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Ask An Expert: How do I remove negative remarks on my credit report?

A: Dear reader, removing negative information from your credit report could be a good strategy to boost your score and improve your credit history. Negative data can reflect past financial mistakes you’ve made (like paying your credit cards consistently late) or they can be errors made by the credit bureaus or the creditors reporting to the bureaus. These errors might include having other people’s account reported on your file or still having an expired collection item on your report.

Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you have the right to dispute any inaccurate information on your report with the credit bureaus or creditor. Once your dispute is received, the credit bureaus have 30 days to investigate your claim with the creditor or company furnishing the information. If they determine that the information on your report is incorrect, they will remove it immediately and notify the other bureaus.

Disputing errors on your report is easier than ever. You have the option to submit your request online or by mail. Either way, you need to have some documentation ready, including a copy of the credit report containing the error. You can get a free copy of your credit report from each one of the credit bureaus every 12 months through annualcreditreport.com or get it directly from the credit bureaus for a small fee. The fastest and safest option is to submit your dispute online at Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion.

If you prefer to mail your request, you will have to submit your request with a letter (you can use the Federal Trade Commission sample letter as a reference). Contact the bureau you are sending the letter to and get the correct mailing address to mail your letter via certified mail. You also have the option to send a dispute letter directly to the creditor providing the credit bureaus with the incorrect information. Creditors will also have to investigate your claim and if proven correct, they will remove the inaccuracies from your report.

One important thing to keep in mind is that credit bureaus do not remove accurately reported negative information from your report. You may have heard of some strategies to attempt to persuade the creditors to remove this information, such as a goodwill letter or a pay for delete request. With a goodwill letter, you ask for the creditor’s mercy and request to have the information deleted based on your good relationship with the creditor. With a pay for delete request, you negotiate with the creditor and offer to pay your account in full in exchange for having the negative information deleted. Either option offers limited success because most creditors may not want to violate the agreement to report accurate and complete information to bureaus as required under the FCRA. Sometimes, the success of these strategies depends on the person reviewing your letter and the type of information you want to delete. So, if you find yourself in this situation, make sure you get any agreement in writing, especially if you are dealing with a collection agency.

The safest strategy to remove accurate negative information from your report is to patiently wait for it to expire and be permanently removed from it. Most negative information in your report stays for seven years, including collections. Other information, like a bankruptcy, can stay up to 10. On the bright side, as these types of negative information get older, their negative impact on your score decreases.

What doesn’t work is paying companies to remove accurately reported negative information from your report. You can lose your money and you will still have that information on your report. Similarly, you should avoid companies that will charge you a fee to submit disputes to the credit bureaus. Submitting your disputes is free and if you think you need a bit of help, you should contact a certified credit counselor from a NFCC member agency. Credit counselors are there to help you create a strategy to dispute errors and to improve your overall financial situation. Counselor are available in person, by phone and, in some cases, online.

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