How long does a collection stay on your credit report?

Negative marks can stay on your report for seven years or longer

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A credit score is just a three-digit number, but it comes with significant impact. It helps determine if you qualify for a mortgage or a credit card or if you can rent an apartment. A clean credit report or high credit score can also assist you in securing a lower interest rate and better loan terms.

Even if you do everything you can to maintain a clean credit report, financial hardships happen and you might miss a payment. If your missed payment ends up going to collections, this can negatively affect your credit score, possibly making it more difficult to borrow in the future.

However, if you find yourself with a collection account on your credit report, it’s helpful to understand what exactly it is and if there are actions you can take.

Key insights

  • When a debt goes to collections, this is known as a “charge-off.”
  • A charge-off will typically stay on your credit report for seven years, even if you pay your debt.
  • Medical collections with a balance below $500 can no longer appear on consumer credit reports.

What are collections?

When an outstanding amount of debt is owed and goes beyond the allowed repayment time (typically 120 days), the creditor may send it to collections. A collection agency can then call, send letters and make significant attempts to get you to repay the amount you owe your lenders or creditors.

As Brian Haney, the founder and CEO of The Haney Company, explained, “Collections agencies are third-party companies or authorized agents charged with collecting overdue debts.”

If you have debts in collections, you will want to work to get them paid off, or you may have a lawsuit filed against you; if it results in a judgment, it can negatively affect your credit. To pay off a debt in collections, you have options, including establishing a payment plan, paying it off in one lump sum or settling for less than you owe. You may also consider working with a debt management or credit counseling service.

You can typically handle a debt in collections on your own, but there may be some instances where you need an attorney. And, should you find yourself with a debt in collections, make sure you understand what debt collectors can and cannot do, as outlined in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

» MORE: What is debt collection and how does it work?

Collections on your credit report

If you have debt in collections, your credit report will show a ‘charge-off’ status. A charge-off is when a company writes off your debt because it no longer believes you will pay the money that is owed.

If you have a charge-off, know that it will typically stay on your credit report for up to seven years from the date of the first missed or late payment. The only negative information that stays on your credit report longer than seven years is bankruptcy, which can stay on for up to 10 years.

Having a charge-off on your credit report will impact your credit score and can make it more difficult to get approved for credit in the future.

What about medical collections?

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), medical debt is the most commonly reported third-party collection type on consumer credit reports. If a medical bill isn’t paid, the medical provider will typically have its internal collections team attempt to collect the outstanding balance. If that’s unsuccessful, a third-party collection agency may be employed to collect the debt.

An unpaid medical debt doesn't instantly appear on your credit report; there are guidelines and rules to follow. These rules, established by the National Consumer Assistance Plan (NCAP), state that as of July 1, 2022, the time before unpaid medical collections can appear on a consumer's credit report increase from 180 days to one year. Additionally, paid medical collections can no longer appear on consumer credit reports at all.

In 2023, medical collections with a balance below $500 will also not appear on consumer credit reports. With the majority of medical debts being below $500, this change has the potential to have a large effect on the number of medical collections reported.

What to do if you have collections on your report

If you find that you have a collections mark on your credit report, and you’ve verified that it’s legitimate, you have a few options:

  • Contact the credit bureau: If the collection is older than seven years and is still appearing on your credit report, contact the credit bureau to have it removed. You’ll want to make sure you have all the necessary paperwork to support your dispute and follow the dispute procedure exactly.
  • Contact the creditor: If you think the collection is an error made by the creditor, you can ask it to validate the debt. If they can’t, the collection should be removed.
  • Ask for a goodwill deletion: A goodwill deletion involves writing a letter to your creditor explaining the circumstances that led to the late payments and asking to have them removed. You can also describe how hard you’ve worked to improve your payment history and fix your credit since the missed payment. While this strategy won’t always work, it’s worth a try.

Should you try any of these, make sure to check your credit report after a while (around 30 to 60 days) to see if the collections have been dropped.

» MORE: How to handle bill collectors

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    Do you still have to pay a collection after seven years?

    In many states, your debt won’t expire or disappear until you pay it. However, there are different statutes of limitation laws in different states. The statute of limitations is the period during which you can be sued (typically three to six years).

    After the statute of limitations has passed, a creditor can still try and sue you, but this action is in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act, and you will have a legal defense against the case.

    If I make payments, will the debt stay on my credit report?

    If you make payments on your collections charge, there is no requirement that it be taken off your credit report. However, newer credit scoring models (FICO 9 and VantageScore 3.0 and 4.0) ignore collections that have a zero balance. Using these credit scoring models, if you pay your collections charge, your credit score can improve.

    How long does positive information stay on your credit report?

    Positive information, including active accounts paid as agreed, can stay on your credit report as long as the account is open and the lender reports it. For an account that was closed in good standing, this information will typically remain on your report for up to 10 years from the date it was reported.

    Bottom line

    If you have debt that goes to collections, you can expect this information to stay on your credit report for up to seven years, even if you pay your debt.

    If you suspect a collections tradeline is an error, you can dispute this with the credit reporting agency. The only thing you can do to try and remove a legitimate collection on your credit report early is to submit a letter of goodwill to your creditor. The best solution, however, is to try and prevent your debt from ever going to collections in the first place.

    ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. To learn more about the content on our site, visit our FAQ page . Specific sources for this article include:
    1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “ CFPB Finds One-Third Decline in Collections Items on Consumer Credit Reports .” Accessed March 19, 2023.
    2. Equifax, " What is a Charge-Off? " Accessed March 19, 2023.
    3. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “ Paid and Low-Balance Medical Collections on Consumer Credit Reports ." Accessed March 19, 2023.
    4. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “ My debt is several years old. Can debt collectors still collect? " Access March 19, 2023.
    5. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “ What is the best way to negotiate a settlement with a debt collector? ” Accessed March 19, 2023.
    6. Experian, " Can Paying off Collections Raise Your Credit Score? " Accessed March 19, 2023.
    7. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “ How long does negative information remain on my credit report? ” Accessed April 6, 2023.>
    8. U.S. Department of Justice, “ Bankruptcy Information Sheet .” Accessed April 6, 2023.
    9. Federal Trade Commission, “ Disputing Errors on Your Credit Reports .” Accessed April 6, 2023.
    10. Federal Trade Commission, “ Fair Debt Collection Practices Act .” Accessed April 6, 2023.
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