Public records are information that is on file with a court of law. These include:
- Tax liens
- Arrest records
You have no right to privacy when it comes to public records. They are – as the name implies – public.
Some public records may even appear on your credit reports. If this is the case, they will be considered negative by credit scoring models. This means that a public record on your credit reports can affect your credit score.
Public records and your credit reports
Not all public records are included in credit reports. Some types of public records were included in the past, but were removed due to policy changes.
Here's an overview to help you understand what types of public records are now showing up on your reports and causing potential credit damage.
Filing for bankruptcy can protect you if you cannot afford to pay your debts. However, bankruptcy also has consequences.
One is that bankruptcy is a public record, so anyone can see it. As a result, the bankruptcy may show up on your credit reports. It can also affect your credit score and cause problems if you need to apply for new financing in the future.
Trying to recover from a bankruptcy? Check out our advice on getting a credit card after bankruptcy, and explore the best credit cards after bankruptcy when you're ready to take the plunge.
If a creditor sues you for an unpaid debt and you lose, the court will enter a civil judgment against you. Judgments used to show up on credit reports, but that's no longer the case. Judgments no longer affect your credit score.
If you fail to pay taxes to the government (federal or state), a lien may be placed on your property. In the past, tax liens were usually listed on credit reports. In fact, unpaid tax liens could previously remain on your credit reports forever.
How long do public records remain in your credit reports?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is the federal law that sets rules for the information that can be included in your credit reports. Among other things, the FCRA sets deadlines or expiration dates for credit reports.
In general, most negative information is not allowed to stay on your credit reports forever.
- Bankruptcies can remain on your credit reports for up to ten years from the filing date.
- Judgments will no longer show up on credit reports.
- Tax liens are no longer shown on credit reports.
There are two different types of bankruptcies – Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 – and different reporting rules apply to both.
Closed Chapter 13 bankruptcies can remain on your reports for seven years. However, with Chapter 13, it can be several years between bankruptcy filing and closing (aka discharge). To account for this, the FCRA limits the total time a Chapter 13 can remain on your credit reports to ten years from the filing date.
The rules for credit reports in Chapter 7 bankruptcies are less complicated. Chapter 7 can remain on your credit reports for up to ten years from the date of filing.
Currently, civil judgments do not appear on your credit reports at all.
However, this change is due to a settlement reached by the credit bureaus (more on this below). The FCRA still allows judgments to remain on credit reports for seven years from the filing date.
Also, tax liens will not appear on your credit reports because of current credit bureau policies.
This does not mean it is illegal for tax liens to reappear on credit reports at some point in the future (more on this below). Under the FCRA, a tax lien must be removed from your credit reports seven years after the date it was paid and released. Unpaid tax liens, on the other hand, never have to be removed from credit reports.
How public records are added to credit reports
Most of the entries on your credit reports appear there because a company you owe money to (also known as a data provider) provides the credit bureaus with the information.
Your credit card issuer, for example, sends the credit reporting agencies data every month about how you manage your account. Reported data includes information such as your payment history, balance, and whether you are currently on time or past due.
Credit reports are voluntary. There is no law that forces your creditors to provide the credit bureaus with information about your account management habits every month.
If a data provider chooses to send information to the credit reporting agencies, it must follow the rules set forth in the FCRA. If a credit bureau accepts your information and includes it on your credit reports, the same rules apply.
Public records are different. There is no data vendor that provides information to the credit bureaus. A court does not send information to the credit bureaus about who has filed for bankruptcy.
It's more like the credit bureaus themselves are looking for information from public records. They accomplish this by using electronic public records, such as PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records).
Why are judgments and tax liens no longer showing up on credit reports?
In 2015, the three major credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – reached a settlement with 31 state attorneys general. The settlement led to an agreement now known as the National Consumer Assistance Plan, or NCAP for short.
NCAP triggered a series of policy changes that the credit bureaus agreed to implement to make credit reports more accurate. Some of these changes had to do with the way the credit bureaus collected and reported data from public records.
Public records can affect your credit score and make it harder for you to get a loan or credit card. As a result, the states involved in the settlement wanted the credit bureaus to improve their standards to ensure that all public record data included in a credit report is accurate. According to the states, too many consumers at the time could find data in their reports that was incorrect or did not belong to them.
Initially, the credit bureaus only removed some of the tax liens and judgments from credit reports. However, by April 2018, all tax liens and judgments had been deleted from credit reports.
You should know that the FCRA has not changed when it comes to public records. So it's not illegal for the credit bureaus to change their policies and put public records back on credit reports in the future. (According to NCAP, the credit bureaus would first need to find a way to fix public record accuracy issues and update records every 90 days.)
It's also worth noting that a tax lien or judgment won't show up on your credit reports, which doesn't mean it can't cause you problems. For example, if you're applying for a mortgage, your lender may conduct a public records search. If an unpaid judgment or tax lien shows up, you'll likely need to take care of it before your application is approved.
How to remove public records from your credit reports?
Are you concerned about a tax lien or judgment showing up on your credit reports? You do not have to. The credit bureaus have already removed this information for you – a good result for your credit history.
However, when it comes to bankruptcies, there is very little you can do to remove them from credit reports – unless the information is incorrect.
You can dispute an insolvency with the credit bureaus if it does not belong to you or if it is misreported. Otherwise, you will have to wait seven to ten years for the insolvency to disappear from your credit reports.
Here's the good news. Insolvency should affect your credit score less and less the older it gets. So you won't be stuck with bad credit scores forever, even if good credit scores seem a long way off. It's also possible to build a credit score after bankruptcy, even if the public record still remains on your credit reports.
Now you're up to speed on how public records affect your credit. Are you ready to take your credit education even further? Learn more about loans and credit cards in the Insider Academy.