If you’re looking to remove a public record from your credit report, here’s some good news: you really only have to worry if you have a bankruptcy on your report. That’s because tax liens and judgments no longer appear on credit reports.
This guide walks you through each type of public record, what you can expect when it comes to your credit report, how a public record impacts your credit score, and how long you can expect it to stay on your report.
How to remove a public record from your credit report
Did you know bankruptcy is probably the only type of public record that will appear on your credit report? (We’ll get to why that is in a little bit).
That said, it’s still good to know how to deal with various types of public records, as it’s always possible the credit bureaus will modify how they report public records at some point in the future.
If you’re concerned about how a bankruptcy will affect your credit score, there’s good news and bad news.
The bad news is there’s no way to budge the bankruptcy from your credit report—assuming the bankruptcy is yours and not on your credit report by mistake.
On the positive side, the bankruptcy’s impact on your credit score will slowly diminish over time. You can also minimize its effect on your score by working to improve your credit while you wait for the bankruptcy to age off your report.
Like bankruptcy, a foreclosure can be difficult to remove from your credit report. If the foreclosure is accurately reported—meaning it’s not there by mistake—you can expect it to stay on your credit report for up to seven years.
If you’re facing foreclosure, it might be worth exploring the possibility of a short sale. With a short sale, you sell your house for less than what you owe, but you avoid foreclosure.
In some cases, the bank will accept a short sale, as they usually prefer receiving at least some of their money rather than nothing at all. Plus, a short sale means the home transfers to a new owner rather than ending up on the bank’s books.
If you choose to pursue a short sale, however, you should negotiate with the bank to have the short sale reported as “paid” rather than as a short sale. This might not always be possible, but it’s worth trying.
You won’t find tax liens on your credit report anymore, but that doesn’t mean the IRS or your state’s tax authority won’t still file one against you.
While the credit bureaus have decided not to report tax liens for now, nothing in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) prevents them from changing their policies and starting up reporting again—as long as any new policies comply with the terms of the NCAP.
Before the NCAP, tax liens were particularly difficult to remove from a credit report. This was because the law allowed unpaid tax liens to stick around indefinitely, meaning they could lower your score for years while they remained unpaid.
Prior to the NCAP, you could ask the IRS to withdraw a tax lien as long as you paid your obligation in full, filed your income tax returns properly for at least three years, and stayed up to date on all federal taxes.
The IRS also offered (and still offers) lien withdrawal if you sign up for autopay withdrawals and make payments toward your tax debt.
To qualify for the lien withdrawal program, you must meet certain criteria.
According to a 2018 report released by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the credit bureaus removed all civil judgments from credit reports following the NCAP—this means you almost certainly don’t have to worry about a judgment showing up on your credit report.
Before the NCAP, civil judgments could stay on your credit report for up to seven years. Once you pay a judgment, it’s considered “satisfied.”
As with any debt, it’s better for your credit score if the debt is paid rather than unpaid. Thus, if you had a judgment on your credit report prior to the NCAP, it was better to pay it and then make sure the credit bureaus marked it as a satisfied judgment.
It’s also possible for courts to overturn a case on appeal. In that case, a judgment could be vacated, which means it gets thrown out altogether.
Before the NCAP, you could dispute a vacated judgment with the credit bureaus and have it removed from your credit report.
What is a public record?
If you’re already familiar with what a credit report is, you know that creditors report things like late payments (and on-time payments) to the credit bureaus. If you pay your bills on time and follow other credit best practices, you can expect your credit score to stay high.
But your credit report can also contain public records, which get published by the courts.
Because the legal system operates on principles of openness and fairness, you’ll always receive notice when your name and information are part of the public record.
Exception: While you’re entitled to notice of a civil judgment, foreclosure, or tax lien, you might not receive the notice if you’ve changed addresses. This is why it’s important to check your credit reports on a regular basis. You typically don’t have to worry about missing notice of a bankruptcy, since bankruptcy is something you initiate on your own.
Public records can get generated in a variety of ways.
For example, the bankruptcy court creates a public record every time you file bankruptcy.
Likewise, your information will go into the public record if the bank forecloses on your home, or if you fail to pay your taxes.
If you’re named in a lawsuit and the court issues a judgment for money damages against you, that also becomes part of the public record.
If you’re keeping track at home, that’s four types of public records: bankruptcy, foreclosure, tax liens, and civil judgments (lawsuits).
It’s worth noting that not every state includes foreclosures as part of the public record, so check your state laws to see if your state is one of them.
Public records that won’t appear on your credit report
Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about certain kinds of public records showing up on your credit report.
The credit bureaus only include records that stem from a debt, which means things like probate records, divorces, income tax, and welfare benefits won’t appear on your credit report. The credit bureaus also don’t report on things like unpaid traffic citations.
Also, changes in federal law mean that bankruptcies are really the only public record you’ll see on your credit report as of April 2018.
Why you won’t find tax liens or civil judgments on your credit report
Before 2015, tax liens and civil judgments were regularly included in the public records section of your credit report.
In 2015, however, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion entered into a settlement agreement called the National Consumer Assistance Plan (NCAP) with attorneys general in over 30 states. A major component of the settlement agreement required the three major credit bureaus to change their standards for reporting on public records.
As of July 1, 2017, any public record on your credit report must include your name, address, and your social security number or your birth date before the credit bureaus can include it on your credit report. If a public record is missing any piece of this information, the credit bureaus can’t report it.
When the settlement first took effect, the credit bureaus removed some tax liens and civil judgments here and there. As of April 2018, however, the credit bureaus no longer include any tax liens or judgments on credit reports. If you noticed a jump in your credit score around this time, the NCAP changes could explain why.
While the NCAP may be a source of relief, you might still have cause for concern if you have an old tax lien, foreclosure, or judgment lurking in your past. These public records might not show up on your credit report anymore, but mortgage lenders can still search for them when you apply for a loan. This is why it’s still good to know the steps for removing these public records.
How a public record impacts your credit score
If you’ve filed for bankruptcy, you can expect it to lower your credit score considerably—some financial experts estimate the average credit score plummets by as much as 200 points after a bankruptcy.
Because potential creditors assess your level of risk based on whether you have a good track record of paying your bills, bankruptcy is a huge red flag, as it tells creditors you couldn’t keep up with your obligations.
After the initial plunge, however, your credit score will eventually start to recover, albeit slowly in most cases.
Although bankruptcy will stay on your credit report for up to 10 years, the impact will diminish over time—especially if you focus on raising your score while you wait for the bankruptcy to drop off.
How long do public records stay on your credit report?
If you’ve filed bankruptcy, you can expect a Chapter 7 to stay on your credit report for up to 10 years. Generally, Chapter 13 will stay on your credit report for seven years.
Because you may need time to complete your payment plan, however, a Chapter 13 bankruptcy could remain on your report for up to 10 years from the date you initially filed.
What happens if you can’t get a public record removed?
Fortunately, the NCAP has made it so you really only need to focus on how bankruptcy impacts your credit score. On the other hand, bankruptcy is easily the most damaging hit your credit score can take.
But don’t panic. If you’ve filed for bankruptcy, there are still ways to repair and rebuild your credit.
For example, you can commit yourself to paying your bills on time every month, establish a positive credit history by taking out a credit builder loan or applying for a secured credit card or work with a credit repair company to see if they can help.
Keep in mind that your payment history makes up 35 percent of your credit score, so make it a priority to always stay current on your monthly financial obligations.
Recovering from damaging public records
Bankruptcy is by far the worst type of public record for your credit score, and it’s best to avoid filing if you can.
However, it’s also bad for your credit score—and your stress levels—if you’re stuck with mounting bills you can’t afford to pay. In some cases, bankruptcy can be the fresh start you need, and keep in mind that a bankruptcy won’t stay on your credit report forever.
In the meantime, sticking to credit best practices can help you rebuild your credit and boost your score.