I received the following question from a Minter regarding disputing information on his credit report.
“John, I have a negative item on two of my credit reports that is scheduled to come off in just under 2 years, December 2015.
I would like it to be off by June 2014 because I’d like to open a few accounts to use for my business.
If I am not successful having the item removed early is it possible that disputing the item could cause it to remain on my credit reports longer than December 2015?”
What the Minter is asking, in layman’s terms, is whether or not disputing information on your credit reports can accidentally cause it to remain on your credit reports longer than allowed by law.
It’s a fair question due to a problem referred to as “re-aging.”
Re-aging is when the “purge from” date associated with a negative credit report entry is inadvertently changed to be more recent, thus causing the item to remain on the credit report longer for a longer period of time.
The Good News
Thankfully, there’s nothing you can do that will cause a negative item to remain on your credit report longer.
You can pay collections, settle defaulted credit card accounts, dispute negative entries, or interact with your credit accounts any other way you can think of and none of them will magically allow a negative credit entry to remain longer.
Both the Fair Credit Reporting Act (hereafter “FCRA”) and the credit industry’s reporting guidelines (called the “Credit Reporting Resource Guide”) are very clear that once an item goes into default (in any form or fashion) that item must be removed no longer than 7 years from that date.
There is no language in the FCRA that allows a credit reporting agency to maintain defaulted credit entries simply because some sort of activity has taken place on that item.
What this all means is consumers can continue to engage with their lenders, collection agencies and/or credit reporting agencies without fear that their actions will somehow backfire and cause their negative credit entries to hang around longer than originally projected.
But…Beware of Reviving Old Debts
There’s one thing you should be aware of, however, when dealing with old collections…and it’s likely where this myth about extending the credit reporting timeframe comes from.
If you default on a debt the lender has a finite period of time to sue you to collect that debt.
After the time expires the debt becomes “time barred” and the lender cannot use the courts to pursue you for payment. I wrote about time barred debts for Mint, here.
In some states a debt becomes time barred in as little as 3 years. In some states a debt becomes time barred after 15 years.
Most states fall between 3 and 15 years as to when a debt becomes time barred. And before we continue…remember, this has nothing to do with credit reporting.
If you have a debt that went into default 2 years ago, and you happen to live in a state where it becomes time barred at 3 years, then you just have 1 year left and you won’t have to worry about a lawsuit filed by your creditor.
But, if you make a payment on that debt, then you may have just reset the clock to 0 and now your creditor can sue you for the next three years. And the bad news doesn’t end there.
According to the Federal Trade Commission:
“In some states, if you pay any amount on a time-barred debt or even promise to pay, the debt is ‘revived.’ This means the clock resets and a new statute of limitations period begins. It also often means the collector can sue you to collect the full amount of the debt, which may include additional interest and fees.”
John Ulzheimer is the Credit Expert at CreditSesame.com, and a credit blogger at SmartCredit.com, Mint.com, and the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. He is an expert on credit reporting, credit scoring and identity theft. Formerly of FICO, Equifax and Credit.com, John is the only recognized credit expert who actually comes from the credit industry. The opinions expressed in his articles are his and not of Mint.com or Intuit. You can follow John on Twitter here.