Paying Off Old Past Due Bills Without Hurting Your Credit Again

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People sometimes ask how they can improve their credit if they have old collections on their credit record.

Well, the answer is NOT to simply pay them. Paying off a five year old collection can cause your credit score to drop by 100 points.

You say that makes no sense? Well, here's the logic of it: Collections are weighted by how old they are; when your last activity was. They are weighted heaviest for the first two years, then somewhat lighter from two years to five, then lighter still after five years. If you pay it off, it's still a derogatory notation, because after all, you were way past due on it. But now the date it gets marked with is TODAY, and now you've got an absolutely fresh collection on your credit record. In other words, it comes back to bite you just as hard as it ever did, for another two years, after which it'll still be worse than it was for another three. You pay off an old collection, and it will be five years before it hurts you as little as it did before you pay it off.

So what you do is get a promissory letter of deletion. This says that *if* you pay $X, they promise to issue a letter of deletion. You need this promise in writing. Call or write the company involved, and come to an arrangement that if you pay however many dollars you agree upon, they will give you a deletion letter. Tell them to send it to you at your current mailing address. Don't pay until you do have the promissory letter in your possession, lest your credit suffer the hit I discussed above. These things are old - it is better for your credit to simply leave them sit than to pay them off and bring the delinquency date to TODAY. Many creditors apparently do not understand this. Make sure you explain it to them. "Without your written promise to delete this account upon payment, I am better off not paying this." Because that is the truth.

Once you have the promissory letter in your possession, then pay the bill. Include a copy of the letter with the bill to remind them. They will wait until your payment clears. They should then issue an actual letter of deletion. This is on company letterhead, has a contact name and phone number and an authorized signature. It should be short and sweet, reference the account, and say "Please delete this account."

You then send copies of that letter to the credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) and get your account deleted. Once the account - and the negative reference - is deleted, it's like it never existed. It is only once the account is actually deleted that your credit will see any actual benefit, and for the period between paying it off and deleting the account, your score will plummet. If you don't get to the point where the account is deleted, paying off old bills maims your credit instead of improving it as most folks would think.

If the company reneges on the deletion letter after promising to issue it, you have the legal ability to sue them. That promissory letter is a legal contract, with offer, acceptance, and consideration, for a legal purpose, etcetera. Talk to a lawyer about the details, I'm just a loan officer who's helped people with this a few times.

This entire process does take a month or two, and it can take thirty days to show up on your credit after it's complete. There is a process called Rapid Re-Score which can accelerate it, but Rapid Re-Score should not be something you plan on using - it's expensive, and doesn't result in as good a score as doing it the normal way. Optimally, deletion letters are not something to try when you already have a mortgage loan in process; it's something to do before you apply. Trying to do this while you've got a loan in process is expensive, because you're going to blow your lock period and need to extend it, sure as gravity. Thirty days of extension for your loan lock is approximately half a percent of your loan amount, so on a $400,000 loan, that's $2000. Most collections are a lot smaller, and you may have to resign yourself to the hit on your credit in some instances, in which case you will probably be better off to have it paid off through escrow at funding, where the loan will be funded and recorded before paying off that old collection hits your credit score by being brought up to the present day. Otherwise, you could find your loan denied due to credit score dropping, and discover that you're not getting another one on anything like comparable terms. Maybe you are not getting another loan at all, because your score has dropped too much. Be careful, plan ahead, and take care of old collection accounts ahead of time.

Caveat Emptor

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2 Comments

Candice said:

Can only the original credt companies issue credit account deletions or can collection agencies do this as well?

Dan Melson Author Profile Page said:

The company reporting it is the one that has the ability to issue a deletion letter. Many times both the company it was originally owed to and the collection agency are reporting it. In such cases, it should be as a charge off from the original company - too late to improve; and an active debt from the collection agency

Please be civil. Avoid profanity - I will delete the vast majority of it, usually by deleting the entire comment. To avoid comment spam, a comments account is required. They are freely available, and you can post comments immediately. Alternatively, you may use your Type Key registration, or sign up for one (They work at most Movable Type sites) All comments made are licensed to the site, but the fact that a comment has been allowed to remain should not be taken as an endorsement from me or the site. There is no point in attempting to foster discussion if only my own viewpoint is to be permitted. If you believe you see something damaging to you or some third party, I will most likely delete it upon request.
Logical failures (straw man, ad hominem, red herring, etcetera) will be pointed out - and I hope you'll point out any such errors I make as well. If there's something you don't understand, ask.
Nonetheless, the idea of comments should be constructive. Aim them at the issue, not the individual. Consider it a challenge to make your criticism constructive. Try to be respectful. Those who make a habit of trollish behavior will be banned.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on April 22, 2014 7:00 AM.

Lenders Adding Conditions After Loan Closing was the previous entry in this blog.

How Can Buyers Get the Lowest Possible Price on the Best Possible Property? is the next entry in this blog.

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