How Long Does Bad Credit Last?

How long someone has bad credit depends on how long they continue to create negative credit activity. Almost as soon as you start making credit-improving moves, you may see positive impacts in your score. However, old negative activity can still haunt your report for a while after you start improving your credit situation.

Luckily, you can still have a decent or even excellent score with negative marks on your report. Keep reading to understand how long activity stays on your report and what you can do if you have a poor credit history. 

In This Piece:

How Long Do Things Stay on Your Credit Report?

In general items stay on your report for a range between two and 10 years. But negative activity has less effect on your score as it ages. Positive credit activity, such as managing accounts well and making payments on time, can remain on your report for up to 10 years, but by keeping accounts open, you could stretch this much longer. For example, you could continue to use old credit cards from time to time to keep the account active. 

Different types of negative activity have certain limits according to the Fair Credit Reporting Act. This regulates how long account activity can continue to be reported. Lenders don’t necessarily continue to report activity for the entire limit.

How Long Does the Good Stuff Stay on My Credit Report?

The general life of positive information on your credit report is up to 10 years. After 10 years, a closed account typically ages off your report, taking any positive information with it.

However, if you keep an account open and in good standing, it can provide a potentially positive impact on your credit for as long as it stays open and active on your credit report. For example, if you’ve had the same credit card account for 20 years and have always paid on time, that’s positive information that remains on your report. It also helps increase the age of your credit, which is good for your score.

Pro tip: If you can do so without tempting yourself to run up debt, keep old credit card accounts open and use them from time to time, making sure to pay off the balances immediately. This helps keep those accounts active and reporting to the credit bureaus, which can be beneficial for your score.

How Long Does Negative Information Stay on Your Credit Report?

How long negative information stays on your credit report varies. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) explains the limits on reporting the different kinds of derogatory marks, though some of these limits also vary according to state law. Here’s how long incidents of negative credit history generally remain on consumer reports, as mandated by the FCRA.

Late Payments: Seven Years

Late payments can be reported for as long as seven years from when the delinquency occurred. Let’s say you missed a credit card payment several years ago and you still use that credit card. You also make your payments on time after that past late payment. Once the late payment is seven years old, the delinquency generally can’t be included in the history of that account on your credit report.

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    Pro tip: If you miss a payment by accident, call your issuer to see if it might agree to not report it to the credit bureaus and/or waive the late fee. Many credit card companies will agree to do so if your payment history was stellar up until the misstep.

    Charge-Offs: Seven Years

    Accounts you didn’t pay, like a charged-off credit card or installment loan balance, can stay on your credit report for seven years from the date the debt was charged off. A charge-off is when the creditor officially writes your debt off its books as a loss.

    Keep in mind that a creditor writing off your unpaid debt as a loss doesn’t mean you don’t owe the debt. Your creditor may sell your charged-off debt to a collection agency for pennies on the dollar. The collection agency may then attempt to collect the debt anew.

    Pro tip: Even if a debt has been charged off, consider contacting the original creditor to negotiate a settlement. Since the debt is old and less likely to be paid, the creditor may be willing to accept less than what you owe to consider the matter closed.

    Foreclosures and Short Sales: Seven Years

    foreclosure can remain on your credit reports for seven years from the date the foreclosure was filed. The same goes for a short sale, which could show up on your credit report as a charge-off, a settlement, a deed-in-lieu of foreclosure, or “settled for less than the full amount due.” No matter how it’s reported, a short sale is considered a derogatory event.

    Pro tip: If you can’t pay your mortgage due to financial hardship, contact your lender as soon as possible. You may be eligible for various relief programs, including situational programs, such as COVID mortgage relief, or lender programs, such as restructuring or forbearance.

    Hard Inquiries: Two Years

    There are two kinds of inquiries, and only one—a hard inquiry—hurts your credit score. A soft inquiry, like an account review by your current credit card issuer, won’t harm your credit score.

    Hard inquiries occur when you apply for credit, like a new credit card, and your potential lender is evaluating your application. A hard inquiry will ding your credit score, but it won’t last too long. Hard inquiries only remain on your credit report for two years and only affect your credit score for around 12 months.

    Pro tip: Most credit scoring models group inquiries are for the same type of loan, like a mortgage, for 14-45 days depending on the credit scoring model. This allows borrowers to comparison-shop lenders. If you’re planning to shop auto, student, or mortgage loans, apply to them all within a short period of time to ensure your credit score is only hit once.

    Collection Accounts: Seven and a Half Years

    collection account can remain on your credit report for seven years plus 180 days from the date of the delinquency that immediately preceded collection activity. For example, say you were inconsistent with your cable bill—you missed it in January but caught up in February only to miss it again in March and April. At that point, your cable company sends the bill to a debt collector. That collection account can remain on your credit report for seven years plus 180 days from the date your bill was due in March.

    While evictions don’t show on your credit report, the collections account can if your landlord turns you in for unpaid rent.

    Here’s the part a lot of people don’t like: Whether or not you paid the collection account, it can still stay on your report for that period. Unless it is medical debt collections, those now should fall off when they are paid.  Some credit scoring models don’t factor in collection accounts once they’re paid, but many do.

    Pro tip: Paid collections generally weigh your score down less than unpaid collections. It’s worth considering this when deciding whether to settle an old debt you owe.

    Bankruptcy: Seven or 10 Years

    Bankruptcies show up in the public records section of credit reports. Chapter 7 bankruptcies may be reported for 10 years from the filing date. Discharged Chapter 13 bankruptcies are generally removed after seven years from the filing date.

    Pro tip: While you’re in the process of a bankruptcy, especially a Chapter 13, you can still make a positive impact on your score. Make timely payments and manage credit responsibly to help rebuild your credit following a bankruptcy.

    Do You Still Have to Pay the Debt If It Fell Off Your Credit Report?

    If it’s older than the reporting limit, debt can fall off your credit report even if you haven’t fully paid it. Just because debt isn’t affecting your credit score doesn’t mean you aren’t still obligated to pay it. If the debt is still within the statute of limitations for the state where it was incurred, lenders could still attempt to collect it.

    Depending on the circumstances, this could mean garnishing your wages or attempting to collect payments through other legal measures. Before lenders or collections agencies can take these steps, however, they must win a judgment against you for the debt in court. 

    Does Your Credit Score Improve When Negative Items Fall Off Your Credit Report?

    Your score may improve when negative items age off your report. The change may not be drastic, though. Negative items have less impact as they age, so they might only cause a negligible impact on your score by the time they’re ready to age off your report. Working on improving your credit by adding positive items while you wait for negative ones to fall off your report can help you improve your score faster. 

    Disputing Incorrect Credit Items

    Because negative items can have a lasting impact on your score, it’s important to make sure you dispute any incorrect negative items. If you think a collection account is listed more than once or the date is wrong, you may have a reason to challenge the accuracy of the item and get it removed from your credit report. Credit repair agencies can help you find and dispute activity to clean up your credit report.

    Working on creating a strong, positive credit history is the best way to protect your score or improve your financial situation after bad credit history. Sign up for ExtraCredit to get valuable insight into 28 of your FICO scores and an exclusive discount for credit repair services if you need them.

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