Negative items on your credit report can stay there up to seven years. That’s a long time to pay for a financial mistake, especially if you’ve since improved your financial habits. Your credit report directly impacts your credit score. This helps creditors to determine if you are a good risk. But negative items could keep you from getting the best interest rates on loans and credit cards. They can even count against you when you’re trying to rent a house or get a job. Sometimes it’s possible to remove negative items from your credit report before the seven years have elapsed.

Subscribe to MyFico

MyFico is a subscription service that provides you with free access to all three credit bureau reporting agencies. Since the pandemic, credit reports are free to access, and there is a great benefit in that. However, MyFico offers additional benefits that you might not get otherwise. When you subscribe to their monthly service, you get all of your scores from all three agencies. You can log in anytime to see how your scores change in reaction to your bill paying habits and your charging habits. With MyFico, you’ll get real insight into the behind-the-scenes of how your credit changes according to new reports of payments that have been made on your various accounts. You’ll also be able to access a calculator that lets you see how your score might go up or down based on how much you can pay off debt over various lengths of time.

Examine Your Credit Report

Once you have access to your credit report, filter the results for negative accounts. These are the ones you want to focus on in order to remove negative items from your credit report. They will be marked in red. Carefully examine every detail of these flagged entries. Any mistake, no matter how small, may be sufficient grounds to have the negative entry taken off of your report. For example, if the name, address or telephone number of a creditor is listed incorrectly, you could use that to try and get that entry removed. Another detail to review is your payment history. Are the dates and amounts correct? Is the account number that’s associated with the negative entry correct? Go through and do this with all of the negative entries on your report and make a list of any mistakes you find.

Submit a Dispute Ticket

Next, take that list of mistakes (if you found any) and, for each separate credit bureau, open up a dispute ticket. You can do this online. They will ask you for information about why you think the negative entry is incorrect. You will also have the chance to upload supporting documents that help to verify the mistake, such as confirmation codes of payments, canceled checks, bank statements, etc. The more supporting documents you have, the better the chance you have of a possible removal. The creditor will have 30 days to respond to the dispute and prove their “side of the story.” If they fail to do so within 30 days, or if they cannot prove that the entry is correct, then the negative entry will be removed and you will have won.

Ask For a Removal

In some cases, a creditor may be willing to remove a negative entry from your credit report in exchange for payment of a past debt. This is commonly called a “pay for delete offer.” Be forewarned that not many creditors will do this. It is worth a shot, though, because you have nothing to lose by asking. First, call the creditor and ask to speak to an account manager. Explain the situation and ask if you can get a “pay for delete deal.” The manager may automatically say no, but you can ask them to escalate the ticket and have it considered by a higher level department. Another option is to write an email to the creditor and ask if a pay for delete is possible. Pay for deletes typically will only work if you are willing to pay in full for the overdue debt on the spot. It also helps if, since the overdue debt occurred, you’ve kept your account in good standing by paying on time for many months or years.

Focus on Negative Collection Debts

Your best chance to have a negative entry removed is if it is listed on your credit report by a collection agency. When this is the case, the collection agency may automatically remove the negative entry as soon as your debt is paid in full. Before you pay the debt, ask the collection agency if they will be removing the negative entry after payment. Many collection agencies will be able to confirm that the negative entry will come off within 30 days after payment is confirmed.

Avoid Adding a Statement

There is an option available for you to have a statement added to your credit report regarding any entry you wish. The credit agencies offer this as a way to let people explain any extenuating circumstances about why that negative item is on the report. However, be aware that if you add a statement, the creditor then also has a right to respond to your statement. So for example, if you make a statement saying that you actually did make a payment on time, the creditor can come back and post proof that your payment was late. In other words you won’t have the last word; your creditor will. In the end, this tactic can just make you look worse in the eyes of any new creditor who might be considering your risk factor.

It’s terrible to see negative items on your credit report from years ago, especially when you’ve been financially responsible for the past five or six years. But if the strategies above don’t work, you’ll just have to wait seven years for it to drop off automatically. In the meantime, just make sure you never miss a payment so you don’t get any more negative entries added to your report.