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Late payments can stay on your credit reports for up to seven years. If you believe a late payment is being reported in error, you can dispute the information with Experian. You can also contact the original creditor directly to voice your concern and ask them to investigate. If they determine they reported the late payment by mistake, they can contact the credit reporting companies to have it removed.
Check Your Credit Report to See if the Late Payments Are Accurate
To start, review your credit reports and the details about the late payments. Consider which account is being reported late, when the late payments were reported and the amount that was reported past due. Keep in mind, interest and fees can lead to larger past-due balances.
If you're able to, review your own financial records about the account to see if there's a discrepancy. While even being one day late is enough for some creditors to charge you a late fee and dole out other penalties, many won't report an account as delinquent until it is 30 days past due.
Once a late payment is reported to one of the credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion or Equifax), it can stay on your credit report for up to seven years. Even if you later bring your account current, the payment you missed will remain in your credit history as a record of what happened.
Most negative information, late payments included, will be removed from your credit reports after seven years. Additionally, when a series of late payments leads to your account being closed, charged off or transferred to a collection agency, the entire account will be removed seven years after the first missed payment that led up that status. Chapter 7 bankruptcies stay on your credit report for up to 10 years, but the accounts included in the bankruptcy are also removed after seven years.
If you believe there's an error on your credit report, the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) gives you the right to dispute the item with the credit bureaus at no charge. The credit bureau will typically contact the company that reported the information and ask them to verify its accuracy. The creditor must complete a reasonable investigation and generally has 30 days to respond to the dispute. If additional information is provided during the dispute process, 15 days can be added to the investigation period.
Contact Your Creditor for Assistance
If you believe a creditor incorrectly reported the late payment, you may want to start by submitting a dispute directly to them. Include any documentation you have—such as copies of a canceled check or payment verification email.
If the creditor investigates and agrees that there was an error, it will send an update to all the credit bureaus it reports to and have the late payment corrected or deleted. You can monitor your credit reports for the changes, which may take several billing cycles to appear.
How to Dispute Inaccurate Information on Your Credit Report
You can also dispute any inaccurate information on your credit reports with the appropriate credit bureaus. Once a dispute is filed with the bureau, it will reach out to the creditor that supplied the information and ask them to verify it and respond to your claim.
If the creditor makes a change in response to your dispute, it must notify all other consumer reporting agencies to which it reported the information of the change.
Because each bureau handles disputes independently, you should check your report with each to make sure the changes have been made. If they haven't, contact each of the credit reporting companies that are reporting the information separately to initiate a dispute with them.
Experian has an online portal you can use to submit a dispute, or you can file a dispute by phone, mail or fax if you prefer. Equifax and TransUnion have similar systems and options.
Filing a dispute is free, and you can attach or send copies of supporting documentation to verify your claim. However, some items that appear on your credit report typically aren't disputable, such as correct legal names and addresses.
Once a credit bureau concludes its investigation, it may verify, update or delete the item in question. Disputes are generally resolved in 30 days—although they may be completed even sooner.
Sometimes, the creditor will disagree and continue to report the late payment, or the late payment may be removed temporarily but re-reported later once it has been verified. If you still disagree, and you have additional documentation supporting your claim, you can submit that new documentation to the credit bureau and request a new dispute.
Monitor Your Credit for Free
Regularly monitoring your credit reports for changes can help you stay on top of new information as it is reported and can also help detect potential credit fraud or identity theft sooner. Experian's free credit monitoring can help by automatically alerting you to important or potentially suspicious changes. Whether it's a late payment, a balance increase or a collection account, keeping a close watch can help you keep your credit scores in great shape and help you protect yourself from potential fraud.