Verify the age
One of the biggest factors in fighting old debt? Determining just how old it really is.
"If it's not falling off, then the credit reporting companies have not received the right date," says Maxine Sweet, recently retired vice president of public education for credit bureau Experian.
With a court action (like judgment or bankruptcy), determining the date is easy. You count it the day it was filed, says Evan Hendricks, author of "Credit Reports & Credit Scores: How the System Really Works, What You Can Do."
Delinquency is more difficult. "The regulatory language on it is very complicated," says Sweet. However, the date that you first became delinquent and after which never caught up is the date that should count, she says.
Her example: You miss a payment in January. Then you make it up and also pay in February. Then you miss March and your bill eventually goes into default. Your delinquency date would be March.
In practice, divining a delinquency date can be "squishy," says Hendricks. Some creditors may let that string of nonpayments go for a couple of months before the account is tagged delinquent, he says.