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Have you been anxiously waiting for a negative collection account to fall off your report? Or for a successful dispute to delete incorrect information due to identity theft that is damaging your credit score?
If you have, it can be a huge relief once that account or debt finally disappears off your credit reports. But, is there a chance that the problem account/debt can reappear on your credit report, tanking your credit score once again?
If the negatively reporting account was closed more than 7 years ago, then no, it cannot reappear on your credit file. But if the account or debt was removed because of a dispute, it can magically reappear on your credit report, damaging your credit score all over again.
Can a Deleted Item Be Put Back on Your Credit Report?
In the vast majority of cases, once an account is removed from your credit report(s) it cannot reappear. In fact, if an account was closed more than 7 years ago, it is illegal for it to reappear on your credit report.
Unfortunately, there is one key instance where an account or debt can be readded to your credit report, and that is in the case of a dispute.
When you dispute the information on your credit report, the credit bureau contacts the lender, collection agency, or whoever else furnished the information, for verification. They are initially given 30 days to respond.
If they do not respond within 30 days, then the credit bureau goes ahead and makes changes to your credit report in line with your dispute. But, these changes are not necessarily permanent.
The bank, collection agency, creditor, etc. can come back at any time before the 7 year age limit is up to add the account/debt back to your credit profile. So an account could disappear off your credit report for a few months or a few years, before magically reappearing once more.
What Happens When You Dispute an Item on Your Credit Report
The exact specifics of what will happen when you dispute information that appears on your credit report will depend on who you disputed it with and what information is being disputed.
If you opted to contact the original creditor directly, it is up to them when or if they decide to open an investigation into your dispute.
A reputable debt collector who finds that they reported a credit report error will promptly send updated information to the credit bureau to get the fix made, though it may be several weeks before you see the change reflected on your credit report(s).
If you instead decide to file an official dispute with one or more of the credit bureaus, then you will proceed through their investigation process. While each credit reporting agency handles the details a little differently, the general process is the same.
First, you file a dispute through one of the accepted channels for that credit bureau; this can include phone, email, chat, mail, etc. You’ll also have the option to provide any supporting documentation before you submit the dispute.
Once the dispute is submitted, the credit bureau will open an investigation. They will then contact the creditor, debt collector, or other entity that is holding the disputed collection account or debt and ask for reporting information. The credit bureau will then wait 30 days for a reply.
If the incorrect info was a clerical error on the credit bureau’s part, then this coming step may not even be needed.
If the creditor, collection agency, etc. comes back with corrected information, then your credit report will be updated appropriately and the investigation will be closed.
If the creditor comes back with proof that their reporting is correct, then information on your credit report will remain unchanged and you may have to open a new investigation to dispute it.
If the collection agency, bank, etc. does not respond to the request for information within 30 days, then the credit bureau will go ahead and update your credit report per your dispute.
This could include correcting the disputed information (i.e. amount owed) or deleting the account from your credit (i.e. you report the debt as paid).
Check out these links for more information on how to file a dispute with each of the three major credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.
Why a Deleted Item Might Reappear on Your Credit Report
When information is removed from your credit report as the result of a dispute, the change(s) is not necessarily permanent.
The lender, collection agency, creditor, etc. can always come back at a later date to provide updated information on the collections account/debt. When they do this, the item could be added back to your credit report.
Oftentimes the creditor has already provided the information needed for the account, but it wasn’t received by the credit bureau before the 30 day period. I.E. they snail-mailed the documentation.
Other times, the creditor may have launched an investigation process of their own to verify whether or not the information was correct. This could take them a few weeks or a few months.
Some less than reputable collections agencies may just ignore the dispute, and resubmit your collection account information again in a few months.
Once the credit bureau receives information from the creditor regarding your account/debt, they will review it, and if they find the information adequate, they will re-insert the item on your credit report. If they do this, they are required to notify you within five days.
This notification can take place in the form of snail mail, so you might notice the negative impact to your credit caused by the insertion long before you get the notification if you get it at all (i.e. sent to an old address).
Things You Can Do If Incorrect Information Reappears on Your Credit Report
If you believe the information on the collection account/debt that was readded to your credit report was incorrect, there are a few further steps that you can take to try to resolve the issue.
The first would be a redispute, or rather, a new dispute of the same information. To give your redispute the best chance of success, you’ll want to add as much supporting documentation as you can find to the dispute.
Good documents to include are:
- A letter from the original creditor
- A dispute letter
- Account statements
- Court documents
- Letter from the IRS
- Police report (for identity theft)
Just be careful about how many times you try to redispute the information. Too many failed attempts and the credit bureau can deem your claims as frivolous.
You can also try contacting the original creditor directly if you have not already done so. Ask them for information on your account, or provide them with proof of identity theft.
If you are not having much success with reopening the credit dispute or communicating with the debt collector, the next step would be to file a complaint.
If your issue is with the practices of the lender or debt collector, then you can file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Since these are public and can hurt their reputation, the creditor will be incentivized to respond.
Even if the account information is ultimately correct, but you disagree with how they charged you, filing a BBB complaint can be a good way to receive a “good faith” adjustment.
If the creditor is unresponsive to BBB complaints, you can also try filing a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). You can file a complaint with the CFPB on the credit reporting company if you believe they are incorrectly dismissing your disputes.
The CFPB will directly contact the entity you are reporting and work to get you a resolution quickly. It is unlikely that a company will be able to ignore a CFPB complaint.
If the debt collector is completely unresponsive to all of your attempts to contact them and file a complaint, then your last course of action is to file a lawsuit.
If the bank or collections agency was simply trying to ignore you in the hopes that you would go away, this may be the final straw that convinces them to work with you on a resolution.
Unfortunately, lawsuits aren’t free, so make sure it is worth your while before initiating one.
Protect Your Credit Score
The best way to resolve a credit dispute is to never end up with one in the first place. Be sure to pay your monthly payments on time to keep your payment history positive and your credit utilization within reason. Don’t give the lender a reason to send you to paid collections.
Alas, life happens and sometimes you are forced to deal with a debt collection agency or fight the credit agency over a case of identity theft. If you find yourself in this situation, know your rights under the fair credit reporting act.
You can also sign up for credit monitoring to keep track of changes to your fico score and credit report. And don’t forget to pull a free credit report. You can get one report free every year from each credit bureau.
You don’t have to settle for bad credit. There are a variety of free tools out there to help you improve your credit.
Just be leary of those credit repair services that offer credit fixes in exchange for a hefty chunk of change. Most of the services a credit repair company offers are steps you can take on your own for free.
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Amanda Garland is a personal finance blogger living in Dallas, TX. 10 years ago she was living paycheck to paycheck and knew nothing about how credit works. She learned some hard lessons in her fight for financial stability. Now she has a friendly competition going with her husband to see who can reach a credit score of 850 first. She is also a poet, having obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing.