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How long does bad credit last? Honestly, that’s a tricky question to answer. It’s definitely going to last as long as negative items keep getting added to your credit report. And it could last until several negative items influencing your score are removed from your reports.
We’ll get into the nitty-gritty soon, but here’s a quick answer—most negative information will remain on your credit reports for seven years. The one major exception is bankruptcies. Those can stay on your credit reports for ten years depending on the type of bankruptcy you file. (You can get a free credit report snapshot on Credit.com to see which items are dragging down your scores.)
Positive information can stay on indefinitely; however, most closed accounts that were paid as agreed “age off” (as it’s known in the industry) of your credit reports after ten years. As for specific items, like a missed payment or collection account, well, let’s take a deeper dive into how long stuff stays on your credit report.
The short answer? Depending on what it is, items can stay on your report for a few years or for a lifetime. But in general, most items reported to the credit bureaus fall off between two and ten years after they’re first reported.
Don’t worry, there’s some good news: negative items will carry less weight in credit scoring formulas as they get older.
Let’s take the dreaded credit score killer bankruptcy as an example. Most bankruptcies can remain on credit reports for up to ten years (more on this in a bit). However, so long as that person doesn’t have any new negative information hit their credit file, their credit score could improve over time.
In other words (and this extends beyond bankruptcy), if you start instituting healthy credit habits, like making on-time loan payments and keeping low debt levels, your score won’t bear the brunt of a misstep for the entire time an item is on your credit reports.
Pro-tip: Post-bankruptcy, you’ll want to check that all the debts discharged as a result are reported that way on your credit report. And you may want to look into getting a secured credit card as a means to re-establish a good payment history. (Find more on getting a credit card after bankruptcy.)
The general life of positive information on your credit report is up to ten years. After ten 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 an unlimited length of time. 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 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 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.
Pro-tip: If you miss a payment by accident, call your issuer to see if it might keep from reporting 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.
Accounts that 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.
A 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 a 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.
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 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 compare 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.
A 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.
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. 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.
Bankruptcies show up in the public records section of credit reports. Chapter 7 bankruptcies may be reported for ten 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 rebuild your credit following a bankruptcy.
An eviction itself does not appear on a credit report, but items related to it can. If the landlord sent your unpaid rent to a debt collector, it would appear as a collection account and follow those same rules.
All of these time lines assume the information on your credit report is fair and accurate. If you think a collection account is listed more than once or the date is wrong, for example, you may have a reason to challenge the accuracy of the item and get it removed from your credit report. This may help improve your credit score.
If you believe inaccurate information is hurting your credit, consider working with a credit repair agency to dispute the items. Reputable credit repair firms, such as Lexington Law, can help you challenge inaccurate information and help you exercise your rights as a consumer to work with the credit bureaus to request removal of unfair items from your credit report.
Not sure where you even stand when it comes to credit or concerned about negative information not being pulled off in the right time line? 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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