Paying Off Old Past Due Bills Without Hurting Your Credit

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

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, for another two years.

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 they want, 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.

Once you have the promissory letter in your possession, then pay the bill. Include a copy 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.

Now, if the company reneges on the deletion letter, 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. It's 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 should probably wait and have it paid via the escrow process, 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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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on April 20, 2008 7:00 AM.

Never Choose A Loan (or a House) Based Upon Payment was the previous entry in this blog.

Real Estate: Giving Someone a Monopoly Does Not Encourage Top Performance is the next entry in this blog.

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