It happens to the best of us. You blithely open your credit report, just to take a look, when you encounter something you hadn’t expected to see. Fraudulent accounts or activity history is scary enough. But, public records can be even more sinister. They have far-ranging implications for your ability to get a loan, secure a lease, or even get a job.
So, what can you do if you find a derogatory public record on your credit report? And most importantly, how can you get rid of it?
- 1 What is a Public Record on Your Credit Report?
- 2 How Removing Public Records Differs From Filing a Dispute
- 3 How to Remove a Bankruptcy on Your Credit Report
- 4 How to Remove a Tax lien on Your Credit Report
- 5 How to Remove Lawsuits and Civil Judgments on Your Credit Report
- 6 How Long Do Public Records Last on Your Credit Report?
- 7 Final Thoughts
What is a Public Record on Your Credit Report?
Before we dive into the steps you need to take to remove public records, let’s define our terms and get clear about what, exactly, we’re talking about.
So, which items count as derogatory public records? There are several financial scenarios in which you can end up with a public record on your credit report:
- Bankruptcies, whether personal or in a proprietary business scenario. (Publicly listed businesses and LLCs protect you by separating your business and personal assets. They do not reflect on your personal credit report in the case of bankruptcy.)
- Tax liens, whether you failed to file or owe the government money.
- Lawsuits and civil judgments with financial consequences, such as an accident in which you haven’t paid the defendant for damages or a suit against you by a former landlord. It’s important to keep in mind that not all disputes will wind up on your consumer credit reports. If the two parties can reach a settlement before the case is taken to court, there will be no public record of the event on your credit report.
So, now that you know the different types of public records, how do you go about getting rid of them?
How Removing Public Records Differs From Filing a Dispute
If you’ve ever had to remove a fraudulent address, account, or activity from your credit reports, you probably already know the relatively simple process of filing a dispute with an individual credit bureau. The major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, each have simple ways to file minor disputes online or over the phone. But, it’s always best to send a dispute letter.
When it comes to public records, things are a bit more complicated — because the court is involved as well as the credit bureaus. Because financial disputes that come through the court system are public record (archived online at the Public Access to Court Electronic Records, or PACER), they almost always appear on your consumer credit reports as well.
So if you’re attempting to remove a public record entirely, you’d need to reach out to the court directly and ask them to expunge the public record. This can be a time-consuming and effort-intensive battle.
The easier option is to attempt to remove the public record from your credit reports. This is done by disputing the public record directly with the reporting credit bureau. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) allows you to dispute any public records on your credit report that you believe are inaccurate or even questionable. However, keep in mind that even if you successfully remove a public record from your credit report, it’ll still be on file with the court system.
How to Remove a Bankruptcy on Your Credit Report
Bankruptcies can stay on your credit report for up to ten years. So, if you have a bankruptcy on your credit report that’s not yours, you’ll need to reach out to the court and ask for a written statement that you have not, in fact, filed for bankruptcy. Once you receive this statement, you’ll forward copies to the credit bureau via Certified Mail along with a letter of dispute.
If you have filed for bankruptcy, you may be able to find an inaccuracy or error in the way the bankruptcy is reported. You can then file a dispute with each of the three major credit bureaus on that basis. It’s possible that some technicality may require the credit bureaus to remove the bankruptcy entirely. But, chances are it’ll stay on your credit report for up to ten years if it’s legitimate. That said, it never hurts to try!
Finally, if you reach out to the court for a written statement and find they do have a bankruptcy on file, even though you haven’t filed for one, you’ll need to take further steps with them to resolve the issue. The court will likely ask for documentation and records to prove the miscommunication and ultimately expunge the public record. At this point, you can proceed with filing your dispute with the three credit bureaus.
How to Remove a Tax lien on Your Credit Report
They say that of all the lenders in the world, the one you least want to owe money to is the government. And considering that unpaid tax liens can stay on your credit report indefinitely, that wisdom certainly seems to ring true. If you’ve got unpaid tax liens from a state, local, or federal agency, the very first step to take is to pay them in full immediately.
However, whether the tax lien on your credit report is paid or unpaid, you can file an IRS Form 12277, which is an application for the withdrawal of a federal tax lien. There is space on the form to explain to the IRS why you’re filing for withdrawal. If you mention the financial hardship caused by your low credit score, it may incentivize them to give you a break in the future.
(After all, at the end of the day, they want your money, and if your poor credit history makes it harder for you to pay taxes in the future, that won’t help their cause.)
Be sure to specify that you do wish for the IRS to contact the credit bureaus directly on Form 12277 when you file it. Keep in mind that outstanding debt will remain on file at the courthouse and must be paid.
How to Remove Lawsuits and Civil Judgments on Your Credit Report
If you have an accurate civil judgment on your credit report, the bureaus won’t remove them until the standard seven years have passed. That said, a lot hangs on the word accurate. Often, you can find some small errors or technicalities to dispute. This may work to improve your credit scores.
Civil judgments and lawsuits on your credit reports can be listed in two ways: satisfied or unsatisfied. A satisfied civil judgment is one in which you’ve paid the damages required by the court. With an unsatisfied one, you still owe reparations.
Unsatisfied judgments are extremely detrimental to have on your credit reports, and those debts can accrue interest at staggering rates. They can also be refiled onto your credit report after the standard seven-year fall-off period if they’re still in arrears. If you can’t successfully dispute an unsatisfied lawsuit on your credit report, you must do whatever it takes to repay the debt — even if it means borrowing money.
If you’ve vacated a judgment, send the credit bureaus a letter of dispute and proof that you’ve vacated it. This is a relatively simple dispute to file with the credit reporting agencies, and the mark should come off your credit report within 30 days.
How Long Do Public Records Last on Your Credit Report?
So, what if your public records aren’t fraudulent, or you otherwise can’t be removed from your credit report? How long will they be around to haunt you?
Like other negative marks, public records stay on your credit report for up to seven years. There is some variance between states, and unpaid debts can stay on your credit reports for a decade. Public records and other negative marks do affect your credit score. But, it’s important to remember that your credit score is calculated using numerous factors. These factors include payment history, length of credit history, and the diversity of credit types.
Positive actions, like paying your accounts in full and on time, can work to help you improve your credit score even if you have a public record you can’t get rid of. Furthermore, banks and lenders tend to be more concerned about red flags in recent years than older accounts. So, you may be able to find the credit you need even if you do have a public records on your credit reports.
For more information on and help with repairing a damaged credit report, a professional credit repair company can help. Take a look at our reviews of the best credit repair companies in the industry, whether you’re dealing with fraudulent accounts, identity theft, or plain old bad credit.