Public records are information that’s on file with a court. These might include:
- Tax liens
- Arrest records
You don’t have rights to privacy when it comes to public records. They are – as the name suggests – public.
Some public records might even appear on your credit reports. When they do, they’re considered negative by credit scoring models. This means if a public record is added to your credit reports, it can damage your credit scores.
Public Records and Your Credit Reports
Not all public records are included on credit reports. In fact, some types of public records were included in the past but have since been removed thanks to policy changes. We’ll get into that later.
Here’s an overview to help you understand which types of public records might show up on your reports now and cause potential credit damage.
Filing for bankruptcy can help protect you if you can’t afford to pay your debts. However, bankruptcy has consequences as well.
One of them is the fact that bankruptcy is a public record, so anyone can see it. As a result, bankruptcy can show up on your credit reports. It can also damage your scores and cause problems when you need to apply for new financing in the future.
If a creditor sues you for an unpaid debt and you lose, the court will enter a civil judgment against you. Judgments used to appear on credit reports, but that’s no longer true. Judgments no longer impact your credit.
When you fail to pay taxes to the government (federal or state), a lien can be filed against your property. In the past, tax liens were usually included on credit reports, and unpaid tax liens could formerly stay on your credit reports forever. That’s no longer the case thanks to credit reporting policy changes.
How Long Do Public Records Stay on Your Credit Reports?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is the federal law which sets rules about the information allowed on your credit reports. Among those rules, the FCRA sets time limits or expiration dates for credit reporting. In general, most negative information isn’t allowed to stay on your credit reports forever.
There are two different types of bankruptcies – Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 – and there are different reporting rules governing each.
Under the FCRA, completed Chapter 13 bankruptcies can remain on your reports for 7 years. However, Chapter 13s can take a few years between the bankruptcy filing and completion (aka discharge). To accommodate for this fact, the FCRA caps the total amount of time a Chapter 13 can remain on your credit reports at 10 years from the date filed.
Under the FCRA, the credit reporting rules for Chapter 7 bankruptcies are less complicated. Chapter 7s can stay on your credit reports for up to 10 years from the date you filed.
Under the FCRA, judgments are still allowed to remain on credit reports for 7 years from the filing date.
However, civil judgments do not appear on your credit reports anymore due to a settlement the credit bureaus made called the National Consumer Assistance Plan (NCAP) (more on that later).
Under the FCRA, a tax lien must be removed from your credit reports 7 years from the date the lien is paid and released. Unpaid tax liens, on the other hand, never have to be removed from credit reports.
But again, due to the NCAP (more on that later), you won’t find tax liens on your credit reports.
How Public Records Are Added to Credit Reports
Most of the items on your credit reports appear there because a company to which you owe money (aka a data furnisher) supplies the credit bureaus with the information.
Your credit card issuer, for example, sends the credit bureaus data each month about how you’re managing your account. The reported data will include information like your payment history, your balance, and whether you’re currently on time or past due.
Credit reporting is voluntary. There’s no law which forces your creditors to supply the credit bureaus with information about your account management habits each month.
If a data furnisher does choose to send information to the credit bureaus, it has to follow the rules set forth in the FCRA. If a credit bureau accepts your data and includes it on your credit reports, those same rules apply.
Public records are different. There’s no data furnisher supplying information to the credit bureaus. A court house doesn’t send the credit bureaus information about who has filed bankruptcy.
Rather, the credit bureaus seek out public record information on their own. They accomplish this by using electronic public records services, like Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER).
Why Are Judgments and Tax Liens No Longer on Credit Reports?
In 2015 the three major credit bureaus – Equifax®, Experian™, and TransUnion® – made a settlement with 31 state attorneys general. The settlement brought about an agreement now known as the National Consumer Assistance Plan, NCAP for short.
The NCAP triggered a series of policy changes the credit bureaus agreed to implement in order to make credit reporting more accurate. Some of those changes had to do with the way the credit bureaus collected and reported public record data.
At first the credit bureaus only removed some of the tax liens and judgments from credit reports. But by April of 2018, all tax liens and judgments were deleted from credit reports and new ones shouldn’t show up.
Public records can harm your credit scores and make it harder for you to get a loan or credit card. Per the states, too many consumers at the time could end up with public record data on their reports which was wrong or didn’t belong to them. The states involved in the settlement wanted the credit bureaus to improve their standards to make sure any public record data included on a credit report was accurate.
Then what about the FCRA?
Remember the FCRA: the federal law which sets rules about the information allowed on your credit reports? Well, it hasn’t been amended when it comes to public records. Which means, even though the NCAP ruled to remove tax liens and judgments from credit reports, it’s not illegal for the credit bureaus to change their policy and add public records back onto credit reports in the future.
It’s also worth noting that just because a tax lien or judgment isn’t on your credit reports doesn’t mean it can’t cause you problems. When you apply for a mortgage, for example, your lender may perform a public records search. If an unpaid judgment or tax lien shows up, you’ll probably have to deal with it before your application will be approved.
How Do You Remove Public Records From Your Credit Reports?
Are you worried about a tax lien or judgment appearing on your credit reports? Don’t be. The credit reporting agencies have already removed this information for you, a good outcome for your credit history.
Yet when it comes to bankruptcies, there’s very little you can do to remove one from credit reports – unless the information is wrong.
You can dispute a bankruptcy with the credit bureaus if it doesn’t belong to you or if it’s reporting incorrectly. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait 7 – 10 years for the bankruptcy to age off your credit reports.
Here’s the good news. A bankruptcy should damage your credit scores less and less the older it becomes, so you won’t be stuck with bad credit scores forever, even if good credit scores seem a world away. It’s also possible to build credit after bankruptcy, even while the public record still remains on your credit reports.