Here's How To Remove Negative Items From Your Credit Report
If you're trying to remove negative items from your credit report, you should first review your free credit reports for inaccurate information and dispute any of the incorrect items.
After that, you have three options:
Let's take a look at all three of these approaches in more detail.
Review your free credit reports
Before you do anything, you need a copy of your credit report from all three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
Under federal law, you're entitled to a free copy once every 12 months, and you can order yours by visiting annualcreditreport.com.
Even a single negative item can do serious damage to your credit score.
And because these items can stay on your credit report for a long time, it's worth trying to get them removed.
How long do negative items stay on your credit reports?
Once you've identified a negative item (or more than one), look for any inaccurate information.
Keep in mind that the entry itself can be accurate—as in, you really were three months late paying your Best Buy card last year—but maybe some part of the entry is wrong.
Look for things like incorrect dates, an inaccurate balance, or a mistake in your account number or the date you opened the account. The idea is to shift the burden of proof to the credit bureaus by making them provide verification that their information is correct.
If you find an error, ask them to verify the entry. If they can't, the law requires them to remove the negative item.
It might seem like a longshot, but this strategy can work if you're persistent.
If a negative item is several years old, the credit bureaus might not be able to provide a source for their information.
Disputing items that aren't errors
So you've ordered your credit report, highlighted negative items, and confirmed that everything is legitimate and correctly reported.
What can you do now?
Fortunately, you still have options: settlement, pay-for-delete, or a goodwill letter.
Let's take a look at each one.
Offering a settlement
If you have an unpaid debt on your credit report, you can try reaching out to the creditor and offering to settle the account.
Just make it clear that you're offering to settle in exchange for the creditor deleting the negative item.
If you ask the credit bureaus to do this, they'll tell you they can't—and that only the creditor can request the deletion of an accurately reported item.
This is correct, and it's why you should deal directly with your creditor to negotiate a settlement.
If you can, offer a lump sum in a single payment—this makes it easier for you, as you don't have to keep track of payments. It's also more appealing for the creditor since they get their money all at once.
You should also start small and not offer the full amount up front.
Many creditors are willing to accept a fraction of the balance, and they'll negotiate with you if it means getting their money rather than charging off an account or selling it to a collection agency.
If your creditor accepts a settlement, don't celebrate just yet!
Make sure you get everything in writing, including the settlement amount and their agreement to delete the negative item from your credit report.
In some cases, a creditor will refuse to delete a negative item.
But they might be willing to mark the account "paid as agreed", which lets prospective creditors know that you took care of your obligation rather than letting it go unpaid.
Another strategy for removing a negative item from your credit report is to send a pay-for-delete letter.
This is similar to negotiating a settlement in exchange for deletion, and there is a lot of overlap in these two strategies.
With a pay-for-delete letter, you explicitly state that you're offering to pay the debt (or a portion of it) in exchange for deletion.
You can ask a creditor to do this, and you can also use this strategy with collection agencies.
If you're working with a collection company, however, be aware that a pay-for-delete will only remove the collection account.
The original debt—along with any late or missed payment information—could still appear on your credit report.
And because the collection agency is likely a different entity than your original creditor, they most likely don't have the authority or ability to delete the original negative item.
Sometimes, simply admitting guilt and asking for leniency can persuade a creditor to remove a negative item—this is known as a "goodwill letter."
Essentially, you admit your mistake and ask for a one-time deletion.
Goodwill letters won't work for everyone, and they're best suited to the occasional slip-up rather than a long list of negative items.
For example, if you're normally on top of your credit card payments but ran late on one because you were on vacation, a goodwill letter could do the trick.
It's important to note that when you write a goodwill letter, you're admitting guilt—there's no ambiguity that you acknowledge the negative item. And because the credit bureaus are legally obligated to report accurate information, they usually won't go along with a goodwill request.
Wait it out
In some cases, you might have to simply wait for a negative item to fall off your credit report on its own.
While it's true that negative items can hang around for a long time, their impact on your credit score lessens as the years pass.
In the meantime, you can take steps to boost your credit score in other ways.
Because your payment history alone accounts for 35 percent of your credit score, you can accomplish a lot just by making sure you pay your bills on time.
Hire a credit repair company to help you
If your credit report is riddled with negative items, you might feel overwhelmed.
Negotiating a settlement or a pay-for-delete for one bad account is pretty manageable, and it can be rewarding to know you did it on your own.
But writing letters and keeping track of phone calls and negotiations for multiple negative items spread across several different creditors is a different story.
Before long, it can start to feel like a full-time job. Unfortunately, many people get frustrated and give up.
If you have a lot of negative items, it might be worth hiring a credit repair company.
Reputable credit repair services (like Lexington Law, for example) know who to contact and what types of letters to send on your behalf.
Plus, you only pay while you use their services.
For a comprehensive look at what credit repair services do and how they work, see our review of the five best credit repair companies.
What doesn't work
There are a lot of things you can do to improve your credit score, but certain missteps could end up making things worse.
If your goal is removing negative items from your credit report, here are three things that won't help:
Don't: Close a credit card with late payments
Instead, work with the credit card company to bring your account current, then try to negotiate a pay-for-delete for some of those late payments.
While the credit card company probably won't remove all of them, they might be willing to delete a few, which can help boost your credit score.
Don't: File for bankruptcy
Bankruptcy will certainly wipe out your debts, but it'll also wipe out your credit score.
You might be tempted to file in an effort to just start all over again, but the consequences will stick around for up to a decade.
A negative item or two might be bringing down your credit score, but bankruptcy can drop it by 200 or more points overnight.
Before you file, make sure it's truly your only option.
Don't: Pay delinquent accounts that are charged off or in collection
While there are times when it's a good idea to pay a delinquent account that's been charged off or sent to collections, doing so won't get the negative item removed from your credit report.
Many people make the mistake of paying off an old debt, only to get frustrated when the negative item still shows up.
This is because creditors and collection companies won't remove a negative item unless you ask.
If you pay your debt without negotiating a pay-for-delete, you lose all your leverage.
Once the creditor or debt collector has their money, they have no incentive to remove a negative item.
Negotiating with creditors and collection agencies can be intimidating at first, but it gets easier with time.
If you stay organized and committed to achieving your goals, you might be surprised how easy it is to get a negative item deleted.
Whether you go the DIY route or work with a credit repair company, watching your credit score rise is definitely worth the time and effort.
About the Author
Mike is a recognized credit expert and founder of Credit Takeoff. His credit advice has been featured in Investopedia, CreditCards.com, Bankrate, Huffpost, The Simple Dollar, Reader's Digest, LendingTree, and Quickbooks. Read more.