Removing Bankruptcy From Your Credit Report
The economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic looked like it was going to cause a flood of bankruptcy filings in 2020, but just the opposite occurred. Filings dropped from 774,940 cases in 2019 to only 544,463 in 2020, a 29.7% decline. That was the lowest since 1986.
Still, half a million filings represent a lot of financial pain and hardship and the pain could grow. Bankruptcy filings tend to escalate gradually after an economic downturn. Following the Great Recession of 2008, bankruptcy filings increased for the next two years, peaking in 2010 at 1.5 million.
If you’ve been forced into bankruptcy, you are far from alone. More than 500,000 Americans declared bankruptcy in 2020, some because of the fallout in the economy from the COVID-19 pandemic, others for the usual difficulty of managing personal finances.
One thing they all have in common: They want to get this financial red flag off their credit reports as soon as possible.
Can this be done? Eventually. But, it’s neither quick nor easy.
Assuming that the bankruptcy is legitimate rather than the result of identity theft or a clerical error, it will remain on your credit report for seven to 10 years. However, desirable it may seem to be, getting bankruptcy off your credit report shouldn’t be the overriding concern.
Think of it as one part of repairing your credit and recovering from the financial damage related to it.
How Long Does Bankruptcy Stay on a Credit Report?
The most common type of bankruptcy – about 70% of those filed each year – is Chapter 7 bankruptcy and it remains on your credit report for 10 years. The other type, Chapter 13 bankruptcy, clears from your credit report after seven years.
Chapter 7 lasts longer on your record because, after you liquidate assets and pay what you can, the rest of the debt is written off. Chapter 13 bankruptcy involves a plan to continue paying off at least part of your debt in three to five years, so it leaves your credit report sooner.
Getting the bankruptcy removed from the credit report early won’t happen simply because you don’t want it there. It requires proving that it didn’t belong there in the first place, meaning that it is the result of identity theft or a clerical mistake that you can prove to be the case.
If you find a fraudulent bankruptcy on your record, you need to challenge it with all three credit bureaus – Equifax, TransUnion and Experian – by filing a credit dispute letter. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires that the agencies investigate and resolve your dispute within 30 days. To maintain evidence supporting the start of that 30-day deadline, informing the agencies by certified mail is recommended. The credit bureaus will notify you of their findings.
How Does Bankruptcy Affect Credit Score?
Obviously, bankruptcies always negatively impact your credit report. How big an effect varies. Having more accounts that are included in your bankruptcy will have a bigger impact than if it’s just one car loan or credit card.
Your credit is rated on what’s called a FICO score, which ranges from a perfect score of 850 to a low of 300 based largely on things lenders see on your credit report: your payment history, debt burden, how long you’ve had credit and the types of credit used. How badly bankruptcy damages your score depends on how high it was in the first place.
According to FICO’s published guidelines, someone with a 680 credit score – considered a good score – would drop between 130 and 150 points into the poor range. Likewise, a 780 credit score would drop between 220 and 240 points, also into the poor range (below 580).
In each case, qualifying for a mortgage after bankruptcy or buying a car with credit after bankruptcy will prove to be difficult until you can rebuild your credit. That takes time and effort.
How to Rebuild Credit After Bankruptcy
There are different ways to improve your credit score after bankruptcy. These include:
- Don’t make the same mistakes that led to your bankruptcy. Stick to a budget and try to save money to build an emergency fund.
- Although you don’t want to immediately accrue new debt, you’ll want to strategically show that you’re responsible. Pay all your bills on time. Things like rent and utility payments can be added to your credit report if you ask your landlord or utility company.
- Get a secured loan. Local banks and credit unions are willing to lend money that’s secured by a deposit into a savings account because the risk is low for them. The gain is high for you, if you make on-time payments for the loan. By reporting your timely payments to the credit bureaus, the banks or credit unions will help you improve your FICO score.
- Get a secured credit card, which is backed by a deposit that you pay upfront. The credit limit on a secured card usually is equal to the amount of the deposit you paid. Such cards may have annual fees and high interest rates, but as long as you make on-time payments on it, you can use it to improve your credit and become eligible for a better, unsecured card. Make sure they report your timely payments to the credit bureaus. Of course, never put more on the card than you can pay off by the end of the month.
- As your score rises, you may be able to apply for a car loan or mortgage.
- Check your credit report on the date that bankruptcy should be removed to be sure the job was done. Also, when reviewing your credit report, dispute any errors you find. Every point counts. You can order your free credit report from each of the three credit reporting companies once a year, and also request a free credit report from Experian at any time.
- If you need additional help, consider credit counseling. Nonprofit credit counselors are experts at helping consumers deal effectively with debt.
Whatever you do, don’t lose hope. Bankruptcy is a difficult process, but if you handle it right, it’s a step toward solvency. Look at it as a restart, and get to work.
About The Author
In his 40-plus-year newspaper career, George Morris has written about just about everything -- Super Bowls, evangelists, World War II veterans and ordinary people with extraordinary tales. His work has received multiple honors from the Society of Professional Journalists, the Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press and the Louisiana Press Association. He avoids debt when he can and pays it off quickly when he can't, and he's only too happy to suggest how you might do the same.
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