The length of time negative information can remain on your credit report is governed by a federal law known as the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Most negative information must be taken off after seven years. Some, such as a bankruptcy, remains for up to 10 years. When it comes to the specifics of derogatory credit information, the law and time limits are more nuanced. Following are eight types of negative information and how you might be able to avoid any damage each might cause.

Key Takeaways

  • The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) governs the length of time that negative information can remain on your credit report.
  • Most negative information stays on your credit report for 7 years; a few items remain for 10 years.
  • You can limit the damage from derogatory information even while it is still on your credit report.
  • Removal of a negative item from your credit report does not mean you no longer owe the debt.

Hard Inquiry: Two Years

A hard inquiry, also known as a hard pull, is not necessarily negative information. However, a request that includes your full credit report does deduct a few points from your credit score. Too many hard inquiries can add up. Fortunately, they only remain on your credit report for two years following the inquiry date.

Limit the damage: Bunch up hard inquiries, such as mortgage and car loan applications, in a two-week period so they count as one inquiry.

Delinquency: Seven Years

Late payments (usually more than 30 days late), missed payments, and collections or accounts that have been turned over to a collection agency can remain on your credit report for seven years from the date of the delinquency.

Limit the damage: Be sure to make payments on time—or catch up. If you are usually up to date, call the creditor and ask that the delinquency not be reported to a credit agency.

Charge-Off: Seven Years

When the creditor writes off your debt following nonpayment, this is known as a charge-off. Charge-offs remain on your credit report for seven years plus 180 days from the date the charge-off was reported to a credit agency.

Limit the damage: Try to pay off all or a negotiated amount of the debt. The ding to your credit won’t be removed, but you likely won’t be sued.

Student Loan Default: Seven Years

Failure to pay back your student loan remains on your credit report for seven years plus 180 days from the date of the first missed payment for private student loans. Federal student loans are removed seven years from the date of default or the date the loan is transferred to the Department of Education.

Limit the damage: If you have federal student loans, take advantage of Department of Education options including loan rehabilitation, consolidation, or repayment. With private loans, contact the lender and request modification.

Foreclosure: Seven Years

Foreclosure is a form of default that involves your lender taking ownership of your home for failure to make timely payments. This stays on your credit report for seven years from the date of the first missed payment.

Limit the damage: Make sure you pay your other bills on time and follow steps to rebuild your credit.

Tax liens and civil judgments should not appear on your credit report.

Lawsuit or Judgment: Seven Years

Both paid and unpaid civil judgments used to remain on your credit report for seven years from the filing date in most cases. By April 2018, however, all three major credit agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, had removed all civil judgments from credit reports.

Limit the damage: Check your credit report to make sure the public records section does not contain information about civil judgments, and if it does appear, ask to have it removed. Also, be sure to protect your assets.

Bankruptcy: Seven to Ten Years

The length of time bankruptcy stays on your credit report depends on the type of bankruptcy, but it generally ranges between 7 and 10 years. Bankruptcy, known as the “credit score killer,” can knock 130 to 150 points off your credit score, according to FICO. A completed Chapter 13 bankruptcy that is discharged or dismissed typically comes off your report seven years after filing. In some rare cases Chapter 13 may remain for 10 years. Chapter 7, Chapter 11, and Chapter 12 bankruptcies go away 10 years after the filing date.

Limit the damage: Don't wait to start rebuilding your credit. Get a secured credit card, pay nonbankrupt accounts as agreed, and apply for new credit only once you can handle the debt.

Tax Lien: Once Indefinitely, Now Zero Years

Paid tax liens, like civil judgments, used to be part of your credit report for seven years. Unpaid liens could remain on your credit report indefinitely in almost every case. As of April 2018, all three major credit agencies removed all tax liens from credit reports due to inaccurate reporting.

Limit the damage: Check your credit report to ensure that it does not contain information about tax liens. If it does, dispute through the credit agency to have it removed.

The Bottom Line

Once the credit reporting time limit has been reached, the negative information should automatically come off your credit report. If it doesn’t, you can dispute it with the credit agency involved, which has 30 days to respond to your request. If the item in question contains errors, you can dispute it and ask that it be removed before the time limit expires.

Keep in mind that the expiration of a credit reporting time limit doesn’t mean you no longer owe the debt. Creditors and collectors can continue to pursue payment if the debt remains unpaid. However, if the debt is outside the statute of limitations for the state where the debt occurred, the creditor or collection agency may not be able to use the courts to force you to pay.