Credit damage may last beyond 7 years

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Dear Dr. Don,
When a negative account on my credit report is more than 7 years old, why does it continue to show on my credit report? A divorce put me in a terrible financial position and even after all these years, and even after paying the bad debts off, they still remain on my credit report. How can I get them off?
— Denise Denouement

Dear Denise,
Most negative information is required to drop off your credit report after seven years. One exception is the credit history associated with a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing. The listing of a judgment can also sometimes extend beyond the seven-year horizon.

The FTC Facts for Consumers publication “Building a Better Credit Report” puts a finer point on the timelines:

When negative information in your report is accurate, only the passage of time can assure its removal. A consumer reporting company can report most accurate negative information for seven years and bankruptcy information for 10 years. Information about an unpaid judgment against you can be reported for seven years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer. There is no time limit on reporting information about criminal convictions; information reported in response to your application for a job that pays more than $75,000 a year; and information reported because you’ve applied for more than $150,000 worth of credit or life insurance. There is a standard method for calculating the seven-year reporting period. Generally, the period runs from the date that the event took place.

Contacting the credit bureaus should be sufficient to get the old negative information off your credit report. The Bankrate feature “Fixing mistakes on your credit report” explains this process in greater depth. The story also links to a second feature, “Disputing and correcting a mistake on a credit report,” that provides the contact information for the three main consumer reporting agencies.