Late payments can have a major negative effect on your credit scores. They’ll remain on your credit reports for seven years, so you should do your best to avoid them at all costs.
If there are any late payments on your reports that don’t belong there, you can dispute them and their removal may improve your credit scores. And if you did make a late payment or two, there’s a chance that you can still get them removed as well.
Why Do Late Payments Show Up on Credit Reports?
There are two basic reasons why a late payment might be shown on your credit reports:
- You’re not at fault: The late payment is a mistake, and was reported in error.
- You’re at fault: You actually did make a late payment.
In the first case, it may be possible to remove the late payment from your credit reports by filing a dispute. The credit bureaus don’t want inaccurate information on their reports, so if your claim can be verified, they’ll take steps to fix the problem.
In the second case, you may be able to have the late payment removed from your credit reports. This process basically consists of asking nicely, explaining your situation, and promising to be more responsible in the future. There’s absolutely no guarantee that this will work, and you’ll have better success if you have a positive payment history other than this blemish.
No matter how the late payment (also known as a delinquency) got on your credit reports, it usually will be worth your time to attempt to remove it.
In this article we’ll discuss when late payments will show up on your credit reports, and why you should remove them if you can. Then we’ll go over the actual steps of (a) how to dispute an inaccurate late payment, and (b) how to ask lenders to remove legitimate late payments from your reports.
How Do You Dispute an Inaccurately Reported Late Payment?
Use this method if there’s an incorrect late payment on your credit reports that didn’t actually occur. If you were at fault, learn more about removing actual late payments below.
You can also use this method if you actually made a late payment but there’s some inaccurate information associated with it. In this case, you probably shouldn’t expect to have the late payment record completely removed. Instead, your creditor will probably just correct the error but the delinquency will stay on your report.
Disputing items on your credit report is free. You may need to dispute the late payment with several companies in all. Here’s the basic procedure:
- Identify the problem: Verify which credit reports the late payment appears on.
- Contact the creditor: Contact the creditor to see if they’ll correct the mistake and notify the credit bureaus.
- Contact the credit bureaus: If necessary, contact the credit bureaus to dispute the late payment.
- Confirm the error has been corrected: Check all three of your credit reports to make sure the inaccurate late payment has been deleted.
Remember to be patient. This process may be solved successfully at step 2, or it could take longer. You shouldn’t have much of a problem with the major credit card issuers if they clearly made a mistake, even if you have to spend more time on the phone than you’d like. But, it’s possible that other credit card companies might be more difficult to work with, like issuers of subprime cards.
1. Check your credit reports
If you believe you may have an incorrect delinquency, start by checking all three of your credit reports to see if the mistake is present on all of them.
When checking late payments, you should take note of the lender, account number, date, payment amount, and other details.
There are three major credit bureaus. Each one issues their own credit report on you. You should check all three:
You can check your credit reports from all of the credit bureaus for free. There are also quite a few easy ways to constantly monitor your three credit reports, and see exactly what’s on them whenever you want.
The credit bureaus may show you a list of your delinquent accounts when you start an online dispute with them. We actually don’t recommend online disputes, however, as the “reasons” you’re allowed to give are pre-populated and it can be difficult to tell your side of the story. We suggest using certified mail for disputes instead.
Checking your credit reports will give you a better overview of your accounts than filing a dispute, letting you see when the supposed delinquency occurred. And if there’s one big error on your reports, like a late payment, it will be worth checking to make sure everything else is accurate.
Here are some free ways to check your credit reports. Some of these services will give you more information than others, however.
Checking your own reports will have no impact on your credit scores at all.
- Order your credit reports once per year for free: You can visit AnnualCreditReport.com to get one free copy of all your credit reports per year.
- Use a credit monitoring service (recommended): There are several free services that you can use. They don’t all provide your actual credit reports, but they can show you the information those reports contain. Here are some of the best:
- Credit Karma for your TransUnion® and Experian™ reports and credit scores (VantageScore 3.0)
- Experian free membership for a full copy of your Experian™ credit report once every 30 days (credit score not included)
- Credit.com for your Experian™ credit score and credit “report card”
- Chase Credit Journey for your TransUnion® report
- Capital One CreditWise for TransUnion® information and credit score (VantageScore® 3.0)
- You may be eligible for additional free credit reports: Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you’re eligible for a free copy of your credit report under certain circumstances, like if you’re receiving public welfare assistance or you’re unemployed and intend to apply for employment within 60 days. You may also be eligible for additional free reports based on your state law.
After you determine which credit reports have errors, you can move on to the next step.
2. Dispute with the lender
Once you know that there’s an incorrect late payment on one or more of your credit reports, it’s time to contact the lender who reported it.
If this is a credit card issuer, this may be as simple as calling the number on the back of your card, or checking our list of credit card company contact numbers. Otherwise you’ll need to look up the appropriate contact information to call your lender. (Note: If you accessed your credit reports via AnnualCreditReport.com, you may be able to locate lender contact information near the end of your reports.)
You may have success simply by calling and notifying them of the error. They might check their own records, see the mistake, and take steps to fix it.
In other cases, the lender may request proof that you didn’t make a late payment, i.e., proof that you made a timely payment for the billing period in question. A letter containing a copy of a bank statement showing the payment, or some other kind of documentation, may be able to satisfy a creditor’s request for proof. If your lender is satisfied, it will fix the error.
As a template for this letter, check out our sample letter to a credit bureau below. You’ll have to change some of the information to send it to your lender instead of a credit bureau, and you’ll also have to adjust some of the text based on what they tell you on the phone. But this should give you a good starting point.
If the lender agrees that the delinquency is an error, get it in writing. Get a written verification that the late payment was a reporting error by the lender, and not your fault.
Next, you should request that the lender correct the mistake with the credit bureaus and ask for the late payment to be removed from your reports. To be thorough, it may also be a good idea to send a dispute to the credit bureaus yourself.
Whether the lender submits the dispute or you do it yourself, be sure to check your credit reports in a month or two, to ensure that the delinquency is gone.
After you prove that the delinquency was in error, the lender should also refund any late payment fees that you paid.
The lender might agree that it was a mistake, but that doesn’t mean the late payment will immediately disappear from your credit reports. If the lender won’t send a notice of the mistake to the credit bureaus, for whatever reason, you’ll have to do it yourself. Or, if the lender doesn’t agree that it was a mistake, you can attempt to go over your lender’s head and bring your case directly to the credit bureaus yourself.
If you can’t prove that you made a timely payment you might be out of luck. But you can still try disputing with the credit bureaus, if the delinquency truly is an error.
3. Dispute with the credit bureaus
You can dispute information on your credit reports for free with no negative impact to your credit scores. You can submit credit bureau disputes online, over the phone, or via mail. However, your best bet is typically to mail your dispute letter directly to each credit bureau via certified mail, as we’ll explain fully a bit later.
When you dispute an item on your report, the credit bureau must investigate it within 30 days (45 in some cases). Once the investigation is completed, the bureau must also provide you with an update to let you know the results of your dispute.
During the investigation, the bureau will review your dispute and the information in your credit file, and check with the lender. If the bureau verifies that the item is correct, it will stay on your credit report. If it discovers that the item is incorrect, the account will be updated or removed from your report entirely.
We’ll go over how to submit a dispute with each of the major consumer credit bureaus below. You’ll need to create a free online account with each credit bureau to file disputes online. If you want to dispute by mail or by phone, you’ll need recent copies of your credit reports.
We recommend disputing by certified mail. Although each of the credit bureaus has a free online dispute system you can use, we actually don’t recommend online disputes. The “reasons” you’re allowed to give are pre-populated, and it can be difficult to tell your side of the story.
For disputes by mail, prepare to send in the following information. If you leave out any of the information below, the credit bureau might write you back to ask for the missing documents before your dispute will be processed. It’s also a good idea to send your letter via certified mail so you will have proof that it was sent in case your dispute is ignored.
- Your full name, including middle initial (and generation such as JR, SR, II, III)
- Your date of birth
- Your Social Security number
- One copy of your Social Security card (or a pay stub or tax document that includes your Social Security number)
- One copy of a government-issued identification card, such as a driver’s license or state ID card, etc.
- One copy of a utility bill, bank, or insurance statement, etc.
- A list of each item on your report that you believe is inaccurate, the associated account numbers, and the specific reasons you feel the information is incorrect
- Optional: Any supporting documentation, like a notice from the lender that the delinquency is inaccurate or a bank statement showing your timely payment
- Optional: A recent copy of your credit report with the incorrect items circled
Only send copies of documents, not the original versions, because you won’t get them back. You don’t need to write a long, eloquent explanation of your situation. But the more supporting documentation you can provide, the better.
Dispute with Experian™
|Experian™ P.O. Box 4500 Allen, TX 75013|
Instructions for mailing a dispute
Dispute form to print and send
|Online||Submit a dispute online|
|Phone||Call the phone number on your Experian™ credit report|
|Check Dispute Status||Check your dispute status at any time|
|Additional Resources||How to Dispute Credit Report Information|
You can submit an online dispute by clicking the link above. Just follow the instructions to sign up for an Experian™ account, if you don’t already have one. Then you’ll be able to select the particular credit account you want to dispute.
To send a dispute by mail, use the mailing address shown in the box above. (The Federal Trade Commission recommends sending disputes by certified mail, “return receipt requested,” so you can document when the credit bureau received your information in case of a disagreement.)
You’ll also see a link to further instructions. Experian™ provides a dispute form you can use if you wish, which we recommend. This document shows all the information you should provide. When disputing an erroneous late payment, you should check the box that says “Payment never late.” You aren’t required to include a copy of your credit report when disputing by mail, but you may want to anyway, for clarity.
To dispute by phone you’ll need to have already obtained a recent copy of your Experian™ credit report. This report will have a phone number that you can call to dispute any items.
You can get a one free copy of your Experian™ report every 12 months through AnnualCreditReport.com, or you can get a free copy of your report directly from Experian™. Or, you may be eligible for a free copy of your credit report — you can call 1-866-200-6020 to check your eligibility.
After beginning a dispute, you can use the link in the table above to check the status at any time.
Dispute with Equifax®
|Equifax® P.O. Box 740256 Atlanta, GA 30374-0256|
|Online||Submit a dispute online|
|Check Dispute Status||Check your dispute status at any time|
|Additional Resources||Credit Report Dispute FAQs|
When you dispute an item on your Equifax® report using any of the above methods you’ll receive a 10-digit confirmation number. You can use this number to check the status of your dispute.
If you initiate the dispute online, you’ll get periodic emails of the progress, and the results. If you dispute by mail or by phone, you’ll receive the results in the mail. Equifax® states that you’ll get a result within 30 days.
To get a free copy of your Equifax® credit report you can visit AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also check to see if you’re eligible for a free credit report under the FCRA or access a free Equifax® report via one of the credit monitoring services listed above. Otherwise, Equifax charges $15.95 for access to your credit report for 30 days, along with a few other services.
Dispute with TransUnion®
LLC Consumer Dispute Center P.O. Box 2000 Chester, PA 19016
|Online||Submit a dispute online|
|Check Dispute Results||Check your dispute results|
|Additional Resources||Credit Report Dispute Center|
Credit Disputes FAQs
If you dispute by mail or phone, you’ll need the file number of a recent copy of your TransUnion® credit report.
You can get one free copy of your TransUnion® report every 12 months at AnnualCreditReport.com. You may also be eligible for a free copy of your credit report from TransUnion® or from one of the free credit monitoring services listed above. Otherwise, TransUnion® charges $11.50 for a copy of your report.
The results of a dispute can be viewed at the link above. It may or may not be possible to check the status of a dispute in progress.
Only one dispute (per credit report item) can be submitted to TransUnion® at a time. If you want to file multiple disputes about the same item on your credit report, you’ll need to submit them one at a time, waiting for each to finish before starting the next one.
If you want to dispute multiple accounts, you can either dispute them all on the same letter, or you may submit them separately (though this is more time consuming).
Sample letter: credit bureau late payment dispute request
You can use this sample letter to dispute information in your credit report. Just insert the appropriate information, like your name and address, the credit bureau name and address, and specific details in the body of the letter. If you’re disputing more than one item, you’ll need to adjust the language to refer to multiple accounts.
Only include copies of documents, not the originals. If you choose to provide a copy of your credit report, circle the delinquent account in question.
Send your dispute request by certified mail, with a return receipt requested, so you’ll be sure that they receive it.
Credit bureau late payment dispute sample letter
SSN: [Your Social Security number]
[Name of Credit Bureau]
[Credit Bureau Address]
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am writing to dispute the following information in my credit file. The item I’m disputing is [insert account name and number], as reported by [insert lender]. (Optional) This account is also circled on the attached credit report.
This delinquent account record is inaccurate because [describe why the late payment was reported]. I am requesting that the account be corrected to show that it has always been current, with no record of being delinquent.
(Optional) I have included copies of my credit report. The file number of this credit report is [insert credit report file number or ID number].
Please investigate this matter and correct the disputed item as soon as possible.
Enclosures: [List what you are enclosing]
How Do You Dispute an Accurately Reported Late Payment?
If you really did make a late payment, there’s still a chance you can have it removed from your credit reports. This might be a slim chance, but it’s worth trying because late payments can potentially have such a significant impact on your credit.
For these methods, you’ll just contact the lender or creditor, rather than the credit bureaus. You’re basically pleading your case and asking it to forgive the late payment — it’s under no obligation to actually do so. If the lender decides to report the account as current instead of delinquent as a result, this is typically known as a “goodwill adjustment.”
This might work if you have an otherwise excellent payment history with that lender, and have been a responsible customer except for this mistake. If there was a technical error that prevented you from paying on time, like an issue with the payment system, that could work in your favor. Or, if there was some major life event that prevented you from paying by the due date, your card issuer may be sympathetic to that as well.
If your history is less than ideal and shows several late payments and other negative marks, you probably won’t have much success with a goodwill adjustment. Still, it might be worth a shot, depending on your situation. The effort will only cost you a little time.
There are only two steps in this process:
- Ask nicely: Make a goodwill phone call/write a goodwill letter
- Negotiate: If asking nicely fails, you can try to negotiate with the lender
Goodwill adjustment with phone call/letter
You can try for a goodwill adjustment on two fronts: by phone and by mail. Some people try just one or the other, while some try both. Occasionally, people report success from calling and sending multiple letters over time, but we can’t verify this.
Whether you’re on the phone or writing a letter, remember that you’re at fault here and asking forgiveness. Your tone should reflect that. Be polite, thankful, and conscientious. Above all, don’t get angry or demanding.
Here are some examples to get you started on the phone or with your goodwill letter. If you get a positive response from the lender, try to also get it in writing.
You can use this script to start the conversation about removing your late payment. Be sure to have your explanation ready for why you were late. If you don’t have a perfect payment history, you’ll have to adjust this slightly to reflect your actual situation.
For credit cards, call the number on the back of your card to speak with the issuer, or check out our listing of backdoor credit card company phone numbers.
Late payment goodwill adjustment sample phone script
“Hello, my name is [your name]. I recently made a late payment on my account, which was a total accident.
As you can see, my payment history is perfect other than this one mistake. I ended up paying late because [insert your explanation here]. The late payment is also showing up on my credit reports and it’s done a lot of damage to my credit scores.
Is there any way you could remove this late payment from the record, by reporting that account as always current?”
That should get the ball rolling in the right direction.
Write them a good, old-fashioned letter. Goodwill letters should be personalized, reflecting your current circumstances and your good intentions to be a responsible credit user.
Take responsibility for the late payment – don’t make excuses. Explain some of the circumstances surrounding it, whether it was about your ability to pay, confusion over the payment process, or some other reason. Point out that you’ve been making other payments on time. If something was preventing you from making a timely payment before, like an illness or death in the family, explain that it’s no longer a problem for you.
The following sample letter should provide a good template to get started. Be sure to adjust it wherever necessary to fit your situation.
Late payment goodwill adjustment sample letter to creditor
[Your Phone Number]
[Your Email Address]
[Your Account Number]
[Name of Creditor]
Dear Sir or Madam:
I hope you’re doing well today. My name is [your name], and I’ve been a satisfied customer of [creditor] for [number] of years. I’ve always made my payments on time, but unfortunately I recently made a mistake on [date].
I understand how important it is to make timely payments. However, I missed my payment because [brief explanation of why you missed your payment]. But I’m confident this won’t happen again. As you can see from my account history, I have a long record of on-time payments before and since the late payment.
As a courtesy, I respectfully request that you make a goodwill adjustment to remove the late payment on [date]. Please consider my track record as proof that I take my financial obligations seriously.
If you have any questions, or if you would like to speak with me in more detail, please call me at [your phone number] or send me an email at [your email address here].
Thank you for your consideration,
Attempt to negotiate
If the regular goodwill adjustment request fails, you can try negotiating a bit. You may have a bit of leverage to work with, but maybe not.
There are a few different kinds of offers you can make:
- Autopay: Set up automatic payments, usually using a bank account, so the creditor can expect timely payments
- Payment plan: Agree to pay a certain amount each month to pay off an existing balance, perhaps using autopay
- Partial settlement: Pay some portion of an outstanding balance now, and then agree to pay off the rest over time
- Full settlement: Pay off the entire outstanding balance with the creditor
Try whichever negotiating tactic(s) will fit your particular situation. You may have better luck negotiating if you can show that you’re financially able to make the payment each month.
To add the negotiation method to your phone call or goodwill letter, just insert one of the following scripts into the conversation or letter. Or you can combine them in some way.
On my part, I’ll sign up for the autopay system so you can be sure that you’ll always get my payments on time. I have a good job with a steady income, so I’m not worried about missing future payments.
On my part, I’ll pay off my remaining balance of [your account balance] over the next [number of months] months, making payments of [payment amount] each month. I’ll sign up for autopay so you can be sure that you’ll always get my payments on time. I have a good job with a steady income, so I’m not worried about missing future payments.
On my part, I’ll pay [payment amount] of my outstanding balance now, and will pay off the rest over the next [number of months] months. I’ll sign up for the autopay system so you can be sure that you’ll always get my payments on time. I have a good job with a steady income, so I’m not worried about missing future payments.
On my part, I’ll pay off my entire balance of [your account balance] now to show my commitment. I intend to remain a loyal customer. I have a good job with a steady income, so I’m confident I will make all future payments.
Why a Goodwill Letter May Not Work
We’ve heard from some readers who have said their credit card issuers say it’s “illegal” for them to remove late payments, or provide other similar reasons.
It’s not illegal for a creditor or lender to change any information on your credit reports — including late payment history. Credit reporting is a voluntary process. There’s no law that requires a lender or creditor to furnish data to credit bureaus. There’s also no law that requires the credit bureaus to accept the data a lender/creditor provides and include it on your credit reports.
Companies like lenders, creditors, and collection agencies must apply to be data furnishers with the credit bureaus. The application must be approved before a company can have information about their customers included on a credit report. When a company is approved to furnish data to the credit bureaus, the company has to sign agreements with Equifax®, TransUnion®, and Experian™. The agreements say what a data furnisher is and isn’t allowed to do when it comes to credit reporting.
Often, the credit bureaus will include language in their agreements which says a data furnisher agrees not to change accurate, negative account information. This is commonly the case for debt collectors, for example, who must agree not to delete a paid but accurate collection account simply because they’ve received payment from a consumer.
If a collection agency were to get caught deleting paid collection accounts, a credit bureau might revoke that agency’s right to report accounts on consumer credit reports. Lenders, creditors, and collection agencies don’t want to lose the right to report information to the credit bureaus. Credit reporting is a big way they compel people to pay their bills on time. (If you know your credit could be hurt by not paying a bill on time, you’re more likely to pay as agreed, right?)
So, to make a long story short, it’s definitely not illegal to delete a late payment from a credit report. A creditor or lender might not delete an accurate late payment, however, if they think it could get them in trouble with the credit bureaus.
The trick with any successful goodwill removal request for a valid late payment is to find the right person with both (a) the authority to help you and (b) the desire to do so. Goodwill removal requests don’t always work, but it never hurts to ask. If you have a good payment history (aside from the one late), try to reach a supervisor or someone in an escalated department who might be willing to make an exception and help you.
If your efforts fail, remember that late payments will impact your credit scores less and less as time passes (until the late payment is eventually deleted from your credit reports in seven years). Focus on keeping the rest of your credit in tip-top shape, and your credit scores will hopefully begin to bounce back over time.
Do Late Payments Always Show Up on Credit Reports?
No, late payments won’t always show up on your credit reports.
When a lender (like a credit card issuer) reports a late payment, they also classify the account as delinquent. Lenders are not allowed to report an account as delinquent to the credit bureaus until a payment is a minimum of 30 days past due. Even then, they may not choose to report the late payment until some more time has passed, basically as a favor to the cardholder.
There is some flexibility in when a payment might be reported as late. However, you should expect to be charged a late fee if your payment is not delivered on time, even if you’re only one day late. Card issuers may waive this fee if you call and ask nicely, explaining that the late payment was a fluke (assuming your payment history is otherwise good). This late fee is separate from the issue of having late payments on your credit reports.
On credit reports, late payments are broken down into several categories. The later a payment is, within these categories, the worse the impact on your credit.
- 30 days late
- 60 days late
- 90 days late
- 120 days late
- 180 days late (aka default or sometimes charge-off)
Once your credit card is a full 90 days past due, the lender will often decide to sell the account to a collection agency and mark it as a charge-off. This means that the creditor has declared that the card debt is unlikely to be repaid, and it’s extremely bad for your credit.
How Does a Late Payment Affect Your Credit Scores?
In short — it’s bad.
Your payment history accounts for 35% of your FICO scores. That makes it the largest single category in the calculation of your credit scores. When a lender extends a line of credit, like a credit card, they want to know that they’ll be paid back on time. So your record of previous payments, good or bad, is very important to them.
A late payment can remain on your credit reports for up to seven years after the date it was reported. Its effects will largely depend on the other elements in your credit profile.
If you have excellent credit, with a spotless record of timely payments except for this one mistake, a single late payment won’t typically leave you with a bad credit rating. But it will likely have a very noticeable effect. If this isn’t your first time making a late payment the impact might be greater, causing your credit scores to fall to average or below.
Here are three important facts to know about how late payments impact your credit scores:
- The more late payments, the larger the impact: Even one late payment is not good, but the more you have, the worse it will be.
- The more recent the late payment, the larger the impact: As late payments grow older, the negative effects on your scores will diminish.
- The more severe the delinquency, the larger the impact: A payment that’s 60 days late is worse for your credit than one that’s 30 days late, and 90 days late is even worse than that.
Even if you have very good credit, you might see your credit scores drop at least 30 – 50 points from a single late payment. It could even be twice as bad as that, or more, depending on your particular credit history.
Lower credit scores mean you’ll have a harder time being approved for credit cards, loans, and anything else that requires a credit check, like many apartment rentals. And, if you are approved, you’ll usually be given higher interest rates.
A late payment on your credit reports may or may not be your fault.
If it’s an error, you should take steps to remove it ASAP, because it’s probably bringing your credit scores down. And if it actually happened, you should try to get it removed with a goodwill adjustment.
The credit bureaus want to produce accurate reports, so if you bring an error to their attention they’ll track down the source and attempt to verify it. Creditors don’t want to falsely accuse you of anything either, because they want to keep you as a happy customer. You should usually expect to have errors like these removed in a pretty timely fashion.
Be aware that for legitimate late payments, there’s definitely no guarantee you can get them removed. Some people report success with goodwill letters, but it’s not a sure thing and it will depend on your particular credit history.
Do everything in your power not to make late payments! They’re one of the easiest ways to quickly put a big dent in your credit scores. Aim to do whatever it takes to prevent them.
Simply setting up autopay for at least the minimum payment is often all it takes to protect yourself, but you may want to double check to make sure your payments go through.
We recommend paying the statement balance in full to help keep your credit scores in top shape, of course. But as long as you meet the minimum you’ll avoid being late.
The Short Version
- If a late payment is on your credit reports in error, you can get it removed relatively easily with a dispute
- If the late payment does actually belong to you, you may be able to get the bank to remove it with a goodwill letter
- Disputing items on your credit report is free. You may need to dispute the late payment with several companies in all