It happens to the best of us. You blithely open your credit report, just to take a look… and encounter something you hadn’t expected to see. Fraudulent accounts or activity history is scary enough, but public records can be even more sinister, having 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 Get Rid of Bankrupcty on Your Credit Report
- 4 How to Get Rid of Tax Liens on Your Credit Report
- 5 How to Get Rid of Lawsuits and Civil Judgments on Your Credit Report
- 6 How Long Do Public Records Last on Your Credit Report?
What is a Public Record on Your Credit Report?
Before we dive into the steps you need to take to get rid of 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, which protect you by separating your business and personal assets, will 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 credit report. 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 which events count as negative 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 report, you probably already know the relatively simple process of filing a dispute with an individual credit bureau. Most of the major credit bureaus, like Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, have simple ways to file minor disputes online or over the phone.
But when it comes to public records, things are a little bit more complicated — because the court is involved as well as the credit bureau. 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 end up on your credit report, as well.
So if you’re trying to remove a public record entirely, you’d need to reach out to the court directly and ask them to expunge the record — which can be a time- and effort-intensive battle.
The easier option is simply to attempt to remove the public record from the credit report it appears on, in which case you’d deal directly with the reporting bureau. However, keep in mind that even if you successfully remove the record from your credit report, it’ll still be on file with the court system.
How to Get Rid of Bankrupcty on Your Credit Report
If you find a fraudulent bankruptcy reported in your credit history, 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, and thus file a dispute with the credit bureau on that basis. It’s possible that some technicality may require them to unlist the bankruptcy entirety, but chances are it’ll stay on your report for the standard seven years if it’s legitimate. That said, it can’t hurt 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 record, at which point you can proceed with filing your dispute with the credit bureaus.
How to Get Rid of Tax Liens 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 bills 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 will make 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 and keep in mind that outstanding debt will still remain on file at the courthouse, and must be paid.
How to Get Rid of 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. In many cases, you can find some small error or technicality to dispute, which may work to improve your credit history.
Civil judgments and lawsuits on your credit report 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, whereas in an unsatisfied one, you still owe reparations.
Unsatisfied judgments are extremely detrimental to have on your report, and those debts can accrue interest at staggering rates. They can also be refiled onto your 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 report, it’s imperative that you do whatever it takes to repay the debt — even if it means borrowing money.
If you’ve vacated a judgment, send the bureau a letter of dispute and proof that you’ve vacated it. This is a relatively simple dispute to file, 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 get them removed from your report? How long will they be around to haunt you?
Like other negative marks, public records stay on your credit report for seven years — though there is some variance between states, and unpaid debts can stay on your report for a decade. While public records and other negative marks do have an impact on your credit score, it’s important to remember that your score is calculated using a large number of factors, such as length of credit history and diversity of credit types.
Positive actions, like paying your accounts in full and on time, can work to help you improve your 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 those that are ancient history, so you may be able to find the loans and credit lines you need even if you do have a public record on your credit report.
For more information on and help with repairing a damaged credit report, a professional credit repair company can help. Check out 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.