Published by Kartik Subramaniam
As you complete your real estate classes with us, you may come across a buyer client who is looking to “fix their credit” before buying a property. You may also represent a seller who is in escrow with a buyer and the buyer’s loan starts to go sideways because of an error on their credit report.
What do you do?
One of the most common questions that consumers ask credit counselors is, "How can I get negative items removed from my credit reports?" The accurate, short answer to that question is this: It's relatively easy to get incorrect information removed from a credit report but can be quite difficult to legally remove items that are reported accurately. In other words, if a debt is yours, and if all the particulars listed on the credit report are correct, they your options for legal removal are limited.
The good news is that there are several ways to potentially eliminate negatives from an official credit report, even when the debt is yours and when it's listed correctly. Here are the strategies that many consumers have used to clean up their credit reports:
Paying to delete negative items: If you contact a creditor and agree to pay the debt in full right away, then they might consider removing it from your report. This technique is especially successful when the amount owed is rather large and the delinquency is not very old. Many creditors are happy to have a large debt paid off quickly and taken off the books. They'll often agree to remove the item from your report if you ask them nicely, in writing and as soon as possible after it has been reported to the bureaus.
Asking for a goodwill removal: After you've paid a debt and the listing is still on your credit report, it's possible to contact the creditor and request that they remove it. It helps to explain that you have otherwise good credit and have been current on any other accounts you have with them. If there were special circumstances that led to the delinquency, be sure to explain the situation to the creditor. This is basically a "hardship" request and doesn't always work, but it's worth a try.
Asking for verification of the debt after several years: Bureaus can keep negative items on a report for up to seven years. After one or two years have passed, you can contact the creditor and ask for the debt to be verified. It's often the case that creditors can't verify older debts that have been paid off and closed out. If they can't verify it, then you can have it legally removed by contacting the credit bureau in writing and disputing the debt. Without verification from the creditor, the bureau will have to remove the listing.
It's important to remember that only the creditor has the power to remove a legitimate listing from your credit report. In fact, they are supposed to leave items on for up to seven years so that other lenders can get an accurate view of your credit-worthiness by reading your report. But, as in the situations noted above, creditors are sometimes willing to remove a negative item if you approach them with the right attitude. Separately, inaccurate information can potentially be removed by invoking the last strategy mentioned.