Re-aged collections on your credit report can leave you getting turned down for loans and credit you actually qualify for simply because a collection agency is violating federal law. If you suspect that a collection agency is intentionally reporting the wrong dates to the credit bureaus in an effort to leave its black mark on your credit report for longer than the law allows, your first course of action should be to get a copy of your credit report from each credit bureau – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
Remember, federal law entitles you to one free credit report per year. If you order that free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com, you won't have to deal with giving out your credit card number and then canceling any ridiculous subscriptions later on down the road. AnnualCreditReport.com is regulated by the FTC, and its the only place you should turn to for free credit reports.
Find Each Collection Account's Removal Date
|Find the correct deletion date|
Here's where things get tricky. Collection agencies go to great lengths to prevent you from knowing this date. It benefits them to have their negative entry hanging around on your credit file for as long as possible. Because of this, some collection agencies will go so far as to "re-age" their accounts – intentionally reporting incorrect dates to the credit bureaus to ensure that collections remain on your credit report for much longer than the law allows.
Thus, collection agencies will only report the date that the account was opened with their facility – not the date of first delinquency. It's up to you to match up the collection account with the original creditor's entry on your credit report. Most creditors charge off debts when they go 180 days with no payment. With few exceptions, the "charge-off" date listed on your credit report is the date of first delinquncy.
Once you've matched up the charge-off date with the right collection account, do the math for yourself to find out when the account is supposed to fall off your credit report. Don't depend on the credit bureau's "estimated removal date" to do the math for you. If your account has been illegally re-aged, this date will be incorrect. If you don't have long to wait before these accounts disappear from your credit report forever, its often easier and less stressful to just wait until they fall off on their own rather than trying to fight them off.
If No Original Creditor Matches the Collection Account on Your Credit Report...
Many of you will go through this little exercise and discover that you've got several collection accounts showing up on your credit report for which there is no original creditor to match them up with. This can occur for several reasons:
1. The original creditor was a credit card company. Credit card companies allow the charging of interest. Because the original contract includes this practice, any collection agency the credit card company sells the delinquent account to will also have this right. Thus, the charge-off amount won't match the collection amount because interest has continued to accrue since the account was charged off.
2. For whatever reason, the original creditor's tradeline no longer appears on the same credit report that the collection agency's tradeline appears on. This happens sometimes. Don't panic. Just check your other two credit reports for the matching creditor. It may be there, even if the collection agency doesn't report that that particular credit bureau.
3. The account has been illegally re-aged. Under no circumstances should a collection account for a debt remain on your credit report after the original creditor's tradeline has aged off the report. The reporting period applies to both the original creditor and its collectors simultaneously. If no original creditor on any of your credit reports matches the collection account, there's a good chance the debt has been re-aged.
4. The collection account isn't yours. Collection agencies frequently don't have the same wealth of information about you that original creditors do. Often all they have is a name and address. This can result in a collection agency adding their negative tradeline to the credit report of the person who most closely matches the information they have – in some cases, the wrong person.
If no original creditor matches the collection agency's tradeline on your credit report, its time to find out who the original creditor is. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act states that a collection agency must provide you with the name and address of the debt's original creditor upon request. So fire off a letter to the collection agency requesting exactly that. Don't forget to send your letter certified mail return receipt requested.
If the Collection Account is Too Old And Has Been Re-Aged
Collection accounts that show up on your credit report beyond the reporting period are the easiest to remove. Its always preferable to get the reporting company to remove the entry voluntarily, if possible, before filing a dispute with the credit bureaus. You want to fly under the radar with the credit bureaus. You don't want to make yourself noticeable in any way by filing frequent collection disputes – even if those disputes are legitimate.
Send a letter to the collection agency informing them that it has come to your attention that the company's tradeline appears on your credit report beyond the legal reporting period. Demand that the company immediately remove their tradeline to remain in compliance with federal law. If you're really feeling froggy, cite the statute – FCRA Section 605.
With any luck, the collection agency will simply fix your credit report to avoid any trouble. If the collection agency doesn't remove the entry after 30 days, send a second letter saying the same thing and giving the company 10 days to correct your credit report before you file suit against the collection agency for violating the FCRA and report the company to the Federal Trade Commission for illegally re-aging a collection account.
(You can report collection agencies for this here.)
If the collection agency still fails to comply, its only then that you should formally dispute the entry with the credit bureaus.
Disputing a Re-Aged Collection Account
Resist the temptation to file your dispute online, no matter how quick and accurate the credit bureau promises it will be. The online system is 100% computerized, and your goal is to reach a real person.
Write a letter (write it by hand, don't type it. You don't want it read and categorized by a computer – and yes, they can do that) to the credit bureau. Include the following information:
- The fact that the debt in question has been re-aged.
- The name of the original creditor, the date of first delinquency and the date the collection account should have been removed. If both the original creditor and the collection account remain on your credit report, you can dispute both simultaneously. If not, note that the credit bureau in question has already deleted the original creditor's tradeline in accordance with FCRA guidelines and that the collection account should have been removed at the same time.
- A copy of that credit bureau's file for you with the information in question highlighted.
- A request that the credit bureau immediately delete the information
With any luck, the person who gets your file will just delete the information immediately without trying to "verifiy" the entry with the collection agency like the computer system would do. Remember, the credit bureaus only have to verify information if the reporting company has supposedly made an error. In this case, you're claiming the error to be that of the credit bureaus – for not picking up on a re-aged debt. This gives the person reviewing your file more leeway.
Reviewers have an average of three to four minutes to spend on each file. The more you can back up your claim, the better off you are.
If the Credit Bureau Doesn't Delete the Entry
If the credit bureau doesn't delete the re-aged collection account from your credit report, its time to take the fight directly to the collection agency. Send the company a letter noting the following:
- You recently requested the name and address of the original creditor from the collection agency and the date of first delinquency for that particular debt occurred more than 7 years ago.
- The credit bureaus deleted the original creditor's negative tradeline after 7 years and 180 days in compliance with the FCRA. The collection account should have been removed at the same time.
- You notified the credit bureaus of the discrepancy and the credit bureaus contacted the collection agency, which verified the dates were accurate when, in fact, they couldn't be if the original creditor for the account was accurate.
- The dates for the collection account were clearly re-aged – an illegal practice under the FCRA.
- The collection agency must immediately delete its tradeline from your credit report to remain in compliance with federal law. If it does not, you will report the collection agency to the Federal Trade Commission for re-aging, contact your attorney general and file a lawsuit against the company for violating federal credit reporting practices.
Give the collection agency a time limit, say, 10 to 15 days and then either pull your credit reports again or sit back and wait for the email from your credit monitoring service letting you know that information on your credit report has changed. If the collection agency doesn't do anything, follow through with your threats. A well-placed call from your attorney general can result in quick deletion of a re-aged collection account from your credit report. If that doesn't do the trick, receiving a summons will almost always cause the offending tradeline to mysteriously vanish. After all, a collection agency is in the business of making money. What company wants to pay money to go to court to defend itself against a case it can't win?