In A Nutshell
Late payments can hurt your credit score and make it difficult to qualify for loans and credit cards. And because they stay on your credit report for seven years, they can drag down your score for a long time.
It is possible to get a late payment removed from your credit report early with some of these options:
- Dispute an error or technicality
- Leverage the fact that you’re a reliable customer
- Request a complete debt validation
- Negotiate a removal
Let’s take a deeper dive into each one of these strategies and more.
If your late payment is a mistake
In some cases, an on-time payment is inaccurately reported as late. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that 1 in 5 people have a mistake on their credit report.
This is why you should make it a habit to review your credit report on a regular basis.
Federal law guarantees you the right to receive a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months. You can get yours by visiting annualcreditreport.com.
And because information can vary among the three major credit bureaus, you should review your report from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
You’ll typically see late payments in the “accounts” section of your credit report.
For each account, your creditors report the type of account (like a credit card or car loan), the date you opened it, how much you owe, the limit or loan amount, and the payment history.
Check each account carefully, looking for inaccurate information.
Here are two possible mistakes to look for:
On-time payment reported as late
If you pay your bills on time each month but one of your accounts is showing a late payment, don’t take it for granted that it’s accurate—check your billing statements and bank records against the information in your credit report.
If you don’t keep paper records, you can usually find your payment history online.
You might also be able to verify that you paid on time by finding a payment confirmation letter or email from your creditor.
If you can prove that you paid the bill on time, the creditor is legally obligated to remove the late payment.
A late payment that’s 7+ years old
Be sure to check the date of your first delinquency.
Late payments should automatically drop off your credit report seven years from the date of the first late payment.
You might see multiple negative items for each billing cycle—30 days, 60 days, 90 days, 120 days—but the seven-year period starts running with the first 30-day late payment.
Filing a dispute
Once you spot an inaccurately reported late payment or a late payment that’s more than seven years old, your next step is to dispute it.
You should file a dispute with the credit bureaus as well as your creditor.
By law, your creditor must investigate a disputed item within 30 days of receiving your dispute letter—although they can take up to 45 days if you submit additional information.
Federal law mandates that creditors only report accurate information about consumers. If your creditor can’t verify that its information is correct, it must notify the credit bureaus.
You should also file a dispute directly with the credit bureaus, but only contact the credit bureaus that are reporting the item you wish to dispute.
For example, if a late payment is showing up on your Experian report but not your TransUnion report, you should only send a dispute letter to Experian.
The credit bureaus have 30 days to investigate your claim and follow up with you.
What if your late payment isn’t a mistake?
So you’ve reviewed your credit report and checked it against your bank records, and the late payment is definitely accurate. Now what?
It’s still worth disputing the late payment.
Because you have a legal right to challenge a creditor’s records, even if you know they’re accurate!
Because not all creditors keep meticulous records, they might not be able to verify their information. Also, if enough time has passed, it’s possible the creditor no longer has the records it needs to verify your late payment.
The idea is to shift the burden of proof to the creditor—and hope they can’t back up their claims.
Think of the credit repair process as a game: if you find an advantage, don’t hesitate to pursue it.
Here are five options to try:
1. Dispute a technicality
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) gives you the right to dispute inaccurate information on your credit report.
“Inaccurate information” can include anything from the way your name is spelled to the date you opened your account.
If you can find even a tiny error, it’s worth disputing it on the off chance the creditor or credit bureau might not be able to verify it.
If they’re struggling to confirm a detail, they might decide it’s not worth the hassle and simply remove the late payment entirely.
2. If you have an uncharacteristically late payment
Even the most organized, responsible person can overlook a bill from time to time.
If your credit report is otherwise spotless except for one nagging late payment, you can try writing a letter to your creditor and asking them to remove it.
If you do this, however, do not admit fault!
Rather, state that you’re a long-time, happy customer. Explain that you were surprised to see a late payment appear on your credit report, considering your long history of always paying on time.
Close by pointing out that the late payment must be a mistake and that you look forward to resolving the issue as quickly as possible so you can continue being an active customer.
The idea here is that creditors want to keep their customers happy.
If you’ve been a customer for many years, and you always pay your bill on time, your creditor might delete the late payment as a courtesy—and because it wants to retain your business.
3. Request a complete debt validation
If a dispute fails, and you can’t persuade your creditor to remove the late payment, you can also try asking for a complete debt validation, which is one of your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
Typically, you’ll want to start the debt validation process within 30 days of receiving notice of a debt from a creditor or collection agency—this is because the FDCPA requires creditors and debt collectors to verify a debt within 30 days.
If it’s been more than 30 days, creditors and debt collectors may still verify a debt, but they’re not required to under the law.
The steps for requesting a debt validation include:
1. Make your request in writing
Your debt validation request must be in writing. Preferably, send your letter by certified mail with a return receipt request—this way, you can prove the creditor or debt collector got it. If you’re within the 30-day time window, you’ll also be able to show you sent the letter on time.
In your letter, ask the creditor or collection agency to provide the name of the original creditor, a copy of the original billing statement or any underlying agreement between you and the creditor, the amount you owe, and when the debt was first created.
If you’re contacting a collection agency, you can also ask if they’re licensed to collect debts in your state.
2. Forward information to the credit bureaus
In some cases, a creditor or debt collector will respond with a statement listing how much you owe—but this isn’t good enough to validate a debt.
If the creditor or debt collector doesn’t provide any documentation verifying your debt, forward their response to the credit bureaus and ask for a deletion.
3. If a creditor validates the debt
If the creditor or debt collector responds with enough information to validate your debt, you have a few different options.
First, check the statute of limitations for unpaid debts in your state. If your creditor is time-barred from suing you, it might not be worth paying the debt.
You can also try settling with your creditor. In many cases, a creditor or debt collector will accept a fraction of what you owe as long as you pay in a lump sum.
They might also agree to delete the late payment, although this is unlikely.
4. Negotiate removal
In some cases, you can get a creditor to remove a late payment by offering to sign up for automatic payments, which shows your creditor that you’re serious about keeping your account current.
Ask if they will remove a late payment in exchange for you enrolling in their autopay program.
5. Hire a credit repair company
Getting a late payment removed can be a frustrating and time-consuming process, and let’s face it, you probably don’t have the patience or resources to keep track of all the documentation you need to file disputes and follow up with creditors, collection agencies, and credit bureaus.
If you feel overwhelmed, it might be worth hiring a credit repair company to handle the dispute process for you. If you go this route, make sure you work with an experienced, reputable company.
Check out our guide to the best credit repair companies for a look at what the various services have to offer.
What about “goodwill” letters?
If you’ve tried everything and you’re out of options for getting a late payment removed, you might want to try writing a “goodwill” letter.
This is where you write to your creditor, acknowledging that you paid your bill late, and ask for a one-time adjustment to your credit report.
We’ll be honest here: a goodwill letter is definitely worth a shot, but it’s probably not going to work.
Most likely, your creditor will write back, stating that it’s required by law to report accurate information to the credit bureaus.
Because you admit fault in a goodwill letter, most creditors will refuse to remove negative information when they receive one.
How a late payment affects your credit score
Late payments can do more damage to your credit score than you might think: even a single 30-day late payment can lower your score by 100 points.
The effect of a late payment also depends on where your credit score was to begin with.
For example, someone with a score in the 700+ range might see a significant drop, whereas a person starting out with a low score might not see as much damage.
How long do late payments stay on your credit report?
A late payment can stay on your credit report for a maximum of seven years and can lower your credit score while they remain in your credit history.
After this, the late payment should drop off.
But don’t assume this will happen automatically.
If you have a late payment that’s approaching the seven-year mark, watch your credit report to confirm that it goes away when it’s supposed to.
If it doesn’t, file a dispute with your creditor and the credit bureaus reporting it.
Why late payments matter so much
Your payment history is the most important factor in determining your credit score.
Of the five factors FICO® uses to set your score, your payment history makes up 35 percent.
Creditors use your score to decide whether you’re a risk, and if you don’t pay your bills on time, they might decline to extend your credit, which can make it hard to qualify for a car loan or mortgage, or you might end up paying higher interest rates.
Because your payment history is given so much weight, even a single late payment can have a big impact on your credit score.
Getting a late payment removed early can be a challenge, but it’s well worth the effort.