If you want to find out the timeline on your debts and see if it is gone, know that it takes more than a magician to make debt disappear. It takes time, but you can find out if a debt has vanished by checking your credit reports.
Checking your credit reports means checking all three of them, because each may have different information. You can view your credit reports from the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion once a year for free. You can also access your reports by visiting Annual Credit Report’s website.
You should know that many companies advertise free credit reports, but in the fine print of the deal, you must sign up for some other service you may not want or need for a cost to get your free reports. Keep that in mind to avoid unnecessary surcharges.
Once you receive your credit reports, you can check to see which debts are still showing up. The rules for the reporting of debts can be found in the Fair Credit Reporting Act – FCRA. The act states that most negative items must be removed from your credit report seven years from the first date of delinquency.
Some exceptions to the seven-year rule include Chapter 7 bankruptcy filings (10 years), judgments (7 years or until the state statue of limitations expires), and money owed to or guaranteed by the government, such as unpaid taxes or student loans that remain on your report indefinitely or until seven years from the date paid.
If you also want to know how long until the debt goes away completely, the Fair Credit Act rules apply only to the reporting life of a debt, not the collecting life span. Your state’s statue of limitations, or SOL, for collecting a debt governs how long the debt can be legally collected using the courts. However, collecting companies can try to collect the debt outside of the courts past the statue of limitations date.
So, if you are hoping the debt will go away from both your credit report and your life, you may not get your wish. While debts may be gone from your credit report, they may not be forgotten. In the industry, debts that are ‘oldies but goldies’ are called ‘stale debts’. They represent a thriving business, as they are often sold and resold for pennies on the dollar. So even a partial payment makes a call or letter worthwhile for the collector. This means that the only sure way to get rid of a debt is to pay what you owe or at least an agreed upon portion of what you owe.
If your ultimate purpose is to put your debt behind you and move on with a clean slate, you should contact the collectors listed on your credit report for the accounts you know are yours. Just make sure you know the amount you owe and come to a payment agreement. Before you call to negotiate, you should also know what you can realistically afford to pay per month or in a lump sum. If you negotiate a payment for less than the full amount owed, be sure to get the payment agreement in writing from the collector before you send in any payment.