How long do public records stay on your credit report?

woman sitting at desk looking at laptop and wondering how long public records are availableImage: woman sitting at desk looking at laptop and wondering how long public records are available

In a Nutshell

Public records may indicate you stopped paying your bills, and they can stay on your reports for seven years or more. Whether you declared bankruptcy or are struggling to repay some lingering bills, we can show you ways you can build your credit.
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Public records could stay on your credit for the better part of a decade.

Even if you repay the money you owe, public records with negative information typically remain on your credit reports for seven to 10 years.

Public records with adverse information may even occasionally wind up on your credit reports by mistake. According to a 2012 study by the Federal Trade Commission, one out of five consumers had an error on at least one of their three credit reports that was corrected by a credit reporting agency after it was disputed.

The good news is, in some cases, you may qualify for relief.

Experian®, Equifax® and TransUnion® have begun removing unverifiable public records from about 12 million credit reports.

The three major consumer credit bureaus have adopted stronger public record data standards for consumer credit reports, requiring tax liens and civil judgments to include your name, address and either Social Security number or date of birth.

Millions of old public records don’t contain all of this information, so the credit bureaus are removing them from consumer credit reports.

They’re also removing medical collection accounts that have been or are being paid by insurance.

If you spot an error or an unverifiable public record that doesn’t belong on your credit report, Credit Karma may be able to help you dispute it. And if all else fails, we can show you ways you can rebuild your credit.

What is a public record?

Public records come from government documents. A public record with adverse information could indicate you stopped paying your debt, which could crush your credit.

You may notice a “public record” on your credit reports after the following events:

1. Bankruptcy

You might file for bankruptcy if you need relief from mounting debt.

Chapter 7 bankruptcy doesn’t require you to repay anything, but it could harm your credit reports for 10 years.

If you go through Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you must repay at least some of the money you borrowed. This type of bankruptcy will stay on your credit reports for only seven years, because you made good on part of your debt.

2. Foreclosure

Buying a home may be the American dream, but make sure you can afford it.

Foreclosures can take a toll on your credit. According to Experian, “a foreclosure in your credit report is typically looked at by lenders as very negative. It may not be as bad as a bankruptcy, but not paying your mortgage and losing your house is very close.”

It may be listed on your credit reports for up to seven years.

3. Taxes

Did you neglect or forget to pay Uncle Sam?

An unpaid tax lien may remain on your TransUnion credit report “indefinitely,” while it could remain on your Experian and Equifax reports for 15 years.

A paid tax lien, on the other hand, should be removed from your credit file within seven years of the date it was paid, according to all three credit bureaus.

Cross your fingers. The credit bureaus are removing about half of the tax liens they previously reported, because the government didn’t follow the new, stricter criteria for those tax liens to appear on the relevant consumer credit reports.

4. Lawsuits

Historically, if you lose a lawsuit in court and owe a debt as a result, the civil judgment showed up on your credit reports for the next seven years.

But going forward, credit reports will only include court records indicating you lost a lawsuit and had a civil judgment rendered against you, if those records contain your name, address and either Social Security number or date of birth.

What public records will not show up in my credit reports?

Old public records should eventually fall off your credit reports.

The credit bureaus also no longer report traffic tickets and unpaid gym memberships. So if you spot one on your credit reports, it may be an error that you can dispute.

How do I get rid of negative public records?

Unfortunately, it’s not that easy.

The three major credit bureaus won’t accept certain poorly sourced public records, and they’re proactively removing some tax liens and civil judgments if they can’t verify who’s responsible for repayment, along with some recent medical debts.

But there’s no legal recourse for you to remove other, accurate public records from your credit reports.

If you spot an error on your TransUnion® credit report, Credit Karma’s Direct Dispute™ tool may be able to help you challenge it.

You may also dispute errors on your Experian® and Equifax® credit reports directly through their websites.

Bottom line

The three major consumer credit bureaus are taking steps to eliminate mistakes in your credit reports, but that doesn’t mean a negative public record will be removed from your reports.

It may be a while before those public records fall off your credit reports, so in the meantime, you can focus on rebuilding your credit. Start by making on-time payments and maintaining low balances. If you can, pay your credit card balance in full and on time each month.

About the author: Tim Devaney is a personal finance writer and credit card expert at Credit Karma. He’s a longtime journalist who prides himself on being a good storyteller who can explain complex information in an easily digestible wa… Read more.