The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) limits how long a credit reporting agency can report negative items in your credit report. Items that are not negative, but neutral or positive, can be reported indefinitely.
(To learn more about credit reports, credit scores, and credit reporting agencies, see our Credit Reports & Credit Scores topic area.)
Here are the rules on how long negative information may be included in your credit reports:
Bankruptcies may be reported for no more than ten years from the date you filed for bankruptcy. If your case was dismissed (so you did not get an order discharging your debts), the ten years starts from the date of the dismissal.
Lawsuits and judgments may be reported for up to seven years from the date a lawsuit was filed and seven years from the date a judgment was entered against you or until the governing statute of limitations has expired, whichever is longer. Most statutes of limitation are shorter than seven years, so seven years is the likely maximum time judgments or lawsuits will show up in your credit report. (You can find the statutes of limitations for most kinds of debts in Nolo’s Chart: Statutes of Limitations in All 50 States.) And because you eliminate any statute of limitations when you pay a judgment, paid judgments may be reported no more than seven years after the date of the judgment.
Paid tax liens may be reported from the date of payment for up to seven years.
Most criminal records, such as information about indictments or arrests, may be reported for only seven years, or until the statute of limitations has expired, whichever is longer. But records of criminal convictions may be reported indefinitely.
Delinquent accounts may be reported for seven years after the date of the last scheduled payment before the account became delinquent. Even if you later pay off the delinquent amount, the tradeline for that account in your credit report may show that you were previously delinquent. (For an explanation of how a tradeline works, see Tradelines: Why Accounts or Debts Can Appear Several Times on Credit Reports.)
For example, if your payments for March and July 2010 were each one month late, the report may continue to show (for seven years from the date after each payment was due) that you were 30 days late twice in 2010, even though the tradeline for that account also shows your payments for the rest of 2010 were made on time.
Accounts charged off or sent to collection or any other similar action (such as a repossession) may be reported for up to seven years plus 180 days from the delinquency. (Learn more about what happens when your account is charged-off or placed in collection.)This applies to accounts sent to collection within the creditor company as well as those sent to a collection agency.
Creditors that report an account as charged off or placed for collection must tell the reporting agency the month and year your delinquency began—which means the month during which the first payment you missed was due. The creditor must do this within 90 days of its reporting of the charge-off. The seven-year period begins 180 days after the delinquency (the first missed payment) that led to the collection activity or charge-off. The clock does not start ticking again if the account is sold to another collection agency, you make a payment on it, or you file a dispute with the credit reporting agency.
For example, say you made your payment on time in December 2010, but missed your January 2012 payment and did not make any more payments after that. The creditor charged off your account nine months later, in September 2012, and reported that to a credit reporting agency. Your delinquency began in January 2012. So the credit reporting agency can report the charge-off for seven years, plus 180 days, until about July 2019.
Overdue child support may be reported for seven years.
Some adverse information regarding student loans made, guaranteed, or insured by the U.S. government, or national direct student loans, may be reported for much longer than seven years.
Federal Family Educational Loans (these include guaranteed student loans, Stafford, SLS, and PLUS loans, all of which were types of student loans made before July 1, 2010) and Direct Student Loans (those made directly by the federal government) may be reported for seven years after the last of these three dates:
Perkins loans (these are not very common) may be reported until they are paid in full.
Before an overdue student loan is reported to a credit reporting agency, the guarantee agency or the Department of Education must provide the borrower with notice and describe the borrower’s right to see the loan records and dispute the debt.
Any other adverse information may be reported for seven years from when the event occurred.
Inquiries from creditors are not specifically limited, so the normal time limit would be seven years. Practically speaking, though, most credit reporting agencies do not report inquiries after two years.
If you apply for $150,000 or more of credit or of life insurance, or for a job with an annual income of at least $75,000, credit reporting agencies may report bankruptcies, lawsuits, paid tax liens, accounts sent out for collection, criminal records, overdue child support, and any other adverse information beyond the usual time limits. As a practical matter, however, credit reporting agencies often delete all items after seven or ten years.
If you find old information in your credit report, you should take steps to get rid of it. Learn how in How to Correct Errors in Your Credit Report.
This is an excerpt from Credit Repair, by Margaret Reiter and Robin Leonard (Nolo).