How Do Public Records Impact My Credit? Bankruptcy, Judgements, and Tax Liens

Michelle Black

Michelle Black | Blog

Mar 07, 2019 | Updated Mar 10, 2019

Public records are information that’s on file with a court. These might include:

  • Bankruptcies
  • Judgments
  • Tax liens
  • Arrest records
  • Divorces

You don’t have rights to privacy when it comes to public records. They are — as the name suggests — public.

Some public records might even appear on your credit reports. When they do, they’re considered negative by credit scoring models. This means if a public record is added to your credit reports, it can damage your credit scores.

Public Records and Your Credit Reports

Not all public records are included on credit reports. In fact, some types of public records were included in the past but have since been removed thanks to policy changes.

Here’s an overview to help you understand which types of public records might show up on your reports now and cause potential credit damage.

Bankruptcy

Filing for bankruptcy can help protect you if you can’t afford to pay your debts. However, bankruptcy has consequences as well.

One of them is the fact that bankruptcy is a public record, so anyone can see it. As a result, bankruptcy can show up on your credit reports. It can also damage your scores and cause problems when you need to apply for new financing in the future.

Trying to recover from bankruptcy? See our advice about getting a credit card after bankruptcy.

Judgment

If a creditor sues you for an unpaid debt and you lose, the court will enter a civil judgment against you. Judgments used to appear on credit reports, but that’s no longer true. Judgments no longer impact your credit.

Tax Lien

When you fail to pay taxes to the government (federal or state), a lien can be filed against your property. In the past, tax liens were usually included on credit reports. In fact, unpaid tax liens could formerly stay on your credit reports forever. That’s no longer the case thanks to credit reporting policy changes.

How Long Do Public Records Stay on Your Credit Reports?

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is the federal law which sets rules about the information allowed on your credit reports. Among those rules, the FCRA sets time limits or expiration dates for credit reporting.

In general, most negative information isn’t allowed to stay on your credit reports forever.

Bankruptcy

Completed Chapter 13 bankruptcies can remain on your reports for seven years. However, Chapter 13s can take a few years between filing and completion (aka discharge). To accommodate for this fact, the FCRA caps the total amount of time a Chapter 13 can remain on your credit reports at ten years from the date filed.

The credit reporting rules for Chapter 7 bankruptcies are less complicated. Chapter 7s can stay on your credit reports for up to 10 years from the date you filed.

Judgment

Currently, civil judgments do not appear on your credit reports at all.

Yet this change was due to a settlement the credit bureaus made (more on that below). The FCRA still allows judgments to remain on credit reports for seven years from the filing date.

Tax Lien

Again, you won’t find tax liens on your credit reports due to current credit bureau policy.

That doesn’t mean it’s illegal for tax liens to reappear on credit reports at some point in the future (more on that below). Per the FCRA, a tax lien must be removed from your credit reports seven years from the date the lien is paid and released. Unpaid tax liens, on the other hand, never have to be removed from credit reports.

How Public Records Are Added to Credit Reports

Most of the items on your credit reports appear there because a company to which you owe money (aka a data furnisher) supplies the credit bureaus with the information.

Your credit card issuer, for example, sends the credit bureaus data each month about how you’re managing your account. The reported data will include information like your payment history, your balance, and whether you’re currently on time or past due.

Credit reporting is voluntary. There’s no law which forces your creditors to supply the credit bureaus with information about your account management habits each month.

If a data furnisher does choose to send information to the credit bureaus, it has to follow the rules set forth in the FCRA. If a credit bureau accepts your data and includes it on your credit reports, those same rules apply.

Public records are different. There’s no data furnisher supplying information to the credit bureaus. A court house doesn’t send the credit bureaus information about who has filed bankruptcy.

Rather, the credit bureaus seek out public record information on their own. They accomplish this by using electronic public records services, like PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records).

Why Judgments and Tax Liens Are No Longer on Credit Reports

In 2015 the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion — made a settlement with 31 state attorneys general. The settlement brought about an agreement now known as the National Consumer Assistance Plan, NCAP for short.

NCAP triggered a series of policy changes the credit bureaus agreed to implement in order to make credit reporting more accurate. Some of those changes had to do with the way the credit bureaus collected and reported public record data.

Public records can harm your credit scores and make it harder for you to get a loan or credit card. So, the states involved in the settlement wanted the credit bureaus to improve their standards to make sure any public record data included on a credit report was accurate. Per the states, too many consumers at the time could end up with public record data on their reports which was wrong or didn’t belong to them.

At first the credit bureaus only removed some of the tax liens and judgments from credit reports. By April of 2018, however, all tax liens and judgments were deleted from credit reports.

You should know that the FCRA hasn’t been amended when it comes to public records. So, it’s not illegal for the credit bureaus to change their policy and add public records back onto credit reports in the future. (Per NCAP, the bureaus would first need to find a way to fix public record accuracy issues and update records every 90 days.)

It’s also worth noting that just because a tax lien or judgment isn’t on your credit reports doesn’t mean it can’t cause you problems. When you apply for a mortgage, for example, your lender may perform a public records search. If an unpaid judgment or tax lien shows up, you’ll probably have to deal with it before your application will be approved.

How to Remove Public Records From Credit Reports

Are you worried about a tax lien or judgment appearing on your credit reports? Don’t be. The credit reporting agencies have already removed this information for you, a good outcome for your credit history.

Yet when it comes to bankruptcies, there’s very little you can do to remove one from credit reports — unless the information is wrong.

You can dispute a bankruptcy with the credit bureaus if it doesn’t belong to you or if it’s reporting incorrectly. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait seven to ten years for the bankruptcy to age off your credit reports.

Here’s the good news. A bankruptcy should damage your credit scores less and less the older it becomes. It’s also possible to rebuild your credit after bankruptcy, even while the public record still remains on your credit reports.

Now you’re up to date with how public records affect your credit. Ready to take your credit education even further? Learn more about credit and credit cards in the Insider Academy.
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