By LaToya Irby. Credit/Debt Management Expert
Welcome to About.com's Credit/Debt Management site, led by your guide, LaToya Irby. LaToya has been the credit and debt management guide since 2007. Read more
Having a collection on your credit report hurts your credit score. Even though a collection will affect your credit less as it gets older, the entry will remain on your credit report for seven years for future creditors and lenders to see and scrutinize. The best option for dealing with collection accounts is to have them removed from your report.
Dispute If It's Not Your Collection
Even if the debt belongs to you, that doesn't mean the collector is legally able to collect from you. If the debt collector first contacted you within the past 30 days, you can have the debt validated. This process requires the collector to provide proof that you owe the debt. If the collector can’t validate the debt or doesn’t respond to your request, the debt has to be removed from your credit report .
Dispute After Seven Years
According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). past due accounts can only remain on your credit report for seven years from the first date of delinquency. Sneaky collectors often try to re-age a debt, making it look like the account became delinquent later than it actually did. This keeps the debt on your credit report longer.
If the seven year reporting period is up, dispute the debt from your credit report. Any proof you have regarding the first date of delinquency will strengthen your dispute.
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Dispute When Collectors Sell
Collection accounts often change hands every six months or so. Debts are assigned and sold to other collectors, so there’s a strong possibility the collection agency listed on your credit report isn’t the agency that's currently collecting on the debt. When this happens, you
can typically have the older collection removed by disputing it with the credit bureaus .
Pay For Delete
If you can't remove the debt by disputing it, you can negotiate with the collector to have the account removed from your credit report in exchange for payment. Send the collector a letter stating your interest in paying the account. Offer to make payment if the collector agrees to remove the entry from your credit report. Ask that the collector return a signed copy of the letter to you to seal the agreement. (Sample Pay for Delete Letter .)
If you negotiate a pay for delete over the phone, make sure you get the agreement in writing before you make a payment. Don't make payment until you have the agreement in writing.
Send all correspondence via certified mail with return receipt requested. That way, you have proof if there's ever a question about whether the debt collector received your mail.
After you've paid the collection, check your credit report to make sure the entry has been deleted. If not, dispute it and provide the credit bureau with a copy of your agreement with the debt collector and proof of payment.
Ask for a Goodwill Deletion
It may be a long shot, especially with collection agencies, but a goodwill deletion request is another option for having debt collections removed from your credit report. A goodwill letter works with accounts that you've already paid. In the letter, you essentially ask the collector to show some mercy, perhaps because you fell on hard times after a major life change, and remove the collection from your credit report.
When All Else Fails
If you’re not able to get the collection account removed from your credit report, pay it. A paid collection is better than an unpaid one and shows future lenders that you’ve taken care of your financial responsibilities.