You already know the credit basics. Pay your bills on time, avoid carrying debt and keep the number of credit cards in your wallet to a minimum. Sometimes this is easier said than done. Life happens and circumstances beyond your control can cause you to fall behind on your bills. One delinquency is bad enough, but getting dinged for the same account twice sure seems unfair. If you notice what appears to be a duplicate entry on your credit report, it is important to understand what could be the cause and how to correct any errors.
When a creditor is unable to collect payment, the delinquent account is often reported as a charge-off. A charge-off is basically the creditor writing off the debt as a loss. Some consumers mistakenly interpret a charge-off to mean the debt no longer exists. However, creditors have the right to sell the account to a collection agency. When the account is sold, the creditor no longer has the right to report the debt.
It is not uncommon for a collection agency and creditor to report the same account. If the account changes hands, you may find multiple entries of the same debt on your credit report. You can dispute the debt to have duplicates removed. File a dispute with each credit bureau to launch an investigation. The collection agency and creditor will have to validate the debt by producing records. If the bureau determines the debt is the same account, the multiples will be deleted.
In some cases, a creditor will sue you for an unpaid debt. If the judge decides in the creditor's favor, the court will issue a judgment. National credit reporting bureaus routinely collect court record entries such as bankruptcy, judgments and tax liens. When a creditor obtains a judgment, it will appear in the public records section. The debt may also appear on your credit report as a negative account with a past due balance. The amounts can even differ for the same account. A judgment will remain on your account for seven years from the date of issue. Derogatory accounts will remain for seven years from the first serious delinquency date.
Monitoring Your Credit Report
Monitoring your credit report on a regular basis allows you to identify and correct any errors to ensure you have an accurate rating. Check with all three bureaus since creditors may not report to each one. The Federal Trade Commission recommends obtaining a free report each year by visiting annualcreditreport.com (see Resources.)