Ask Stacy: How Can I Clean Up My Credit History?

Man looking at credit score
Photo by Mila Supinskaya Glashchenko / Shutterstock.com

Here’s an email I recently received from a reader in Afghanistan. While ridding the world of bad guys, this Marine would also like to rid his credit history of two bad marks he got years ago by using a technique I suggested in the story Should You Pay For Credit Repair? Here’s what he said…

Sir,

I was reading an article that said you can send letters to request to get bad marks taken off of your credit score, that a link with advice from you was at the bottom, but due to some of the internet restraints we have on us in Afghanistan I cannot access the link to look more into it. I am now 26, an officer in the Marine Corps, and financially secure. I own my car, have a good investment and savings plan, and currently have no debt myself unless you account for the car payment and minimal credit card debt my wife has and our rent.

When I was in college I had a minor medical issue and there was a problem with my parent’s insurance and two doctors appointments were not paid for. We were trying to get the insurance to cover it like they were supposed to, but ended up getting hit for both by a collector. As soon as I got the notices in the mail I immediately paid them off without ever settling with the insurance company. I would have just paid them earlier, but did not know that it would end up affecting my credit score so much and the advice from my parents was to hold off while they worked the insurance. This occurred back in 2007.

With the credit check I use I currently have a 699, which isn’t bad, but the credit check also let me adjust things to see how it would affect my credit score, without those two blemishes I would be in the 800 range. I have looked into it and read that they should fall off my record after 7 yrs. I am looking to get stationed overseas for the next three years and plan on buying house once I get back. By that time, those blemishes should have disappeared.

Should I look into trying sending a letter to get them removed or will they disappear (like I read) before I start looking to make the major purchase of buying a house and not worry about it?

My wife is also in the military and her credit score is in the high 700s, so I am not really worried, just wondering if you can confirm that those blemishes should be removed after seven years or should I try sending the letter?

Respectfully,
Chris

First, thanks for your service – those of us stateside appreciate it more than you know.

Now to your question. The best course of action for you, Chris, is to relax and do nothing. By the time you start looking for a mortgage (which you can do here on this website), those bad marks should be gone.

But there are a few things to note regarding Chris’ question, so let’s explore this issue a little further.

Getting negatives erased from your credit history

While you should always keep an eye on your credit score, the time to start getting obsessive about it is about a year before you intend to borrow. That means finding your actual score by going to MyFICO.com and paying for a peek. Using a score estimator like Chris did isn’t nearly as useful as seeing the real thing. Raising your score takes time, so allow plenty to do it.

If you find that your score is low, what can you do? The article mentioned above has the detail, and you should read it, but here are the short strokes.

1. Get your reports. Since your score is derived from your credit history, start by going to AnnualCreditReport.com and getting a free copy. Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion have to supply one free copy per year.

2. Check for accuracy. Make sure your name, present and past addresses, credit inquiries, Social Security number, and account information (balance, payment dates, status) are all correct. If something isn’t right, it should be disputed online, or by sending the agency a letter.

3. Deal with the negatives. There are basically three ways to get negative marks removed from your credit history, two of which Chris mentions above. The first is to let them expire: late pays and collections should disappear after seven years, bankruptcies after 10. The second way is to challenge the negative mark by treating it like a mistake and disputing it with the credit reporting agency. This works if the agency is unable to verify the information with the creditor. If they can’t because the creditor doesn’t respond or is out of business, the negative has to be removed. The final way, which Chris also mentions, is to write the creditor and ask them to remove it.

The reason I suggested Chris sit tight rather than writing creditors and asking them to remove his negatives is because it’s highly unlikely he’d succeed. Once a debt is sold to a collection agency, the original creditor – in Chris’ case, two doctor’s offices – no longer own the debt, and have nothing to gain. Getting any creditor to remove negatives is an uphill battle, and works best if you’ve got leverage – for example, you have an unpaid bill to bargain with, or you’re still a good customer. The doctors Chris failed to pay probably took a big hit – at least 50 percent – when they sold those accounts to a collection agency. It’s unlikely they’ll go out of their way to help him.

There is one other thing Chris could do. He’s entitled to add a 100-word explanation to anything in his credit report, and the explanation he provided above is a pretty good one. But while explanations are better than nothing, they probably would do little to improve his score.

Also important to remember: The older a negative is, the less it affects your credit. So if Chris does nothing, he should still see steady improvement in his score as time passes and expiration day approaches.

Got a question for me?

If you have a question of general interest, send it my way. I get tons, so please don’t be offended if I don’t get to yours, but I’ll do my best!

Got more money questions? Browse lots more Ask Stacy answers here.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
My Favorite Amazon Purchases From 22 Years of Shopping There
My Favorite Amazon Purchases From 22 Years of Shopping There

Yes, I’ve been shopping on Amazon since the 1990s. These are among my most beloved buys.

7 Unusual Ways to Declutter Your Home
7 Unusual Ways to Declutter Your Home

Tired of possessions weighing you down? Here are seven ways to declutter painlessly and effectively.

29 Purchases That Can Save You Money Every Day
29 Purchases That Can Save You Money Every Day

Sometimes, you’ve got to spend to save.

6 Reasons I Will Never Trust Suze Orman
6 Reasons I Will Never Trust Suze Orman

Beware: The self-proclaimed personal finance expert has a track record that suggests more sizzle than steak.

Want a Healthy Retirement? Turn This Device Off
Want a Healthy Retirement? Turn This Device Off

A common behavior becomes increasingly dangerous for those who are 50 or older.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco
7 Kirkland Signature Items to Avoid at Costco

Even if it seems you save a bundle buying Costco’s Kirkland Signature brand products, they may not be the bargain they appear to be.

How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership
How to Buy Gas At Costco Without a Membership

The warehouse club often has some of the cheapest gas in town. Here’s how you can get it as a nonmember.

10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home
10 Things to Stop Buying If You Want a Clutter-Free Home

If you like to keep things simple, avoid these purchases.

If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It
If You Find This Thrift Shopping, Buy It

Vacuums from this brand can last a half-century, if not longer — and they’re hot on the resale market.

A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today
A Simple Way to Silence Robocalls Today

A few steps can keep your phone from ringing when a spammer calls.

This Company Makes the Best Tires in America
This Company Makes the Best Tires in America

Driver satisfaction with tires is at an all-time high, but one brand stands out.

This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance
This Health Issue Can Hint at Dementia Years in Advance

One type of pain is especially associated with cognitive decline.

Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?
Can I Switch to Spousal Social Security Benefits When My Ex Dies?

Knowing when to claim can help you maximize benefits.

36 Things That Will Be Obsolete Soon
36 Things That Will Be Obsolete Soon

The writing is on the wall for dozens of things we have grown up with.

Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs
Medicare Will Not Cover These 6 Medical Costs

Don’t let these health care expenses catch you off guard in retirement.

8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon
8 Things You Should Always Buy on Amazon

The giant retailer shines when it comes to these things, from basics to hard-to-find specialty goods.

5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free
5 Ways to Get Amazon Prime for Free

Hesitant to drop $119 a year on an Amazon Prime membership? Here’s how to get it for free.

8 Federal Income Tax Breaks for Homeowners
8 Federal Income Tax Breaks for Homeowners

Some of these deductions and credits are available to a wide swath of homeowners.

5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food
5 Ways to Fill Your Pantry With Free Food

Anyone can take advantage of these resources.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

10 Types of Retirement Income That Are Not Taxable
10 Types of Retirement Income That Are Not Taxable

There are lots of things Uncle Sam can’t touch — so long as you play by the rules.

6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home
6 Reasons You Should Stop Hiding Cash at Home

Stashing money around the house is anything but harmless.

5 States With the Worst Health Care for Retirees
5 States With the Worst Health Care for Retirees

All of these states are located in the same region of the nation.

5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic
5 Products You Should Never Buy Generic

Sometimes the brand-name version is clearly superior.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.