Public records can impact your credit score in a variety of ways. In the world of credit reporting, public records can include bankruptcy, judgments, liens, lawsuits, and foreclosures. Anything that might be considered a legal liability is a matter of public record, and will usually show up on your credit report.
Public records can be tough to remove from your credit report, but it can be done. It’s usually not as simple as removing a late payment or a credit inquiry, because when you are dealing with public records, courts are always involved.
Courts are required to keep certain types kinds of records archived online at the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER). You won’t find records protected by privacy laws (criminal records, medical records, etc.), but you will find anything relating to a financial matter that was settled by a court. Unfortunately, those records nearly always find their way to the credit bureaus.
When you set out to try to remove a public record form your credit report, you can approach it one of two ways.
- You can attempt to get the public record expunged at the court of record, which is not going to be an easy battle.
- Or, you can attempt to remove the entry from your credit reports.
While it may be easier (but certainly not easy) to get your way with the credit bureaus, it’s important to remember that even if you are successful, the records will remain at the court. The three primary public records that you will contend with on your credit reports are bankruptcy, civil judgements, and tax liens.
How can I remove a bankruptcy from my credit report?
If you have a bogus bankruptcy on your report, you need to contact the court and ask them for a written statement that verifies you did not have a bankruptcy on file. If the court does have a bankruptcy on file, you will need to work with them to resolve the issue, usually by providing identification and other records to prove something went wrong somewhere.
Once you get everything you need from the court, send it with copies of your identification and, of course, your dispute letter via certified mail to each of the major credit bureaus. It will usually take a few weeks for the changes to be recorded on your credit reports, as long as everything you sent checks out.
If you have a legitimate bankruptcy on your credit report, it will be much more difficult to remove the bankruptcy before the required 7-year reporting period after filing a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, or 10 years for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
The first thing you should do is look for any kind of inaccuracies in the way your bankruptcy is being reported. Even if it’s just a wrong date or an incorrect dollar amount. If you find something that looks like a mistake, or even something that looks like it could be a mistake, seize on it as an opportunity. Send a dispute letter and ask them to correct the mistake and remove the bankruptcy. The hope is that one of these steps will expose some kind of problem or technicality that occurred during the process and will ultimately be grounds for removal.
If you’re looking at 7-10 years with a tainted credit report anyway, why not give it shot? If it seems like too much work for such a small chance of success, you might want to consult with a bankruptcy attorney or credit repair company to assess your situation and see if they can help you better your chances.
How can I remove a civil judgment from my credit report?
Experian has a clear explanation regarding civil judgments on their website. If a judgment is accurate, it cannot be removed and will remain on the report for at least seven years. The key thing to focus on with that explanation is the word “accurate.”
You should dispute any type of judgment, again trying to find any grounds possible on which to argue your case. If you dispute an unsatisfied judgment and your dispute is rejected, you should do whatever you can to get the judgment converted to “satisfied,” even if it means borrowing money to do so.
Unsatisfied judgments are especially damaging to your credit report, because they make it clear to would-be lenders that you still owe a balance on an outstanding debt. Furthermore, unsatisfied judgments can accrue interest at unforgiving rates over time. Even if they come off your credit report seven years after filing, they can reappear on your report as a “refiled” judgment until the debt is finally paid.
Satisfied judgments are less damaging than unsatisfied judgments for obvious reasons, but they still stay on your credit report for seven years after filing. Vacated judgments are usually pretty easy. Dispute them and send proof they were vacated, and they should come off your report usually within 30 days.
How can I remove a tax lien from my credit report?
When state, local, or Federal tax agency places a tax lien when you fail to pay your tax debt on time, they are essentially filing a legal claim against your property. Your property can include your home, your cars, your valuables, any business interests you might have – even your bank accounts and investments.
As long as they remain unpaid, tax liens can stay on your credit report indefinitely. While it’s possible the credit bureaus may remove an unpaid tax lien after a period of ten years, there is no guarantee that will still be the case ten years from now. The best thing to do if you have an unpaid tax lien is pay it in full as soon as possible.
There are programs in place designed to help taxpayers begin the process of repairing their credit faster than they can with most other types of delinquencies. The IRS, for instance, has a program that will allow you to request a withdrawal of the public notice of a lien.
To apply for an IRS withdrawal, you need to fill out a Form 12277, Application for the Withdrawal of Filed Form 668, Notice of Federal Tax Lien. The form can be used for paid and unpaid tax liens, but it’s important to remember that if you are successful in getting an unpaid lien withdrawn from public notice, you are still required repay the outstanding debt that will remain on file at the courthouse.
There are certain criteria that you must agree to and/or qualify for in order to be eligible for an IRS withdrawal. It’s important to make sure you specify that you want all three credit bureaus to be notified when you complete the Form 12277.
These programs make sense for both the citizen and the tax authority. The hardline provisions related to tax liens in the Fair Credit Reporting Act, are designed to be a deterrent, not a punishment. The government wants your money. Despite how it may feel when you get hit with a lien, they are not seeking to punish you to the point that it’s impossible for you to pay them anymore.
When completing the Form 12277, you will be required to provide a reason for the withdrawal request. You may want to consider telling them that the lien is hurting your credit score, which is causing you financial hardship due to higher interest rates on existing credit balances, which in turn are hindering your ability to pay future taxes. This will incentivize them to give you a break because they’ll see it as a worthwhile investment of their time. Again, even though it may feel like they want you to suffer, the reality is they just want their “fair” share of your money.
What happens if my attempts at removal are not successful?
If you’ve exhausted all options with a public record entry on your credit report, and it just doesn’t look like you’re going to succeed, there are things you can do to improve your credit score. The first thing to do is develop a financial strategy to prevent any future judgment or any other types of delinquencies on your credit report.
You can cut expenses like cable, data plans, dining out, and other non-essentials. You can seek to increase revenue by taking on overtime or a second job. Anything you can do to get your revenue and expenses into a healthy balance will help you in the run.
It’s OK to borrow money within reason, since lenders want to see successful borrowing history. But you should avoid taking on loans that can hurt you if you run into temporary financial trouble like a lost job or medical emergency.
Make sure you make all your loan payments and credit card payments on time, and again, you need to do whatever it takes to satisfy any unpaid judgments or tax liens.
If it starts to feel overwhelming, you might want to consult with a reputable credit repair company, tax attorney or bankruptcy attorney. When it comes to public records, it often makes sense to leave the legal and technical challenges to the experts who have devoted a lifetime to solving these kinds of problems. You can think of it as an investment in your financial future, and it can help you avoid even more stumbling blocks down the road.