Dear Credit Card Adviser,
About eight years ago, I refused to pay charges on two separate small bills (less than $100 each). Both went to collections, which I have never paid and refused to settle. It has now been more than seven years, but at least one of these is still appearing on one or more of my credit reports. What do I do?
— Judy

Dear Judy,
These collection items shouldn’t be on your credit report after seven years under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, or FCRA. Under the law, the only thing allowed to stay on your credit report for longer is a bankruptcy, which stays on for 10 years.

I’m assuming you’ve seen a recent credit report to know they are there. If you haven’t, check out your free credit report and free credit score from each of the three national credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You’re entitled to free copies every 12 months from each bureau under FCRA.

Once you have your reports, look carefully for the old collection accounts. It’s important to note the date associated with the collection account. The clock starts ticking from the date of the first delinquency on the account, not when the debt went into collections or when the debt collector first received the account.

If the delinquency date is right and seven years have passed, you need to file a dispute with the credit bureaus. Each one has an online dispute form, which is much easier and cheaper than sending a written letter by certified mail. The bureaus must investigate and respond to your dispute within 30 days.

If the delinquency date on the collections account isn’t correct on one or more of your credit reports, file an online dispute and attach any documentation showing the date is wrong.

You should also contact the collection agency that is reporting the collection account and request verification of the debt, including the first date of delinquency, under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, or FDCPA. Most likely, the debt collector either received the wrong date from the creditor or mistakenly provided the inaccurate date to the credit bureaus. Send a letter along with copies of documentation supporting the correct date of delinquency by certified mail. If the debt collector determines there has been an error, it must correct its records and notify the credit bureaus by law.

If the credit reporting bureaus don’t delete the old debt, but the collection account’s time limit has expired, file an online complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The government agency is your advocate and will help mediate a resolution between you and the credit bureaus. You must file a dispute with the credit bureaus first before the CFPB will take your complaint.

If the debt collector is the problem and rejects your dispute, contact the Federal Trade Commission and your state’s attorney general to file a complaint against the agency.

You can also find a consumer advocate attorney, who can advise you if you should sue the credit bureaus or the debt collector for violating the FCRA or the FDCPA. The National Association of Consumer Advocates has an online attorney locator on its website. Good luck!

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