In A Nutshell
A paid collections account can cause serious damage to your credit score—potentially dropping it by more than 100 points—so while it’s not always possible or easy to have one removed from your credit report, it’s definitely worth the effort.
If you’re trying to get a paid collection removed from your credit report, you basically have six options:
- Dispute if it’s inaccurate
- Dispute if it’s been sold
- Pay for delete
- Ask for a goodwill deletion
- Wait it out
- Hire a credit repair company
If you’ve paid a past collection, you’ve already taken a responsible step toward boosting your credit score. Understandably, you want to see it drop off your credit report altogether.
There are six proven strategies for making this happen.
1. Dispute the paid collection if it’s not accurate
First, find out if the paid collection actually belongs to you.
You might be surprised to learn that 1 in 5 consumers has inaccurate information on their credit report, so don’t assume that everything in your report is accurate. And the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires the major credit bureaus to show only accurate information on your credit reports.
To check for mistakes, start by ordering a copy of your free credit report, review your report carefully, and highlight any inaccuracies. You can request your free credit reports from annualcreditreport.com.
From there, you can dispute errors with each credit bureau.
Tip: If you need to dispute an inaccuracy, make sure to write each credit bureau separately, as the three bureaus don’t always share information with each other—and you may see negative items on one report that don’t appear on the others. You’ll need to write a dispute letter to Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
2. Dispute if the collection agency sold it
It’s quite common for a debt collection agency to sell debts if they can’t collect on them—this means the collection agency listed on your credit report may not be the same agency as the one you paid when you settled your debt.
If the old collection agency still appears on your credit report, you can dispute the item. It’s not unusual for this type of item to appear on one or two credit bureau reports but not the others.
This is why it’s important to check your credit report from all three credit bureaus.
3. Pay for delete
Once you pay off a collection account, it’s gone forever, right?
Not so fast.
If the original collection agency sold your debt to another collection agency—a scenario we addressed above—you may actually be dealing with two separate negative items: the original debt, which might be listed as a “charge off,” and the paid collection.
“Pay-for-delete” is when a debt collector removes the collection account from your credit report in exchange for you paying off the account.
While a pay-for-delete might work for the current holder of the debt, the original collection agency has already removed your debt from its books—which means it has no incentive to work with you to remove it.
Don’t have the time to do all this on your own? A credit repair company may be able to help.
But, if you have other debts with the original collection agency, you might still be able to negotiate a pay-for-delete arrangement. It never hurts to try asking the collection agency to remove charge-off items in exchange for settling your other outstanding debts.
If you choose this route, make sure you put everything in writing—and get written confirmation from both the creditor and the credit bureau, too.
4. Ask for a goodwill deletion
In some cases, especially if you have an otherwise good credit history with no late payments, a lender will agree to remove a paid collection as a friendly gesture—this is called a goodwill deletion.
It’s not always possible to get a goodwill deletion, but it’s certainly worth a try.
Here are some tips for asking for a goodwill deletion from the original creditor:
- Start by writing a goodwill letter to each creditor, expressing your desire to repair your credit and stay on track with your finances.
- If you experienced financial hardship in the past, explain how this affected your ability to stay current with your obligations.
- Above all, be professional and courteous. Creditors (like credit card issuers) aren’t legally required to remove a paid collection, but they might do it anyway. A respectful, sincere letter could do the trick.
5. Wait it out
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, a creditor simply refuses to remove a paid collection. The good news is it’s better to have a paid collection on your credit report rather than an unpaid item.
If you can’t persuade these companies to remove a paid collection, you can wait for the negative information to drop off your credit report—which is seven years from the date of the original delinquency.
In the meantime, work to boost your credit score in other ways, like always making payments on time and working to improve your debt-to-income ratio.
6. Hire a credit repair organization
By hiring a credit repair company, you can increase your chances of having the collection removed.
A credit repair company can help you dispute the collection and work with the credit bureaus to get it removed from your report.
A credit repair company can’t guarantee that they’ll be able to get the collection removed, but it’s worth giving their services a shot if you’re struggling to get rid of it on your own. It’s also important to remember that even if the collection is removed from your credit report, you might still owe the debt – you’ll just no longer have to worry about it impacting your credit score.
What is a “paid collection”?
Paid collections are past-due accounts you later paid in full or settled through a partial payment.
Many consumers mistakenly believe that paying a debt means it automatically drops off their credit report, but it’s important to remember that creditors have no obligation to remove a paid collection, nor do credit bureaus have to take steps to scrub these items from your credit report.
This is why it’s a good strategy to negotiate pay-for-delete agreements as you pay off or settle overdue debts.
Of course, pay-for-delete negotiations don’t work if you’ve already paid a debt without one. Fortunately, it may still be possible to get a paid collection removed from your credit report.
How a paid collection impacts your credit score
Although they’re better than unpaid collections, paid collections can definitely lower your credit score, which can in turn impact your ability to get approved credit cards, a loan, and a mortgage, as well as impact the interest rate you receive.
By how much?
While credit score algorithms take into account dozens of unique factors and it’s impossible to know exactly how many points your score might drop, Credit Karma has a neat Credit Simulator tool that can help give us an estimate.
For example, someone with an excellent credit score of 771 that has an account fall into collection would potentially see their score drop by more than 130 points!
Again, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer here, but the bottom line is that the impact would be significant.
When lenders and potential creditors look at your credit history, they don’t like to see evidence of past debts and delinquent accounts that went unpaid, and they’ll often flag you as a higher risk as a result.
The good news, as outlined above, it is possible to remove a paid collection from your credit report.
How long do paid collections stay on your credit report?
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), a paid collection can stay on your credit report for up to 7 years.
Worth noting: this 7-year period starts rolling after the date you paid the debt—not the date you originally incurred it. Basically, the debt re-ages once you pay it in full or settle it through a partial payment, which means the debt can actually stay on your credit report longer than 7 years.
This is another reason why it’s important to contact your creditors before you plan to pay off an overdue debt. By negotiating a pay-for-delete in advance of paying in full or settling a debt, you can prevent a paid collection from lingering on your credit report.
FICO® 9 and paid collections
When creditors assess your risk, they look at your FICO score, which is pulled from credit reports from Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.
This is the 300 to 850 scale you see on your credit report, which typically doesn’t vary much among the three credit bureaus.
The most common credit scoring model used to assign a consumer’s number on the scale is called FICO 8, but since 2016, this scoring model has been gradually replaced by FICO 9, which treats paid collections and medical debt more favorably than the old model.
Bottom line: FICO 9 assigns less weight to medical debt, and it disregards paid collections entirely. This is great news for those with large amounts of medical debt and/or paid collections that are pulling down their credit score.
The downside, however, is that not all creditors have made the switch to FICO 9. The old scoring model is proven, and creditors like to stick with what they know. Over time, though, more creditors will adopt FICO 9—which is good news for a large number of consumers.
Even if you’re unable to get a paid collection removed from your credit report, patience and good financial habits will eventually pay off.
As you wait for negative items to drop off your report, practice good credit strategies by paying your bills on time, periodically reviewing your credit report, and notifying creditors if you think you might be late on a payment.