Paying a debt won't immediately erase all traces of it from your credit profile. Instead, the Fair Credit Reporting Act allows credit-reporting agencies to keep and display the information for up to seven years. For negative information, such as an account in collections, the seven-year window can stretch even longer, as the clock doesn't begin ticking until the creditor reports the account as delinquent. In some cases, you can take steps to remove old paid-off debt before seven years have elapsed. In addition, you have certain rights when paid debt doesn't fall off after this time.
Negotiate With Creditors
Once a creditor or a collection agency reports a debt, the reporting agencies -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- cannot remove it. However, a creditor can ask to have paid-off debt removed from your credit profile. Although you can make this request at any time, according to Nolo, the best time to do this is during debt settlement negotiations. You'll most likely need to speak with the original creditor, not a collections agency representative, to remove paid-debt information.
Initiate a Dispute
When the information in your credit report is accurate, only a creditor request or the passage of time can assure its removal. However, information that remains on your report past the seven-year limit is erroneous information. To remove it, write a dispute letter in which you identify the error and the supporting reasons, such as account status details for the creditor that say, "This account is scheduled to continue on record until October 2014 and it's already December." The FCRA requires reporting agencies to delete outdated information within three business days after receiving your dispute.
- Equifax: How Long Do Closed Accounts Stay on My Credit Report?
- Nolo: Getting Debt Collectors to Remove Negative Information From Your Credit Report
- Nolo: How to Correct Errors on Your Credit Report
- Experian: Status Line Describes When Information Will Be Deleted
- Federal Trade Commission: A Summary of Your Rights Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act
- Federal Trade Commission: Sample Letter for Disputing Errors on Your Credit Report