Experian, TransUnion and Equifax now offer all U.S. consumers free weekly credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com.
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If you've fallen behind on paying your financial accounts, how do you find out which ones have been turned over to debt collectors? Perhaps the easiest way to check what debts are in collections is to review your credit reports.
How to Find Out What You Have in Collections
To find out what debts you have in collections, check each of your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax). Since collection agencies aren't required to report account activity to the credit bureaus, checking your credit reports from all three credit reporting agencies helps ensure you don't miss anything. Keep in mind, though, that some collection agencies might not report activity to any of the credit bureaus whatsoever.
You can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three bureaus by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. You also can get a free copy of your credit report by calling 877-322-8228 or by filling out and mailing an official request form. And with an Experian account, you can see your Experian credit report for free at any time via the Experian website or app.
Once you obtain a credit report, look under the "collections" or "account information" section to see which of your debts are in the hands of debt collectors. Each debt that's gone to collections might be listed as a separate account.
Your credit report shows the amount you owe on each account, as well as the status and payment history of each debt.
What if a Debt Isn't on My Credit Report?
If you don't spot a debt in collections on your credit report, you still might be aware of the debt. How? If you applied for credit and were denied, you'll receive what's known as an "adverse action" letter. This letter tells you why your application was rejected. If a collection account triggered this decision, the letter will make note of that.
Of course, you also may have learned about a debt in collections after being notified by the debt collector. Once a debt collector sends you a collection notice, federal law gives you 30 days to send the collector a letter asking them to confirm the debt if you question whether you owe it.
Before a debt collector reports a debt to one or more of the credit bureaus, it must take one of these two actions:
- Talk with you by phone or in person about the debt
- Mail a letter or send electronic communication (such as an email) about the debt
If you believe a debt collector is contacting you in error, take the time to make sure you understand your legal rights and protections.
Types of Debt That Can Go to Collections
An array of debts can go to collections and appear on your credit reports. Among the debts you might see on your credit reports are:
- Credit card balances
- Student loans
- Auto loans (even after a car has been repossessed, if a deficiency balance remains)
- Personal loans
- Utility bills
- Bank fees and overdrafts
- Fines and fees imposed by courts, law enforcement or government agencies
- Medical bills
It's worth noting that recent changes have been made in how medical debts are reported to the credit bureaus. Paid medical debts, medical debts less than a year old and medical debts under $500 no longer appear on credit reports.
How Do Collection Accounts Affect Your Credit?
Collection accounts typically remain on your credit reports for seven years after the debt initially became overdue without being repaid.
Generally, collection accounts hurt your credit for as long as they're on your credit reports. But the impact lessens over time. Still, a collection account on a credit report is a negative mark that can significantly bring down your credit score. This, in turn, can make it harder to qualify for credit or to obtain attractive lending terms, such as lower interest rates.
Not all collection accounts are reflected in credit scores, though. For instance, fully paid collections are ignored by the FICO® Score☉ 9 and FICO® Score 10 scoring models. Meanwhile, collections with an original amount under $100 are disregarded by the FICO® Score 8, FICO® Score 9 and FICO® Score 10 scoring models.
How to Improve Your Credit
So, how can you improve your credit if you've got one or more accounts in collections? Here are nine steps you might want to take.
- Pay off the debt that's been turned over to debt collectors. Some credit scoring models ignore paid-off collection accounts.
- Make on-time debt payments that at least cover the minimum amount due. Payment history represents 35% of your FICO® Score, the biggest scoring factor.
- Rebuild your credit. There are many ways to go about this, but you may start with a secured credit card or credit-builder loan.
- Consolidate debt. Moving higher-interest credit card debt to a lower-interest personal loan can make it easier to pay down debt and avoid missing a payment.
- Reduce your debt. The amount of debt you owe accounts for 30% of your FICO® Score.
- Resist the temptation to apply for new credit. New credit makes up 10% of your FICO® Score. Hard inquiries associated with credit applications can temporarily lower your scores.
- Regularly monitor your credit score and credit reports. Seeing a sudden drop in your credit score can alert you that something is amiss.
- Review your credit reports for information that may have been reported by creditors in error. You have the right to dispute credit report information you believe is inaccurate.
- Seek help. Reach out to your creditors or a nonprofit credit counselor if you've run into trouble juggling your bills.
The Bottom Line
No one wants their debts to go to collections. But if it does happen, you can make moves to ease the impact. These include reviewing your credit reports, paying off past-due debt, making timely payments on other debts and looking for ways to rebuild your credit. Need help? Get your credit score and Experian credit report for free today.
Learn More About Collections
- What Is a Collection Agency?
Debt collection agencies work with lenders and creditors to collect outstanding debt. Working with them proactively makes the process easier.
- How to Pay Off Debt Collections
Facing up to debt that has gone into collections and taking concrete action to eliminate it can put the debt—and debt collectors—in the past.
- How Long Do Collection Agencies Have to Collect a Debt?
In some states, collection agencies may have no limit to how long they can pursue a debt. Here’s what you need to know.
- What Should I Do When My Account Goes to Collections?
Learning that your account has gone to collections can strike fear in anyone. Learn about the collections process and how to get help.