Lenders look at your credit report to get an idea of how you use credit and manage debt. They want to see how you're using credit today and how you've used it in the past. That's why your credit report might show accounts that have been closed for years. In most cases, you can't remove closed accounts from your report and you might not even want to.
How Long They Remain
How long a closed account remains on your credit report depends on whether the account was closed in "good standing," meaning that the balance was fully paid off. Accounts closed in good standing will stay on the report for up to 10 years. Accounts that were not paid in full when closed can remain on your credit report for up to seven years. Individual late or missed payments on any account can remain on your report for up to seven years from the date the payment was first reported late.
Why They Remain
Closed accounts stay on the report because they provide valuable information on your payment history for potential lenders. Old accounts with negative information can hurt your credit score, while accounts paid on time and closed in good standing can help it.
What You Can and Can't Remove
As the Federal Trade Commission points out, no one can remove "accurate and timely" information from a credit report. However, if the closed account is listed in error, or if it's an old account that should have dropped off, you can dispute it through the credit bureau that generated the report. Alternatively, you can contact the creditor that reported the account and ask that it take action to remove the information.
Disputing Bad Information
The three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — all recommend you initiate disputes online to get the quickest response. You'll be asked to identify the account in question and explain why it should be removed. You will need to supply documentation to support your case, such as account statements or a letter or statement from the creditor stating the account should not be reported as yours. If incorrect information shows up on reports from more than one bureau, you'll have to file disputes at each.
Going Through the Creditor
According to Experian, a creditor can ask credit bureaus to remove incorrect account information from a customer's report. For example, a creditor may intervene with the bureaus on your behalf if it reported the information incorrectly. But don't expect a creditor to go to bat for you just because you want to clear accurate information. Doing so can get the creditor itself in trouble with the bureau, which can refuse to accept more reports from the creditor.