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Late payments are derogatory marks on your credit reports that could hurt your credit. If there’s an incorrect late payment on your credit reports, you can file a dispute with the creditor or the corresponding credit bureau to try and get the mark removed.
But if the late payment is correct, you should know you probably won’t be able to get rid of the derogatory mark before its time.
Here’s how to ask a credit bureau to remove inaccurate late-payment marks — and what you can do if they’re not a mistake.
- Review your credit reports
- Look for late payments that are incorrect or old
- Dispute the error
- What if it’s not a mistake?
Regularly reviewing your credit reports from the three major consumer credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — could help you spot something is amiss, such as a mistakenly reported late payment.
A late payment is commonly associated with a credit account. Depending on which credit bureau provides the credit report with the late payment listed, it may be highlighted in some way (say with a different symbol or code than you see for on-time payments). And depending on the credit bureau, your reports may also indicate how late the payment was.
Because your credit reports may not be identical, it’s important to review your reports from all three of the major consumer credit bureaus.
If you see a late payment associated with one of your accounts, check it out carefully. There are a number of possibilities for mistakes. Here are a few.
You paid the bill on time, but it was reported as late anyway
If you see a late payment but you think you paid on time, it could be a mistake. In this case, try to verify that you did, in fact, pay the bill on time. You could do this by reviewing statements from the account you used to pay the bill and the account that’s showing a late payment or by checking if you received a payment confirmation.
The late payment occurred more than seven years ago
Let’s say you’ve missed a payment by 30 days, then 60 days and then 90 days. Even though this one late account can lead to multiple negative marks on your credit reports, the original delinquency is the one that starts the clock. That means the entire sequence should disappear seven years from the first date the payment was late.
If you see a late payment that’s more than seven years old, it could be a mistake, and you may want to dispute it.
If you find an incorrect or old late-payment one of your credit reports, you can file a dispute with the credit bureau that issues the report. You can also dispute the mistake with the creditor that sent the information to the bureau, such as the lender, credit card issuer or collections agency.
If you dispute the incorrect late payment with your creditor, they typically have 30 days to investigate. If the creditor stands by the reported late payment, it won’t remove or update the information. But if it agrees that the information is incorrect, the creditor has to tell the credit bureau to update or remove it. The creditor must also notify all the credit bureaus it sent the information to so that they can update their records.
If you’re disputing directly with a credit bureau, you should file a dispute with each bureau that has a credit report containing incorrect or outdated information. A bureau usually has 30 days after receiving your dispute to investigate your claim.
If you made a late payment and it shows up correctly on your credit reports, your chances of getting it removed are slim.
According to a TransUnion spokesperson, “If late payment information is indeed accurate and properly reported by a lender, then it cannot be removed from a consumer’s report by the credit-reporting agency.”
You may hear about ways to get an accurately reported late payment removed from your credit reports, but you should know that these methods are probably a scam.
Ultimately, you can avoid (accurate) late payments on your credit reports by making sure you pay your bills on time and in full. One tip is to set up automatic payments for your credit accounts.
If you do pay late and a late payment ends up on your credit reports, you may be stuck for seven years until the late payment falls off. But it’s likely that the longer it’s been, the less impact a late payment can have on your credit, especially if you’ve since been working on building your credit with responsible use.
The “goodwill letter”
The first suggestion you may hear is to write a letter to the creditor explaining why you couldn’t make your payment on time. This is often called a goodwill letter. But creditors are required to report accurate information to the credit bureaus, so there’s no guarantee that they’ll update your account.
If you’ve made a late payment and you catch it before it makes it onto your credit reports, try calling your issuer ASAP. You may be able to resolve it with your issuer before it goes any further, especially if it’s the first time you’ve missed a payment.
Another method is called “pay-for-delete.” Pay-for-delete services are commonly offered by debt collectors promising to have a collections account removed from your credit reports, if you pay off the account.
We don’t recommend going this route. Creditors are required to report accurate information, so it’s not likely that they would agree to remove negative account information unless the information is wrong. You can save the money and dispute incorrect information yourself.
Plus a pay-for-delete arrangement with a collections agency might, at best, remove the paid collections account from your reports — not the original account or late payments.
Your payment history can be an important factor in your credit. And late payments can stay on your credit reports for up to seven years.
If you find a late payment in your credit reports that shouldn’t be there, you can file a dispute and ask the corresponding creditor or credit bureau to remove the inaccurate information.