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Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017
When you fall behind on a bill, you might get charged a late fee and your late payments could be recorded in your credit reports. If a bill goes unpaid for long enough, your creditor may send or sell your account to a collection agency.
The collection agency will then attempt to collect the balance from you — sometimes aggressively — and often reports its possession of your account to the credit bureaus. A new account with the collection agency’s name will then appear on your credit reports, and this can have a significant negative impact on your credit scores.
You might think that paying off the debt clears everything up, but that isn’t necessarily the case.
Generally, if you pay the amount you owe or settle for a lower payment, the collection account on your reports will be updated and marked paid in full, settled, or something similar. The impact of a collection account on your credit scores diminishes over time, and a paid account could look better to creditors than an unpaid account. But like other derogatory marks, the account can remain on your reports for up to seven years and 180 days since the account first became delinquent (your first late payment with the original creditor).
After an account is removed from your credit report, collection agencies can still continue to attempt to collect payment as long as the account isn’t outside the governing statute of limitations (state laws determine how long a creditor can attempt to collect certain debts).
Even so, removing a collection account could improve your credit scores, making it easier and less expensive to open new loans or lines of credit. Here are a few exceptions to the standard timeline and instances when a collection account won’t affect your credit score.
You’re a New York state resident. For current New York state residents, satisfied judgments and paid collection accounts must be removed five years from the date filed or date of last activity, respectively.
The collection account was for a medical bill that your insurance paid. A settlement between New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and the three nationwide credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — in March 2015 resulted in new national credit-reporting policies. Now, medical debt can’t be reported to the credit bureaus for 180 days, and medical collection accounts that are being paid, or are paid in full, by an insurance company must be removed from your credit report.
You didn’t have a contractual agreement to pay the debt. Another result of the settlement in New York was that credit reporting agencies can no longer report debts that aren’t a result of a contract or agreement you signed. In other words, if your debt from a parking ticket or library fine gets sent to a collection agency, it won’t be added to your credit reports.
The collection agency agrees to a pay for delete. Also known as pay for removal, a pay-for-delete agreement with a collection agency is an arrangement in which you agree to pay some or all of the amount owed the collection agency and requests the credit bureaus delete the collection account from your reports.
You’ll want to get a written agreement from the collection agency before sending a payment, but this could be difficult because in general a pay-for-delete agreement is considered a little shady. “Right now, the credit reporting standards do not allow for deletion of accurate collections simply because they’re paid,” says credit expert John Ulzheimer, formerly of FICO and Equifax. “That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, simply that it’s counter to the standards that debt collectors have been given by the credit reporting industry players.”
It requires the collection agency to stop reporting an account that legitimately existed, which may violate the agreement the collection agency has with one or more of the credit reporting agencies.
Your debt collection agency has a special policy. In October 2016, Midland Credit Management, a subsidiary of Encore Capital Group, one of the largest debt collection agencies in the world, announced a new policy.
If MCM bought your debt and you begin payments within three months, and continue making payments until the account is paid off, the company won’t report the account to the credit bureaus (i.e., it won’t appear on your credit reports).
Additionally, if it’s been more than two years since the date of delinquency and you pay the account in full or settle the account, MCM will request the credit bureaus delete the collection account from your credit reports.
The account isn’t yours. If a collection account is on one of your credit reports and you don’t owe the debt, or it’s a type of collection account that meets one of the above criteria for removal, you may be able to dispute the account. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires the credit bureaus and data furnishers (such as a collection agency) to correct inaccurate information.
Your lender uses one of the latest credit-score models. You might have paid or settled a collection account and still have to wait for the account to drop off your credit reports. However, if your lender is using the latest base FICO Score, FICO 9, or the VantageScore 3 scoring model, paid or settled collection accounts won’t affect your credit score. FICO Score 8 and 9 don’t consider collection accounts if your original balance was under $100.
However, lenders may use older credit-scoring models, which means a collection account could affect your score for as long as it’s on your credit reports and regardless of the original debt.