In my recent experience, it’s not hard to remove judgments from your credit report as long as you follow the proper steps.
Many readers assume it’s impossible to have the credit bureaus remove civil judgments because they involve the court system.
In reality, the National Consumer Assistance Plan (NCAP) has made it more difficult for the credit bureaus to include civil judgments in your credit history.
It’s still possible you could see a judgment pulling down your credit score. If so, removing the judgment shouldn’t be too big of a hassle.
What Is a Civil Judgment?
When you owe money to a credit card company, public utility, or bank, or any other creditor, you could be sued in civil court.
If a judge agrees you owe the money, he or she can order you to repay the money you owed. This court order is called a civil judgment or a court judgment against you.
And, after ordering you to repay the money, a judge could approve wage garnishment which means the court would take part of your paycheck and give it to the creditor before you even see the money!
A judge could also order you into a payment plan or place a lien on your personal property. A lien means you couldn’t sell your house or car without using the proceeds from the sale to satisfy the judgment.
Now, through the NCAP, Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax have stopped including civil judgments in your credit report. But an old court order or a judgment that adhered to the Fair Credit Reporting Act could still be hurting you.
It’s also possible the credit reporting agencies have included a judgment creditor by mistake.
3 Ways To Remove Judgments From Your Credit Report
Whatever the reason you’re seeing a civil judgment, you’ll want to get rid of it as soon as possible. Here are some strategies I suggest.
1. Validate The Court Judgment
Just like with consumer credit, debt from a civil judgment must be validated under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
To validate your debt, you’d have to write a letter to the court who ruled against you which may or may not be in your state. Request that the court validate and prove the civil judgment is accurate and yours.
If the court does not respond with accurate information — down to the right filing date, the right address, your correct Social Security number, and your correct date of birth — you could dispute the debt as inaccurate and have it removed under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
And here’s the key: Since the NCAP now prevents this kind of personal information from appearing on your credit report to begin with, the court judgment should automatically be removed as invalid.
This should solve your problem.
But credit reporting isn’t an exact science, especially when big changes roll out. Inaccuracies can come from reporting errors or identity theft.
These changes went into effect in April of 2018, so it’s also possible an older judgment still appears on your credit file which brings us to step 2.
2. Appeal For a Vacated Judgment
Anyone who follows the news knows that a single court judgment is rarely the final word on any matter. You could appeal the civil judgment and any resulting court orders.
If the creditor who sued you didn’t follow the proper legal steps, for example, you could get the ruling overturned. Or, if the debt is older than your state’s statute of limitations on debt you could get the case overturned.
Then, you could reliably get the judgment removed from your credit history. You’d may have to hire a lawyer, but if the debt is big enough this might pay off. You may not need a lawyer if the debt predates your statute of limitations. This is usually an easy dismissal.
If you get a vacated judgment on a technicality, the creditor could sue you again.
3. Pay The Debt If You Owe It
A simple way — if you can possibly afford it — would be to pay off the debt, assuming it’s accurate and yours and can’t be removed through the validation process.
Pay the debt only if it’s yours and the court case was handled properly, meaning you can’t likely lodge a successful appeal. Paying the debt won’t always result in the credit bureaus removing the civil judgment from your credit report.
If possible, make your payment to the creditor contingent upon the creditor helping you remove the debt from your credit report.
Get this agreement in writing, and don’t give a creditor or collection agency your bank account information or credit card number. Stick with old-fashioned check writing.
Your agreement doesn’t have to pay off the entire balance. You could negotiate down. If the money is going to a collection agency this strategy is particularly helpful.
How Long Do Judgments Stay on My Credit Report?
Just like consumer credit, court-ordered debt could stay on your credit report up to seven years if you don’t take action to remove it.
If the debt is yours, the court case was handled properly, and there’s no way you could afford to pay off the unsatisfied judgment, and it pre-dates the NCAP new practices, you may eventually give up and deal with bad credit for up to seven years. People do this all the time.
But these kinds of negative items can make it nearly impossible to get a car loan, a mortgage, or even a student loan in some cases. New credit checks don’t always ask deep questions. Potential lenders just see your FICO number and make a decision.
If you can get the court order removed by appealing or seeking validation of the debt, you should do so. And chances are good you can. Your personal finance life will be so much easier if you do. Interest rates on bad credit loans are punitive, to say the least.
What Are the Different Types of Judgments?
Knowing what types of judgments you have against you can help you choose a strategy for removing the negative item from your credit score.
The Types of Judgments:
- Unsatisfied Judgments: If a judge orders you to repay and you haven’t done so, the judgment is unsatisfied. Unsatisfied judgments wreak significant havoc on your credit score!
- Satisfied Judgments: If you’ve made arrangements to pay off the court-ordered debt — or have paid it off already — you have a satisfied judgment. This still hurts your credit because you had an account go into the legal system before paying it — very costly for the debt collector.
- Vacated Judgments: If you’ve successfully appealed a judge’s decision, you’ll have a vacated judgment which is a great outcome. The credit bureaus will have to remove it from your credit history.
- Renewed Judgments: If you get a judgment vacated and the debt collector decides to sue you again, you may have a renewed judgment on your credit report.
- Default Judgment: If you don’t appear in court after being sued, a judge could issue a default judgment that looks bad on your credit. Be sure to answer all court summons to avoid this kind of judgment. You could ask a judge to remove the default after the fact but it’s a tough sell.
Once again, the NCAP changes have made civil judgments less likely to stick to your credit report’s public records section. But if you can’t get the negative item removed through invalidation, try to get a satisfaction of the judgment or a vacated judgment.
Always Confirm the Removal of a Court Judgment
Once you’ve got the court judgment disputed, get a free credit score check to make sure the major credit bureaus removed the negative item as required.
You can check your credit score for free once a year at annualcreditreport.com. Or you could check your FICO score with any of your current credit card or personal lenders.
Have Credit Repair Company Remove the Judgment
If you’re unable to find inaccurate information or just don’t want to deal with the court system yourself, the easiest and quickest way to remove a civil judgment is to have a professional work on your case.
Credit repair companies work with credit reporting agencies on your behalf — removing inaccuracies and disputing negative items from your credit history. Within a couple months you could have your credit score back where it belongs.
These firms do charge monthly fees and a set-up fee. But for many consumers, this is a small price to pay for the peace of mind you get with a pro on your team.
I often refer readers to Lexington Law Firm, a credit repair company staffed by attorneys and paralegals who know the court system inside and out.