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How Long Do Collections Stay on Your Credit Report?

How Long Do Collections Stay on Your Credit Report
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Updated April 10, 2024

A debt collection on your credit report damages your credit history and credit score. Let’s take a look at what a collection is, how long it might stay there, and what you can do about it.

What are collections?

You just received your latest credit report, and you notice an item marked “collection.” What does it mean?

A collection appears on your credit report when you have defaulted on a debt obligation, causing the lender to sell your debt to a debt collector or collection agency, which then reports it to the three credit bureaus.

If you discovered a collection from looking at your credit report, it’s probably because you missed or ignored a communication from the debt collector, as it is required to notify you in person, by phone, or by written communication before reporting your debt. Upon receiving this report, the credit bureaus will downgrade your credit score, which is something you don’t want.

Here’s how it can happen. Let’s say you miss a credit card payment. The lender will initially allow you a grace period, usually 30 days, during which you can still make the payment. If that doesn’t work, the lender will first report your missed payments to the credit bureaus, which can lower your credit score.

If you still don't make the payment, generally after 120 days, the lender will give up trying to get the money. Instead, it will sell the debt to a collection agency, at which point your debt is said to be in collection. It may appear on your credit report as a “charge off.”

What happens when an account goes into collections?

The original creditor may have given up, but that doesn’t mean you are relieved of the debt. Collection agencies are tenacious. They can and will pursue you for all or a portion of the debt, though they must follow federal collection regulations as stated in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

How long do collections stay on your credit report?

Collections stay on your credit report for seven years, even after you have paid the debt in full, with the period starting from the first day you missed a payment to the original lender or creditor.

Once a negative item appears on your credit report, it cannot be removed, providing it is accurate. If the information is inaccurate, you should dispute it with each credit bureau listed on your delinquent account. You can also file a dispute if the collection agency did not notify the bureaus after you paid off the account.

How collections impact your credit report and credit scores

The purpose of a credit report is to provide future lenders with information about your credit history, both positive and negative. It assesses your overall creditworthiness, which includes your ability to pay your bills on time. In fact, your payment history accounts for 35% of your credit score.

Low credit scores may make it difficult for you to obtain credit with favorable terms and rates in the future, so they are to be avoided as much as possible. Other negative financial events include Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which stays on your report for 10 years (Chapter 13 only stays for seven years), and hard credit inquiries (which are performed when you apply for a loan), which remain for two years.

How to find out if you have accounts in collections

You should know if you have an account in collections because a debt collector will contact you. However, if that has somehow flown under your radar, you should check your credit reports with the top three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

You can obtain a free copy of each report by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. If you are blind or visually impaired, you can call (877) 322-8228 to request a report in Braille, large print, or audio format.

Look under the "collections" or "account information" section of your credit report to see which debts are being reported by debt collectors. You may have separate accounts for each debt that has gone to collections.

You can also find out if you have accounts in collections by signing up with a credit monitoring program, such as those offered by MyFico and Experian.

How do you remove collections from your credit report?

The first step in removing an accurate collection is to pay off the debt. Though that will not remove the notation from your credit report, there are some credit scoring models, such as VantageScore 3.0 and 4.0, that will ignore paid-off collection accounts.

Once you have repaid the debt, you should write a goodwill letter requesting that the collection item be deleted from your credit report. Your former creditors may agree to remove it if you explain your situation and give evidence of your creditworthiness.

Factual errors can occasionally appear on credit reports, and while some are less serious, a significant error may be detrimental to your score. As noted above, you should file a dispute fo inaccuracy.

To avoid a collection, you should always make your minimum payments on time. It also helps to pay your debt off early if you can, as you will save money on interest payments.

When will credit bureaus remove medical collections?

Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion have all announced that consumer credit reports will no longer contain medical debts that were paid after they had been sent to collections. In addition, the period before unpaid medical debt can appear on a credit report was extended from six months to a year.

These changes took effect July 1, 2022, easing the burden on the 43 million people who, as of 2021, had unpaid healthcare bills on their credit reports. It is a significant change because medical collections used to remain on your credit reports for seven years, even if you had paid them off.

Additional relief was announced in April 2023, when unpaid debts of under $500 were also removed from credit reports on the grounds that medical debt is not taken on voluntarily.

TIME Stamp: Act promptly to minimize the impact of collections on your credit report

No one wants to have their debts go into collection, but if it happens, act promptly. There are ways to minimize the negative repercussions. Still, a debt collection can stay on your credit report for seven years, even after you have paid it off, and this will reduce your credit score.

The best thing is not to let it happen at all. Make all your minimum payments on time, and try to pay off your debt early if possible. Remember, payment history accounts for 35% of your credit score, so don’t jeopardize it.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

Can you get collections removed from a credit report?

It’s hard to remove collection items from a credit report, though you can pay off the debt and request a goodwill deletion from your creditor. Generally, though, the collection notice will remain on your credit report for seven years, even after you’ve paid it off. Fortunately, some credit-scoring models will ignore the notation if the debt has been settled.

Is it worth it to pay off a collection?

Yes. Paying off a collection may not always improve your credit score, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Your credit report will note that the debt is paid, increasing your chances of improving your score.

Also, if you don’t pay your debt, the debt collector could sue you in court. This will cause additional stress, cost you money (that you probably don’t have) in legal fees, and spiral your debt cycle further out of control.

Should I pay off a three-year-old collection?

You should pay off any collection item rather than wait out the seven-year period that the collection appears on your credit report. Doing so will improve your payment history and likely boost your credit score, even if you can’t remove the collection notation from your report. You will also be looked upon more favorably if you try to get a new loan.

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