You may have medical collections on your credit report and not even know it. Here’s how to find out and get them removed.
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Check your credit report
The first step is to check your credit report from all three credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. mistakes happen, so you want to make sure the collection is actually yours before you take any action. You are entitled to one free credit report from each bureau every 12 months, so take advantage of that. You can request your free report at AnnualCreditReport.com.
If the collection is appearing on more than one credit report, you may want to dispute it with each bureau separately.
Find the medical collections on your credit report
The first step is to get a copy of your credit report and identify the medical collections that are being reported. You’re entitled to one free credit report from each of the major credit bureaus every year, and you can get yours at AnnualCreditReport.com. Once you have your report, go through it carefully and look for any collection accounts that are being attributed to medical debt.
If you find medical collections on your credit report, make a list of them including the name of the collection agency, the amount owed, and the date when it first went into collections. You’ll need this information when you contact the collection agency to dispute the debt.
Request debt validation
If you find a medical collection on your credit report, your first course of action should be to request debt validation from the collection agency. This means that the agency must provide you with proof that the debt is yours and that they are eligible to collect on it.
The process of requesting debt validation can be done by letter or by phone, but I recommend doing it in writing so that you have a record of your request. The credit bureau must respond to your request within 30 days, and if they cannot validate the debt, they must remove it from your credit report.
If the collection agency can validate the debt, you have a few options for how to proceed. You can try to negotiate a pay-for-delete agreement, which is where you agree to pay the debt in full in exchange for the collection agency removing the item from your credit report. Alternatively, you can try to negotiate a payment plan or settlement agreement.
Negotiate with the collection agency
The first step is to negotiate with the collection agency. You can do this by writing a “goodwill letter” asking them to remove the collection from your report. Be sure to include documentation that proves the debt is not yours or that it’s been paid off.
If the collection agency agrees to delete the entry from your credit report, get this agreement in writing. Once you have it, send a copy of the letter to each of the three major credit reporting agencies — Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. Ask them to update your file and confirm that the entry has been removed.
Pay the collection
If the collection is valid, your best bet is to pay it off. This will improve your credit score almost immediately. Payment won’t remove the collection from your credit report, but it will change the status to “paid” and may be seen as more favorable by lenders.
If you can’t afford to pay the full amount, try to negotiate a payment plan with the collection agency. You might be able to settle for a lower amount if you agree to pay right away. Get any agreement in writing before you make a payment.
Once you’ve paid or negotiated a payment plan, request confirmation from the collection agency in writing. This documentation can come in handy if there’s a discrepancy later on.
Wait for the collection to be removed from your credit report
The fair credit reporting act gives medical collections a shelf life of seven years. This means that after seven years, the collection will be removed from your credit report. However, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. The debt will still exist, and the collection agency may still try to collect from you.