The following question was submitted to John Roska, an attorney/writer whose weekly newspaper column, "The Law Q&A," runs in the Champaign News Gazette.
How long can things appear on my credit report? Will paying off a debt remove it from my report?
Most information can show up on credit reports for 7 years. Bankruptcies can be reported for 10 years. Some things can be reported forever. And for some purposes, anything can be reported forever.
The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act applies. It governs how credit reporting agencies handle information about consumers. A "credit reporting agency" is "any person which . . . regularly engages . . . in the practice of assembling or evaluating consumer credit information or other information on consumers for the purpose of furnishing consumer reports to third parties."
Generally speaking, the FCRA prohibits reporting "adverse information" that "antedates the report by more than seven years."
For unpaid debts, that 7 years starts running from the date of the last regularly scheduled payment before the debt became delinquent. On lawsuits, it's 7 years from the date they're filed. On judgments, it's 7 years from the date the judgment is entered.
Paying a delinquent debt, or a judgment, doesn't remove it from your credit report. It can stay there for that 7 years from when the delinquency began, or from the date of the judgment.
Bankruptcies have a longer reporting period. They can appear on credit reports for 10 years from when the bankruptcy discharge is entered.
Two things have no time limit: criminal records, and a Perkins student loan. So, records of both arrests and convictions can appear on credit reports forever.
Perkins student loans are originally made directly by the school, but are paid off by the government if the student defaults. Delinquencies on those loans can be reported forever. But, unlike other debts, a Perkins loan should be deleted from your report if you pay it off.
Adverse information about other types of student loans can be reported for seven years. But a variety of things can trigger that seven years, so a short explanation of how to measure the seven years on student loans isn't possible.
These previous time limits are set by what's being reported. But in three situations, the time limits are set by what the information is being used for.
When information is being used to determine eligibility for loans or life insurance policies for at least $150,000, or a job with a salary of at least $75,000 a year, there’s no time limit on any information. Everything can be reported forever.
Credit reporting agencies are not required to report everything forever in those situations, but they can.
You’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report, once a year. By calling the Federal Trade Commission, at 877-322-8228, you can get free copies from any one or all of “Big 3” credit reporting agencies.
Anyone who violates the Fair Credit Reporting Act by reporting inaccurate information (or in other ways) can be liable to you for: any actual damages they cause, a maximum penalty of $1,000, and your attorney fees.