an entire past-due balance.
    • Bad For: Those with large past-due balances.
    • Cost

      Your past-due balance (or at least part of it).

    • Time Required

      60-90 minutes per creditor. You'll need to do some negotiation either on the phone or via letter.

    • Success Rate

      Varies. If you can pay the entire past-due balance, you'll have a greater chance of success.

This strategy won’t be effective at removing late payments, but it can work if you have open charge-offs or collections.

You’ll be taking advantage of the fact that the creditor would like to be paid the past due balance. The strategy works most effectively on old accounts since those are the least likely to ever pay up.

Basically, you’ll be contacting the creditor and offering to pay the past due balance in exchange for having it removed from your credit report.

It’s a bold strategy that’s likely to be more effective if you offer to make full payment. The creditor may not be so cooperative if you make only a partial payment.

Before going ahead with the payoff, first, get a written confirmation of your agreement from the creditor that it will remove the negative item from all three credit bureaus in exchange for your payment of the past due obligation.

Primarily, you’ll need to use this letter to remind the creditor to report to the three credit bureaus, more than anything else. Since the creditor is not required to remove negative information from your credit report, even after it’s been paid, you won’t be able to send a letter to the credit bureaus to have them complete the removal.

One other factor you need to be aware of is that past due balances often go through a chain of organizations. What starts out as a charge-off with the original creditor turns into a collection with a collection agency. The first collection agency may even sell the debt to another collection agency.

If this is the case, you’ll need to go to the original creditor with your offer. You’ll then also need to get the creditor to agree to withdraw the information from collection agencies.

Plan B: Pay Off the Collection or Charge-off

If a settlement offer looks unlikely to work, either because the creditor has refused or because the past due balance has already passed through several collection agencies, it may simply be better to pay off the balance.

This doesn’t remove the negative entry from your credit report, but it does convert the obligation from an open account to a paid one. And even if the item stays on your credit report, a paid account is always better for your credit score than an unpaid one.

In any event, the collection or charge-off will fall off your credit report seven years after the initial date of the delinquency. If the charge-off or collection is more than five years old, you may simply want to wait it out. But if it’s newer, paying it off will at least give your credit score a bump up.

Get Help From a Credit Repair Service

  • credit repair service
    Get Help From a Credit Repair Service
    • Basics: You hire a credit report service to remove most of the negative items from your credit report.
    • Good For: Those with more than a few negative items and who don't wish to contact their creditors themselves.
    • Bad For: Those with one or two negative marks.
    • Cost

      Credit repair services charge fees up to $100 per month.

    • Time Required

      Very little, since the credit repair company does all the work.

    • Success Rate

      Fairly high. You'll have professionals working on your case. However, it's likely not all negative items can be removed.

This is the recommended strategy if either of the following applies to your situation:

  1. You don’t feel comfortable contacting or negotiating with creditors or credit bureaus, or
  2. You have more than a few negative items on your credit report that you’d like to have removed.

The second point is usually the best reason for using a credit repair service.

If you have a lot of negative credit, you’ll be dealing with many different creditors. Some are cooperative, some are difficult, and others are downright impossible. A credit repair service will know how to deal with all three types.

In addition, a repair service will be able to get the job done in a lot less time than it would take you doing it one creditor at a time.

Credit repair services charge fees, and you’ll have to determine if paying the cost will justify the benefit of the improved credit. Also, be aware that there are different degrees of success.

Even the best credit repair services won’t be able to remove all negative items from your credit report. Bankruptcy and foreclosure are two examples, but there may also be one or more creditors who simply refuse to cooperate and aren’t legally required to do so.

In addition, be aware that there are wide variations in the competency levels of credit repair services. It’s a poorly regulated industry, and there are plenty of providers with less than positive reputations.

Go with a service recommended by someone you know who has had good results with that company. Never choose the service because of an ad (no matter how convincing it is) or one you simply pulled off the web.

One of the most commonly recommended credit repair agencies is Lexington Law. It’s a law firm that specializes in credit repair. A law firm may cost more, but it has a better chance of success since it can put the power of the law on your side.

Another service you can use is The Credit People. This company will provide you with unlimited disputes and work to raise your credit score on your behalf.

  • Basics: The Credit People obtains your credit report and aggressively challenges negative items with the credit bureaus.
  • Pros: Starting at $79 per month, The Credit People provides a relatively inexpensive credit repair option with a 60-day moneyback guarantee.
  • Cons: The service is one-size-fits-all with no package options, which some customers may prefer.

Final Thoughts

If you’re going to go about removing negative items from your credit report, set realistic goals.

You can certainly have credit errors removed from your report. But if the negative item is legitimate, the outcome will be hit-or-miss. You have no legal right to have legitimate negative marks removed from your credit report.

That said, it could be worth a try, because you may get cooperation from some creditors. And just by removing one or two negative items from your report – or even getting some past due balances paid off – you will improve your credit score.

Clean up what you can and let the passage of time take care of what you can’t.

Kevin Mercadante

Kevin Mercadante is a freelance personal finance blogger and the owner of his own personal finance blog, Out of Your Rut.  A recent transplant to New England, he has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry.

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