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Can a Credit Report Error Be Too Old to Fix?

Deanna Templeton

A Credit.com reader recently wrote in with questions about errors on her credit report, and what to do when a creditor says they’ll remove them — and then they don’t.

The history:  I spoke to a creditor about two years ago (Oct 2010) when I was late with a payment because I had trouble making the payment on their website. I gave the customer service agent my bank info while on the phone so that he could mirror the steps I took to pay and he was unable to make the payment as well. It turns out that their system wasn’t accepting my bank’s routing number.  The agent credited all of the late fees and per my request, verbally agreed to remove the late status with the credit bureaus. I recently pulled my credit report and the late payment is still there. I called the creditor again today, spoke to a supervisor and was told they couldn’t help me. I was told that “by law” they could not alter the status of my late payment with the credit bureaus if it had been more than 12 months and that I would need to dispute the error through the three credit bureaus.

Second:  The 24 Month Payment History for this late payment has not been refreshed with one credit bureau since Oct 2010. Does that have much impact on my credit score and is there any benefit to requesting that they refresh the dates?

Dealing with credit reporting errors and trying to get them corrected is never a fun experience. It’s time-consuming and often, it can be downright frustrating. With that said, the supervisor’s claim that they could not make a change “by law” is completely untrue. There is no law that says they can’t correct or update the account information and send it to the credit reporting agencies — it doesn’t matter how long ago the error was originally reported.

The fact is, these companies furnish the data to the credit reporting agencies, which means they’re the only ones that have access to make changes to the data they report. Based on what you’ve explained, it’s more likely that the supervisor saw no proof or evidence that showed the payment was late due to a technical error and rather than argue the point, advised you to file a dispute directly with the credit reporting agencies.

Regarding the supervisor’s statement — under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, if a consumer disputes an error on their credit report, the lender is required by law to open an investigation to confirm whether or not the item in question is accurate. The creditor has 30 days to investigate the dispute and if they determine that it is in fact an error, they are legally obligated to correct the error so that it’s accurately reflected in your credit report.

When you file your dispute with the credit reporting agencies, be sure to include any documentation that would prove your case. Unfortunately, verbal promises are almost impossible to prove. In the future, if a creditor agrees to something verbally, always request to get it in writing so that you have proof. In your particular case, it’s important to clarify what constitutes a 30-day late payment. From a credit reporting standpoint, a 30-day late is technically any payment that is 1 to 30 days late.

However, even though lenders can technically report a 30-day late if you are as little as one day late on a payment, the large majority do not report a 30-day late payment until you reach the 31-day late mark. This means that even though there were technical difficulties on the issuer’s website, the payment was most likely already “technically” late. It doesn’t make the process any less frustrating, but when you dispute the late payment these are all factors that are taken into consideration by both the credit reporting agency and the data furnisher (the creditor/lender reporting the information).

I know this isn’t the answer you were hoping to hear, but the good news is that one 30-day late from two years ago will not have as much of an impact on your credit score as you might think — especially if it was an isolated, one-time incident. This is because credit scores place more emphasis on the past 24 months, which has already passed — the older it gets, the less impact it will have.

And one final clarification: From a credit scoring perspective, the date that matters is the date that the incident occurred — in this case October 2010. So updating the date of last activity, the date of last update, or “refreshing” or updating the date reported will have no impact on your credit score.

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