I received the following question from a Minter regarding the inclusion of public record information on consumer credit reports.
“John, I pulled my credit reports from annualcreditreport.com and I noticed an empty section titled “Public Records.” What exactly goes into that section?”
First off, I’d like to commend you for leveraging your rights and claiming your free credit reports. So few people actually do that and it troubles me like you have no idea. Now on to your question.
The credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) commonly collect certain financial related public records and place them on consumers’ credit reports.
There are many public records but only three types find their way onto credit reports.
A bankruptcy is legal protection from your creditors. Consumers and business can use bankruptcy as a way to eliminate debts that they owe.
There are two primary types of bankruptcies that consumers can file; the Chapter 7 and the Chapter 13 bankruptcy.
A Chapter 7 bankruptcy does away with almost all of your debts by “discharging” them, which means you no longer owe them and the creditors are no longer allowed to attempt to collect them.
But, not everyone can file a chapter 7 bankruptcy. You have to have a very low income in order to qualify.
There are also several types of debt that cannot be eliminated with a chapter 7. Those include student loans, child support, alimony, and tax obligations. Credit card debts, medical debts, auto loans and mortgages can be eliminated with a chapter 7.
But, you won’t be able to keep the car or the home. The property will have to be returned to the creditor so they can liquidate it and apply it against the funds you owed them.
A Chapter 13 bankruptcy, often called a Wage Earner Plan, is the options for consumer who make enough money to pay back some of what you owe your creditors.
With a chapter 13 you make payments to a trustee who then distributes the money to your creditors.
It’s not a “dollar for dollar” repayment plan, meaning your creditors are not going to get back everything you owe them.
After 3 to 5 years of making payments the chapter 13 becomes discharged and you stop making payments. You are not liable for any deficiency balances still due on your debts.
Both types of consumer bankruptcies can remain on credit reports for up to 10 years.
A tax lien is assessed against either your money or property as a penalty for not paying your state or Federal income taxes.
A lien is filed by the taxing authority and it becomes a public record. If you pay or settle your tax lien then it becomes “released.”
If you pay your Federal tax lien in full you can ask the IRS to “withdraw” the lien. These are important designations for credit reporting.
Unpaid tax liens can remain on credit reports indefinitely. Tax liens that have been paid and released remain on credit reports for 7 years from the release date.
And, withdrawn tax liens are removed from credit reports immediately or as soon as the credit reporting agency becomes aware that the lien has been withdrawn.
A judgment is the final ruling of a court after hearing evidence. Basically it means that you lost in court and the adverse party now has a judgment against you.
Judgments are not “filed” against you by another party, like some people believe. They are filed against you by a court after you: A) lost a trial or B) never responded to a lawsuit.
A judgment gives the adverse party to right to collect some amount of money from you. That amount can be a monetary award, lawyers fees, or property.
A judgment can remain on a credit reports for up to seven years from the date it was filed.
And, if it’s re-filed again before the initial seven years expires it can be picked back up by the credit bureaus and reported for another seven years.
I’ve talked to attorneys who acknowledge re-filing judgments for that very purpose.
As you’ve no doubt figured out, there are no good public records as it pertains to credit reporting. They’re all bad.
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.