Late payments have a major negative effect on your credit scores. They’ll remain on your credit reports for seven years, so you should do your best to avoid them at all costs.
If there are any late payments on your reports that don’t belong there, you can remove them to improve your credit scores. And if you did make a late payment or two, there’s a chance that you can still get them removed.
Why Do Late Payments Show Up on Credit Reports?
There are two basic reasons why a late payment might be shown on your credit reports:
- You’re not at fault: The late payment is a mistake, and was reported in error.
- You’re at fault: You actually did make a late payment.
In the first case, it’s possible to remove the late payment from your credit reports by filing a dispute. The credit bureaus don’t want inaccurate information on their reports, so they’ll take steps to fix the problem.
In the second case, you may be able to have the late payment removed from your credit reports. This process basically consists of asking nicely, explaining your situation, and promising to be more responsible in the future. There’s no guarantee that this will work, and you’ll have better success if you have a positive payment history other than this blemish.
No matter how the late payment (also known as a delinquency) got on your credit reports, it usually will be worth your time to attempt to remove it. In this post we’ll discuss when late payments will show up on your credit reports, and why you should remove them. Then we’ll go over how to dispute an inaccurate late payment, and how to ask lenders to remove legitimate late payments.
Although we usually focus on credit cards, this information applies to loans of all types, like auto loans and student loans.
There are many credit repair companies offering to “fix your credit fast” for a price. Some of them seem to claim miraculous results, as if they can remove any and all negative items from your credit reports. The truth is, these companies can’t do anything that you can’t do yourself. They have no special privileges or access.
However, you may want to work with one of these companies — but only if they appear reputable. That way you don’t have to spend as much time and energy collecting all the contact information and documents you’ll need for a dispute. Instead you can hire someone who has been through this before, who can tell you what to expect and speed the process along.
If You’re Not At Fault: Dispute The Payment
Use this method if there’s an incorrect late payment on your credit reports, which didn’t actually occur. If you were at fault, learn more about removing actual late payments below.
You can also use this method if you actually made a late payment and there’s some inaccurate information associated with it. But in this case you probably shouldn’t expect to have the late payment record completely removed. Instead, they’ll probably just correct the error and you’ll still have the delinquency there.
Disputing items on your credit report is free. You may need to dispute the late payment with several companies in all. Here’s the basic procedure:
- Identify the problem: Verify which credit reports the late payment appears on.
- Contact the creditor: Contact the creditor to see if they’ll correct the mistake and notify the credit bureaus.
- Contact the credit bureaus: If necessary, contact the credit bureaus to dispute the late payment.
Remember to be patient. This process could end successfully at step 2, or it could take longer. You shouldn’t have much of a problem with the major credit card issuers if they clearly made a mistake, even if you have to spend more time on the phone than you’d like. But it’s possible that other credit card companies might be more difficult to work with, like issuers of sub-prime cards.
1. Check Your Credit Reports
If you believe you may have an incorrect delinquency, start by checking all three of your credit reports to see if it’s present on all of them.
When checking late payments, you should take note of the lender, account number, date, payment amount, and other details.
There are three major credit bureaus, and they each issue their own credit report on you. You should check all three:
You can check your credit reports from all of the credit bureaus for free. There are also quite a few easy ways to constantly monitor your TransUnion and Experian credit reports, and see exactly what’s on them whenever you want. Your options for viewing your Equifax report are a bit more limited.
This step may not be completely necessary because the credit bureaus will show your delinquent accounts when you start an online dispute with them. But checking your credit reports will give you a better overview of your accounts, and when the supposed delinquency occurred. And if there’s one big error on your reports, like a late payment, it will be worth checking to make sure everything else is accurate.
Here are some free ways to check your credit reports. Checking your reports will have no impact on your credit scores at all. Some of these services will give you more information than others, however.
- Use a credit monitoring service (recommended): There are several free services that you can use. They don’t provide your actual credit reports, but they can show you the information those reports contain. Here are some of the best:
- Credit.com for your Equifax and TransUnion reports
- Chase Credit Journey for your TransUnion report
- Capital One CreditWise for your TransUnion report
- CreditKarma for your TransUnion and Experian reports
- Experian free membership for limited information about your Experian report, including number of late payments
- Order your credit reports once per year for free: You can visit AnnualCreditReport.com to get one free copy of all your credit reports per year.
- You may be eligible for additional free credit reports: Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you’re eligible for a free copy of your credit report under certain circumstances, like if you’re receiving public welfare assistance or you’re unemployed and intend to apply for employment within 60 days.
After you determine which credit reports have the error, you can move on to the next step.
2. Dispute with the Lender
Once you know that there’s an incorrect late payment on one or more of your credit reports, it’s time to contact the lender who reported it.
If this is a credit card issuer, it will be as simple as calling the number on the back of your card, or checking our list of credit card company contact numbers. Otherwise you’ll need to look up the appropriate contact information to call your lender.
You may have success simply by calling and notifying them of the error. They might check their own records, see the mistake, and take steps to rectify it.
In other cases, the lender may request proof that you didn’t make a late payment, i.e., proof that you made a timely payment for the billing period in question. They may request a letter containing a copy of a bank statement showing the payment, or some other kind of documentation. Then, if they’re satisfied, they’ll fix the error.
As a template for this letter, check out our sample letter to a credit bureau below. You’ll have to change some of information to send it to your lender instead of a credit bureau, and you’ll also have to adjust some of the text based on what they tell you on the phone. But this should give you a good starting point.
If the lender agrees that the delinquency is an error, get it in writing. Get a written verification that the late payment was a reporting error by the lender, and not your fault.
Next, you should request that the lender dispute the delinquency with the credit bureaus and have it removed from your reports. If they won’t dispute it, you’ll have to do it yourself.
Whether the lender submits the dispute or you do it yourself, be sure to check your credit reports in a month or two, to ensure that the delinquency is gone.
After you prove that the delinquency was in error, the lender should also refund any late payment fees that you paid.
The lender might agree that it was a mistake, but that doesn’t mean the late payment will immediately disappear from your credit reports. If the lender won’t file disputes with the credit bureaus, for whatever reason, you’ll have to do it yourself. Or, if the lender doesn’t agree that it was a mistake, you can bring your case to the credit bureaus.
If you can’t prove that you made a timely payment you might be out of luck. But you can still try disputing with the credit bureaus, if the delinquency truly is an error.
3. Dispute with the Credit Bureaus
You can dispute information on your credit reports for free, and with no impact to your credit scores. Disputes can be made easily online, but they can also be done by mail or phone as well.
When you dispute an item on your report the credit bureau must investigate it, and they’ll typically provide a response within 30 days, although it could take a bit longer. The bureau will review the information and check with the lender if necessary. If they verify that the item is correct, it will stay on your credit report. If they discover that the item is incorrect, they’ll remove it from your report.
We’ll go over how to submit a dispute with each of the major consumer credit bureaus below. You’ll need to create a free online account with each credit bureau to file disputes online. If you want to dispute by mail or by phone, you’ll need recent copies of your credit reports.
We recommend disputing online. It’s easier, faster, and more accurate. Each of the credit bureaus has a free online dispute system you can use.
For disputes by mail, prepare to send in the following information. This might be a bit overkill, but it’s better to include too much rather than not enough:
- Your full name, including middle initial (and generation such as JR, SR, II, III)
- Your date of birth
- Your Social Security Number
- All addresses where you have lived during the past two years
- One copy of a government-issued identification card, such as a driver’s license or state ID card, etc.
- One copy of a utility bill, bank, or insurance statement, etc.
- A recent copy of your credit report, which shows the delinquent account
- A list of each item on your report that you believe is inaccurate, the associated account numbers, and the specific reasons you feel the information is incorrect
- Any supporting documentation, like a notice from the lender that the delinquency is inaccurate or a bank statement showing your timely payment
Only send copies of documents, not the original versions, because you won’t get them back. You don’t need to write a long, eloquent explanation of your situation. But the more supporting documentation you can provide, the better.
We’ve provided a sample letter below that you can use as a template.
Dispute with Experian
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
|Phone||Call the phone number on your Experian credit report|
|Check Dispute Status|
With Experian, you won’t need a copy of your credit report to dispute online or by mail. But if you want to dispute by phone you will need a recent copy of your Experian report.
You can submit an online dispute by clicking the link above. Just follow the instructions to sign up for an Experian account, if you don’t already have one. Then you’ll be able to select the particular account you want to dispute.
To send a dispute by mail, use the mailing address shown in the box above. You’ll also see a link to further instructions. Experian provides a dispute form you can use if you wish, which we recommend. This document shows all the information you should provide. When disputing an erroneous late payment, you should check the box that says “Payment never late.” You aren’t required to include a copy of your credit report when disputing by mail, but you may want to anyway, for clarity.
To dispute by phone you’ll need to have already obtained a recent copy of your Experian credit report. This report will have a phone number that you can call to dispute any items. You can get a one free copy of your Experian report per year through AnnualCreditReport.com, or you can pay $1 for a copy of your report directly from Experian. Or, you may be eligible for a free copy of your credit report — you can call 1-866-200-6020 to check your eligibility.
Paying $1 for your report will also automatically sign you up for a service that will cost about $24 per month, starting seven days after your purchase. So be sure to cancel immediately if you just want your credit report.
After beginning a dispute, you can use the link in the table above to check the status at any time.
Dispute with Equifax
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
|Check Dispute Status|
When you dispute an item on your Equifax report using any of the above methods you’ll receive a 10-digit confirmation number. You can use this number to check the status of your dispute.
If you initiate the dispute online, you’ll get periodic emails of the progress, and the results. If you dispute by mail or by phone, you’ll receive the results in the mail. Equifax states that you’ll get a result within 30 days.
To get a free copy of your Equifax credit report, you can visit AnnualCreditReport.com. Or, you can check to see if you’re eligible for a free credit report under the FCRA. Otherwise, Equifax charges $15.95 for access to your credit report for 30 days, along with a few other services.
Dispute with TransUnion
Consumer Dispute Center
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
|Check Dispute Results|
If you dispute by mail or phone, you’ll need need the file number of a recent copy of your TransUnion credit report.
You can get a one free copy of your TransUnion report per year at AnnualCreditReport.com. And you may be eligible for a free copy of your credit report from TransUnion. Otherwise, TransUnion charges $11.50 for a copy of your report.
The results of a dispute can be viewed at the link above. It may or may not be possible to check the status of a dispute in progress.
Only one dispute can be submitted to TransUnion at a time. If you want to file multiple disputes you’ll need to submit them one at a time, waiting for each to finish before starting the next one.
Sample Letter: Credit Bureau Late Payment Dispute Request
You can use this sample letter to dispute information in your credit report. Just insert the appropriate information, like your name and address, the credit bureau name and address, and specific details in the body of the letter. If you’re disputing more than one item, you’ll need to adjust the language to refer to multiple accounts.
Only include copies of documents, not the originals. Circle the delinquent account in question on the credit report you provide.
Send your dispute request by certified mail, with a return receipt requested, so you’ll be sure that they receive it.
Credit Bureau Late Payment Dispute Sample Letter
SSN: [Your Social Security Number]
[Name of Credit Bureau]
[Credit Bureau Address]
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am writing to dispute the following information in my credit file. The item I’m disputing is [insert account name and number], as reported by [insert lender]. This account is also circled on the attached credit report.
This delinquent account record is inaccurate because [describe why the late payment was reported]. I am requesting that the account be corrected to show that it has always been current, with no record of being delinquent.
I have included copies of my credit report, [list any other documents included]. The file number of this credit report is [insert credit report file number or ID number].
Please investigate this matter and correct the disputed item as soon as possible.
Enclosures: [List what you are enclosing]
If You’re At Fault
If you really did make a late payment, there’s still a chance you can have it removed from your credit reports. This might be a slim chance, but it’s worth trying because late payments have such a significant impact on your credit.
For these methods you’ll just be contacting the lender or creditor, rather than the credit bureaus. You’re basically just pleading your case and asking them to forgive the late payment — they’re under no obligation to actually do so. If they decide to report the account as current instead of delinquent as a result, this is typically known as a “goodwill adjustment.”
This might work if you have an otherwise excellent payment history with that lender, and have been a responsible customer except for this mistake. If there was a technical error that prevented you from paying on time, like an issue with the payment system, that could work in your favor. Or, if there was some major life event that prevented you from paying on time, they may be sympathetic to that.
If you haven’t been a very good customer, however, and have a history of late payments and other negative marks, you probably won’t have much success with a goodwill adjustment. But it might still worth a shot, depending on your situation, because it won’t cost you anything but some time.
There are only two steps in this process:
- Ask nicely: Make a goodwill phone call/write a goodwill letter
- Negotiate: If asking nicely fails, you can try to negotiate with the lender
Goodwill Adjustment with Phone Call/Letter
You can try for a goodwill adjustment on two fronts: by phone and by mail. Some people try just one or the other, while some try both. Occasionally, people report success from calling and sending multiple letters over time, but we can’t verify this.
Whether you’re on the phone or writing a letter, remember that you’re at fault here and asking forgiveness. Your tone should reflect that. Be polite, thankful, and conscientious. Above all, don’t get angry or demanding.
Here are some examples to get you started on the phone or with your goodwill letter. If you get a positive response from the lender, try to also get it in writing.
You can use this script to start the conversation about removing your late payment. Be sure to have your explanation for why you were late at the ready. If you don’t have a perfect payment history, you’ll have to adjust this slightly to reflect your actual situation.
For credit cards, call the number on the back of your card to speak with the issuer, or check out our listing of backdoor credit card company phone numbers.
Late Payment Goodwill Adjustment Sample Phone Script
“Hello, my name is [your name]. I recently made a late payment on my account, which was a total accident.
As you can see, my payment history is perfect other than this one mistake. I ended up paying late because [insert your explanation here]. The late payment is also showing up on my credit reports.
Is there any way you could remove this late payment from the record, by reporting that account as always current?”
That should get the ball rolling in the right direction.
Write them a good, old-fashioned letter. Goodwill letters should be personalized, reflecting your current circumstances and your good intentions to be a responsible credit user.
Take responsibility for the late payment, don’t make excuses. Explain some of the circumstances surrounding it, whether it was about your ability to pay, confusion over the payment process, or some other reason. Point out that you’ve been making other payments on time. If something was preventing you from making a timely payment before, explain that it’s no longer a problem for you.
The following sample letter should provide a good template to get started. Be sure to adjust it wherever necessary to fit your situation.
Late Payment Goodwill Adjustment Sample Letter to Creditor
[Your Phone Number]
[Your Email Address]
[Your Account Number]
[Name of Creditor]
Dear Sir or Madam:
I hope you’re doing well today. My name is [your name], and I’ve been a satisfied customer of [creditor] for [number] of years. I’ve always made my payments on time, but unfortunately I recently made a mistake on [date].
I understand how important it is to make timely payments. However, I missed my payment because [brief explanation of why you missed your payment]. But I’m confident this won’t happen again. As you can see from my credit history, I have a long record of on-time payments before and since the late payment.
As a courtesy, I respectfully request that you make a goodwill adjustment to remove the late payment on [date]. Please consider my track record as proof that I take my financial obligations seriously.
If you have any questions, or if you would like to speak with me in more detail, please call me at [your phone number] or send me an email at [your email address here].
Thank you for your consideration,
Attempt To Negotiate
If the regular goodwill adjustment request fails, you can try negotiating a bit. You may have a bit of leverage to work with, but maybe not.
There are a few different kinds of offers you can make:
- Autopay: Set up automatic payments so the creditor can expect timely payments
- Payment plan: Agree to pay a certain amount each month to pay off an existing balance, perhaps using autopay
- Partial settlement: Pay some portion of an outstanding balance now, and then agree to pay off the rest over time
- Full settlement: Pay off the entire outstanding balance with the creditor
Try whichever negotiating tactic, or tactics, will fit your particular situation. You may have better luck negotiating if you can show that you’re financially able to make the payment each month.
To add the negotiation method to your phone call or goodwill letter, just insert one of the following scripts into the conversation or letter. Or you can combine them in some way.
On my part, I’ll sign up for the autopay system so you can be sure that you’ll always get my payments on time. I have a good job with a steady income, so I’m not worried about missing future payments.
On my part, I’ll pay off my remaining balance of [your account balance] over the next [number of months] months, making payments of [payment amount] each month. I’ll sign up for autopay so you can be sure that you’ll always get my payments on time. I have a good job with a steady income, so I’m not worried about missing future payments.
On my part, I’ll pay [payment amount] of my outstanding balance now, and will pay off the rest over the next [number of months] months. I’ll sign up for the autopay system so you can be sure that you’ll always get my payments on time. I have a good job with a steady income, so I’m not worried about missing future payments.
On my part, I’ll pay off my entire balance of [your account balance] now to show my commitment. I intend to remain a loyal customer. I have a good job with a steady income, so I’m not worried about missing future payments.
Do Late Payments Always Show Up on Credit Reports?
No, late payments won’t always show up on your credit reports.
When a lender (like a credit card issuer) reports a late payment, they also classify the account as delinquent. Lenders are not allowed to report an account as delinquent to the credit bureaus until a payment is a minimum of 30 days past due. Even then, they may not choose to report the late payment until some more time has passed, basically as a favor to the cardholder.
There is some flexibility in when a payment might be reported as late. However, you should expect to be charged a late fee if your payment is not delivered on time, even if you’re only one day late. Card issuers may waive this fee if you call and ask nicely, explaining that the late payment was a fluke (assuming your payment history is otherwise good). This late fee is separate from the issue of having late payments on your credit reports.
On credit reports, late payments are broken down into three categories. The later a payment is, within these categories, the worse the impact on your credit.
- 30 days late
- 60 days late
- 90 days late
After 90 days the credit reporting agencies no longer distinguish how late a payment is. At this point, or maybe at the 120-day point, the lender will often decide to sell the account to collections and mark it as a charge-off. This means that the creditor has declared that the debt is unlikely to be repaid, and it’s extremely bad for your credit.
Listen to credit expert John Ulzheimer explain when late payments will show up on credit reports. He describes what credit card issuers are thinking in these situations, and why you might see a 90-day late payment without seeing any 30 or 60-day late payments.
How a Late Payment Affects Your Credit Scores
TL;DR — it’s bad.
Your payment history accounts for 35% of your FICO credit scores. That makes it the largest single category in the calculation of your credit scores. When a lender extends a line of credit, like a credit card, they want to know that they’ll be paid back on time. So your record of previous payments, good or bad, is very important to them.
A late payment will remain on your credit reports for seven years after the date it was reported. The effects it has will largely depend on the other elements in your credit profile.
If you have excellent credit, with a spotless record of timely payments except for this one mistake, a single late payment won’t drop you down to the bad credit range. But it will still have a very noticeable effect, and if your credit is not as good it could cause you to fall to average credit or below.
There are basically three things to know about how late payments impact your credit:
- The more late payments, the larger the impact: Even one late payment is not good, but the more you have, the worse it will be.
- The more recent the late payment, the larger the impact: As late payments grow older, the negative effects on your credit will diminish.
- The longer the delinquency, the larger the impact: A payment that’s 60 days late is worse for your credit than one that’s 30 days late, and 90 days late is even worse than that.
Even if you have very good credit, you should probably expect your credit scores to drop at least 30–50 points from a single late payment. It could even be twice as bad as that, or more, depending on your particular credit history. You can get an estimate of how a late payment will affect your own credit with free credit simulators, like those offered by Credit Karma, Chase Credit Journey, or Capital One CreditWise.
Lower credit scores mean you’ll have a harder time being approved for credit cards, loans, and anything else that requires a credit check, like many apartment rentals. And if you are approved you’ll usually be given higher interest rates.
A late payment on your credit reports may or may not be your fault.
If it’s an error, you should take steps to remove it ASAP, because it’s bringing your credit scores down. And if it actually happened, you should try to get it removed with a goodwill adjustment.
The credit bureaus want to produce accurate reports, so if you bring an error to their attention they’ll track down the source and attempt to verify it. Creditors don’t want to falsely accuse you of anything either, because they want to keep you as a happy customer. You should expect to have errors like these removed in a pretty timely fashion, especially if you submit your disputes online.
For actual late payments, however, there’s definitely no guarantee that you can get them removed. Some people report success with goodwill letters, but it’s not a sure thing and it will depend on your particular credit history.
Don’t make late payments! They’re one of the easiest ways to quickly put a big dent in your credit scores, so do what it takes to prevent them.
Simply setting up autopay for at least the minimum payment is all it takes. We recommend paying the balance in full to keep your credit scores in top shape, of course, but as long as you meet the minimum you’ll avoid being late.
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