Dear Credit Card Adviser,
I owe a credit card company money. The original amount charged was $300. They want $1,800, so I never paid. How long until it no longer shows up on my free credit report?
— Alicia T.

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Dear Alicia,
Delinquent credit card accounts are typically charged off an issuer’s books once they are 180 days past due. Given how the amount you owe has skyrocketed, there’s a good chance you’ve passed this window and your debt has entered or will soon be entering collections. (Either that, or you have “the worst credit card interest rate in history,” says John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at CreditSesame.)

Collection accounts stay on a credit report for seven years. Moreover, they’re going to affect your scores significantly for that time frame.

“Generally, the older a late payment, the less impact it has,” says Rod Griffin, director of public education for credit bureau Experian. “With a collection account … it’s going to be a minimal change over time. You’re sort of at the bottom of the barrel at that point and it’s a long way up.”

One modicum of good news: The seven-year countdown starts “from the date the original account went into default, and not a day longer,” Ulzheimer says. In other words, you won’t be penalized if the debt isn’t charged off and sold right away or if it bounces from debt collector to debt collector.

Another bit of good news: Some newer credit scoring models, including VantageScore 3.0 and the soon-to-be-released FICO 9, will bypass paid collections accounts entirely. So squaring up the debt could be in your score’s best interest, at least in cases where that particular model is in use. (Remember: Lenders use more than one credit score and/or credit scoring model when underwriting loans.)

To cover all bases here, if your debt isn’t in collections yet and is still merely in default, “the seven years begins from that month” the account went delinquent, Ulzheimer says.

In either case, it’s in your best interest to try to at least work out some type of payment plan with your creditor or debt collector. Failing to do so could result in a court judgment giving them the right to garnish your assets and wages. Judgments could also appear on your credit report and affect your free credit score for seven years from the filing date.

“The reporting of a judgment has nothing to do with the original account,” Ulzheimer says.

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