• Unpaid debts and delinquent accounts can remain on your credit report for seven years.  Sometimes, debts that are sold to collections remain on your credit report longer than they should. The seven-year clock begins with the original creditor, not the collection agency.  If an old debt remains on your credit report after seven years, file a dispute with the credit bureaus. Bad credit doesn’t have to last forever. If you take steps to improve your financial life, mistakes will disappear from your credit report over time. Chapter 7 bankruptcies will stay on your credit report for 10 years, while unpaid or delinquent accounts will stay only seven. In many cases, you cannot remove debt from your credit report until that time has passed.

However, negative debts don’t always disappear on schedule. Misunderstandings or errors can result in a debt overstaying its welcome on your credit report. If old debt is still haunting your credit report and possibly dragging down your credit score, you don’t have to live with it. Here are eight steps to get it off your credit report.

8 steps to remove old debt from your credit report

Just over 3 percent of outstanding debt was in some degree of delinquency as of December 2023, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. This isn’t the highest delinquency rate on record, and overall debt delinquency is still lower than it was in 2019.

That said, many of those older debts are making it difficult for people to apply for loans or take out new credit cards — and a lot of people are wondering how to remove collections from their credit reports. While it is difficult to remove derogatory marks from your credit report until the seven-year timeline has passed, there may be old debt on your credit report that can legitimately be removed. Many debts change hands during the collection process, which can lead to errors and inaccuracies on your credit report—all of which can be addressed and disputed.

Knowing how to dispute credit report errors can help you maintain an accurate and up-to-date credit history without old collections or delinquent accounts. Here are a few steps you can take to get old debt off your credit report.

1. Get all three of your credit reports

To find out which credit reports include old debts, request copies of all three of your reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. Why do you need all three? Because the reports generated by consumer reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — are not identical. The old debt in question might be listed in some credit reports but not others, for example.

Why this is important: If you’re only looking at the copy of your credit report from one credit bureau, you may be missing inaccurate information included on another report.

Who this affects most: Mistakes with credit reports can happen to anyone with old debt on any of your credit reports.

2. Verify the age of any outstanding debts

If you want to remove old debt from your credit report, you need to verify the age of your debt. According to Maxine Sweet, former vice president of public education for credit bureau Experian, you need to count from the date on which you first became delinquent.

Here’s her example: Let’s say you miss a payment in January. Then you make it up and also pay in February. Then you miss March and your bill eventually goes into default. Your delinquency date would be March.

Look back through your own records to verify the payment history for old debts. One of the easiest ways to check these records is through credit card statements, which are often available online. Verify the age of all outstanding debts on your credit reports, and make sure there aren’t any debts that should have fallen off your credit report already.

“If it’s not falling off, then the credit reporting companies have not received the right date,” Sweet explains.

Why this is important: The original date of the debt is what determines when it falls off your credit report.

Who this affects most: This affects anyone with debt, but especially those with delinquencies or missed payments.

3. Double-check the dates on sold-off debt

No matter how many times a debt is sold (and resold), the date that counts for the seven-year credit report clock is the date of delinquency with the original creditor.

If a collection agency bought your 10-year-old retail card debt and has started putting it on your credit report with a different date, for example, you may be able to remove that collection item from your credit report.

Why this is important: Again, it’s the original date of when the debt was incurred that determines when it falls off your credit report. You want that to be as accurate as possible.

Who this affects most: Those with older debts are more likely to have their debts sold to a collection agency.

4. Dispute the error with the credit bureaus

If you have an old debt on your credit report that should be removed, it’s time to contact the credit bureau(s) and dispute the error. When you dispute an old debt, the bureau will open an investigation and ask the creditor reporting it to verify the debt. If it can’t, the debt has to come off your report.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires credit bureaus to correct or delete any information that can’t be verified or that is incorrect or incomplete, typically within 30 days. Otherwise, they are in violation and you are within your rights to file a lawsuit. You can also file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

While all three of the credit bureaus allow you to dispute errors online, you may need to provide written documentation as well. Include copies of anything that supports your claim, such as a letter or statement from your original creditor showing when the account became delinquent. If a collection agency is reporting an account as a different (and newer) debt, include any paperwork showing that the two accounts are really the same debt.

You may be able to upload this supporting documentation as part of your online credit report dispute. If you send copies of the documents through the mail, include a cover letter summarizing the dispute — and make sure your envelope is certified with a return receipt requested so that you can prove when it was sent and received.

Why this is important: If you can prove that the debt is older than legally allowed to show on your credit report, the bureau should remove it.

Who this affects most: People with incredibly old debt have a better case for getting their debt removed.

5. Send a letter to the reporting creditor

You may also want to send a letter to the creditor who’s currently reporting the debt.

To do this, either reframe your credit bureau letter with copies of your documentation to the creditor or simply send a copy of the same letter with copies of any documents included. Avoid making statements that could restart the debt clock if the statute of limitations has not expired.

As with the credit bureau, send the letter certified with a return receipt requested. The creditor has 30 days to investigate your claims and respond.

Why this is important: Depending on who your creditor is, it may be faster to work directly with the creditor to get your old debt off your credit report.

Who this affects most: Those with older debts with more established companies will benefit from contacting the original creditors. You may find it easier to work with larger, more established creditors than with smaller collection agencies.

6. Get special attention

If your initial letters don’t do the trick, you may have to kick your approach up a notch, says Sonya Smith-Valentine, former managing attorney at Valentine Legal Group. Take a few minutes to research the company reporting the debt.

“Direct your next letter to the president’s attention at the company’s headquarters address,” she says, “because you get a different kind of response from the office of the president than you do from customer service.”

Again, send it certified and keep a copy in your files.

Why this is important: It can sometimes be challenging to find the right person or the right department when disputing old debt, so you may have to escalate your request. To read more click here.