How long does negative information stay on my credit reports?

Question: How long does negative information stay on my credit reports?

Answer: This is one of those bad news/good news situations. Let's start with the bad news. Negative information stays on your reports anywhere from seven to 10 years. The amount of time depends on the specific negative event. For example, the amount of time that a bankruptcy stays on your report depends on whether it's a Chapter 7 or a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Here's a breakdown of possible negative events and how long they each stay on your reports.

Bankruptcies: A Chapter 13 bankruptcy stays on your report for seven years. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy, however, stays on your report for 10 years. With a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, you repay some or all of your debts over a three- to-five-year period, so it falls off your report sooner. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy wipes out all (or most) of your debt, so it stays on your report for up to 10 years. The clock starts on the filing date for each type of bankruptcy.

Late payments: This item stays on your report for seven years. If you've been a good customer and have a good reason for the late payment, call your issuer and see if you can get this removed.

Collections: These items stay on your reports for about seven years, starting with the date you first fell behind with your original lender, although accounts can be "re-aged" by certain actions on your part.

Foreclosures: A foreclosure stays on your report for seven years. According to myFICO.com, if you do a good job meeting your financial obligations, your FICO score will start to rebound at about the two-year mark.

Finally, some good news! As time goes by, these negative items will have less impact on your FICO score. So it's a good idea to monitor the dates just in case an item stays on your report longer than you think it should.

Don't forget that you can work on improving your score while these items are still on your reports. One way to get the ball rolling is to use a secured credit card. As long as you choose a secured card that reports to the three major bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian), you can rebuild your credit history and improve your score while the negative items are still on your report. You have to use the card responsibly, of course. This means paying the bill on time and not having a balance that exceeds 30 percent of your credit limit. Actually, keeping your balance closer to 10 percent of your limit will help you boost your score even faster.

Guess what? You can use LendingTree's free credit score to keep tabs on your progress. It might take awhile to see improvement in your score when you've suffered a credit setback, but be patient and you'll get there!

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