The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) dictates how long a negative item will remain in your credit reports. Some states have additional laws that limit reporting even further for their residents. Those laws won't override the FCRA, though they can put more restrictions on the length of time the credit bureaus can report negative information.
The length of time information stays on your credit reports depends on what's being reported and whether the information is positive, neutral, or negative. The good news is, positive and neutral information can stay on indefinitely and might help improve your credit score. Most negative information will drop off your reports after seven to ten years, but in rare cases, the info will appear longer than ten years.
Here are some common items and when you can expect them to drop off your reports.
When you have trouble making your credit card and loan payments on time, your creditor will report those slow and missed payments to the credit reporting agencies. Anything but an on-time payment is considered a negative item. Delinquencies can be reported for up to seven years from the due date for the last scheduled payment before the delinquency occurred.
When your creditor seizes your collateral to pay for your debt (property that you put up to guarantee the loan, such as a house or car), the repossession or foreclosure can stay on your credit report for seven years after the first missed payment that led to the foreclosure.
If your account was sent to a collection agency, it can be reported for seven years and 180 days from the date of the delinquency that led the account to collections.
If you stop making payments on a credit account, eventually the lender is required to remove it from its list of active accounts. The creditor does this by selling your account, usually to a collection agency or debt buyer. You'll remain responsible for paying the debt to the new owner.
When a creditor reports a charge off, it can appear on your report for up to seven years and 180 days from the last delinquency.
Even if a credit account is included in a bankruptcy case, negative items like skipped payments and slow payments can remain on your credit record for seven years. The bankruptcy itself is subject to a different rule (see below).
Credit reporting rules for student loans are convoluted. Different rules apply to different types of student loans, but the general rule for a federally insured or federally-issued loan is that negative information can be reported for seven years from several dates:
One exception is the Perkins loan, which can be reported indefinitely.
Private student loans are treated like other credit accounts. The negative information stays on the report for seven years, or seven years and 180 days if it goes to collections.
Overdue child support can be reported for seven years.
Under the FCRA, bankruptcies can't be reported for more than ten years. Because Chapter 13 bankruptcies involve repaying some debt, these bankruptcies stay on reports for up to seven years. By contrast, Chapter 7 bankruptcies get reported for the entire ten years (from the date of filing). If your case was dismissed (and therefore you did not get an order discharging your debts), the bankruptcy could be reported for up to ten years, although some bureaus drop it after seven.
To learn what you can do to repair your credit and negotiate with your creditors, read Nolo's book Credit Repair, by Amy Loftsgordon and Cara O'Neill.