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Updated on Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Are you looking to clean up your credit report? Have you recently discovered a delinquent account on your report that you were unaware of until now? Then you might be considering using a pay for delete letter to get this negative mark off your credit report.
There are a few important things you need to know about pay for delete letters – namely, what they are, how (and if) they work, whether or not they’re ethical, and what other credit restoring options are available to you.
What is a Pay for Delete Letter?
Say you have a delinquent account or two on your credit report, and these accounts are bringing your credit score down. You can send a pay for delete letter to the collection agency that purchased your debt. This letter requests that the account be deleted from your credit report upon being paid either in full, or for a settled amount.
It’s essentially as the name describes – debtors pay the collection agency to get the negative mark to disappear from their credit report. Once the mark is lifted, their credit score will likely rise.
Why is this a tactic some people choose to use? Even if you pay the balance in full, the negative mark still stays on your credit report until seven years from the date of delinquency have passed. Those who don’t wish to wait that long turn to pay for delete as a quicker solution.
Keep in mind that pay for delete letters generally have a much higher chance of success if you’re dealing with the collection agency – not the original creditor. So if your credit card with Chase is past due, and your balance has not been charged off yet, a pay for delete letter may not work. Generally, the lower the balance, the easier it might be to obtain a pay for delete. We offer a few alternative solutions below that might work as well.
Note that a pay for delete letter doesn’t delete your debt. You’re only asking for the account to be deleted from your credit report. Most people use pay for delete letters when they know they owe the debt, but due to unusual circumstances, were unable to pay at the time.
A good example of when to request a pay for delete is if you moved and you never received a bill due to changing addresses. You legitimately owed the balance, but you were never aware of it. This doesn’t exactly make you an irresponsible consumer, it just means there was an error along the way and an account ended up delinquent.
The same goes for owing medical debt when you thought your insurance was covering the bill because you never received a request for payment.
In both situations, you technically owe the money, but through no fault of your own, you were never notified of the debt, so you didn’t pay. Debt collectors are more likely to be understanding in such a situation. Just make sure to have proof (such as a change of address) that might help your case.
However, if your credit card balance was charged off and you simply never paid it because you didn’t have the means to, you may be less likely to get a pay for delete approved.
To see an actual example of an effective pay for delete letter, take a look at the myFICO forums. The Credit Karma forums have a slightly different example that may help you craft your own. Note that some pay for delete letters may outright deny the debt is yours; this is not something we recommend as you shouldn’t be lying to collection agencies if you truly owe the debt.
Can a Pay for Delete Letter Help You?
A pay for delete letter won’t necessarily hurt you, but it’s not guaranteed to help you, either.
That’s because collection agencies don’t have to respond to your letter if the debt is accurate. Furthermore, if you write a pay for delete letter and only obtain a verbal agreement from the collection agency, and you pay, they may not honor your request. The negative mark could remain on your credit report. Even worse, the debt could be sold again, and a new collection agency may ask you for payment.
Unless you get a response from the collection agency in writing, you’re out of luck if the agency doesn’t make good on removing the information from your credit report. They’re not obligated in any way to agree to a pay for delete.
Before you even write a pay for delete letter, send a debt validation letter to the collection agency to ensure the information it has on file is accurate. It may not legally be allowed to collect on the debt, so it’s important to start here before offering to pay, otherwise, you risk paying the wrong company.
If the debt is proven to be valid, and you agree that you owe the balance and want to pay it off to get it deleted from your report, you may actually have more luck calling than writing a letter.
Keep in mind that if it comes to that, you should never agree to pay anything over the phone. Always get things in writing when dealing with a debt collector. In most cases, offering to pay in full will typically result in a pay for delete agreement much more often than offering to pay less than the original amount owed.
Are Pay for Delete Letters Ethical?
Pay for delete letters have been labeled as a shady practice, and for good reason: it requires that collection agencies misrepresent the accuracy of their reporting to credit reporting agencies. That means collection agencies are in violation of the service agreement they have with credit reporting agencies if they accept a pay for delete.
Overall, pay for delete is detrimental to the fundamental purpose of the credit reporting system. If someone was unable to pay their balance and their account was sent to collections, paying after the fact and getting the account erased isn’t an accurate representation of his or her credit history. If a lender looks at said person’s credit report, it might deem him worthy to lend to when he’s been irresponsible with credit in the past.
To be clear, pay for delete letters are not illegal. However, remember that collection agencies aren’t required to acknowledge your request; they’re under no obligation to agree to a pay for delete.
Some will because they would rather get paid, and others might agree to settle on a lower amount because they don’t want the hassle. Don’t get your hopes up, though.
In general, we recommend being honest and not trying to game the system. Pay the debts you owe fair and square. If you find any information on your credit report that isn’t accurate, then use the steps outlined in this Credit Repair eBook to help you restore your credit to good standing.
Recommended Credit Boosting Alternatives
A goodwill letter is a good alternative to start with. It’s different from a pay for delete letter in that you’re admitting you were in the wrong, and are asking for forgiveness. A goodwill letter typically works well if you made a late payment, or if an honest mistake occurred and you’re trying to get it corrected. If you’ve had an account in collections for years, the chances of this alternative working aren’t as a great, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
If the collection agency is unwilling to do a pay for delete, they may be willing to settle for the amount owed. What this means is the negative mark will stay on your credit report (until seven years from the date of delinquency have passed), but it will show as “paid in full” or “settled,” depending on the arrangement agreed upon. This might not be as ideal as having the entire account knocked off your report, but it’s a minor improvement over having an unpaid debt on there.
Depending on the FICO scoring model being used, paid collections can improve your score and your chances of getting approved for a loan. FICO 9 won’t penalize you for paid collections accounts, but you will get dinged for unpaid collections (the exception is medical debt). FICO 8 doesn’t take unpaid collections under $100 into account.
Remember that information on your credit report will fall off after seven years. If you just found out about an unpaid debt because you checked your report, and the debt is several years old, you might be better off waiting it out as long as you’re not in the market for a loan anytime soon. The older a collection is, the less of an impact it has on your credit score, too.
Of course, you should also continue to do what you can to repair your credit. You might need to wait out the seven years it takes for black marks to fall off your credit report, but in the meantime, you should take action to maintain a good score for the future. Pay on time, don’t max out your credit lines, and borrow responsibly.
You can’t bribe your way to a perfect credit report. If the information on your credit report is accurate, then you should bear the consequences. Pay for delete letters aren’t guaranteed to work, and it can be difficult to try and get a collection agency to agree to it. Keep proving that you’re a responsible consumer using the methods outlined in this article, and hopefully your actions will show lenders that you’re a reformed consumer.