Past financial mistakes can haunt you for a long time, even when you straighten out your credit and build up a good history for several years. Most negative items can stay on your credit reports for seven years where they can be viewed by lenders, insurers and even employers. They won't count as heavily as more recent items, but they can still hurt you. Fortunately, you can have them removed once the seven-year period ends.
Make a list of any accounts and other negative information older than seven years that is showing up on any of your credit reports. Check your reports with TransUnion, Experian and Equifax. They can be ordered for free annually from annualcreditreport.com according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Write a letter to each of the three credit bureaus that is listing outdated information on your report. The letter should specifically list the items that are more than 7 years old and ask the bureau to delete them because they are beyond the allowable reporting period. You may also wish to enclose a copy of your credit report with each of the old items highlighted.
Find the current dispute address on each credit bureau's website and send your letter through certified mail. The FTC advises asking for a return receipt if you want proof that the letter arrived safely at each bureau.
Get new copies of your credit reports and check them again when you get answers to your disputes. The credit bureaus must take the old items off your reports or tell you why they will not do so. Make sure they have removed everything that was supposed to come off the reports.
Look for errors on your credit reports at the same time you review them for old information. You can dispute any negative entry that contains a mistake in the same letter that you use to challenge items older than seven years, creditinfocenter.com advises.
Some negative items can remain on your credit report even though they are older than seven years, so the bureaus will refuse to remove them. These include certain types of bankruptcies, tax liens, student loans and other unpaid debts owed to the government. Some bankruptcies will show up for 10 years, and certain debts to the government can stay on your credit reports indefinitely, creditreport.com warns.
Based in Kissimmee, Fla., Barb Nefer is a freelance writer with over 20 years of experience. She is a mental health counselor, finance coach and travel agency owner. Her work has appeared in such magazines as "The Writer" and "Grit" and she authored the book, "So You Want to Be a Counselor."