Dealing With a Judgment on Your Credit Report

When trying to move about in the land of credit, those among us with checkered repayment histories will often find their travels to be rather arduous. There are many components to a credit file, and whenever one of those falls into disrepair, it behooves the individual to see what he might be able to do in order to rehabilitate that item and resume functional access to all that good credit provides. As this column has noted before, in addition to the more obvious benefits well-served by having good credit, it can now make the difference in what rates you pay for insurance, and even if you can land that job for which you’ve been desperately vying. The fact is that one’s credit history has, over time, become a yardstick by which to measure personal integrity, fair or not, so it is essential that you do everything you can to ensure that yours is as “pure” as it can be.

This said, there is one type of credit report entry that can prove especially troublesome to address – the judgment. Although the presence of judgments are generally subject to a seven-year time limitation, they are severe enough in appearance that many people would like to find a way to make them disappear more quickly; plus, because judgments can typically be renewed by creditors (the specifics of this will vary by state), there is always the chance that a judgment will re-appear on your credit after the original seven-year clock has wound down. Although there are things that can be done more readily to directly mitigate, even remove, other kinds of items on a credit report, judgments are a particular nuisance… so is there anything that can be done?

What differentiates judgments from “garden-variety” collection items on a credit report is that a judgment is representative of a court action, which means that the judgment becomes a part of one’s file not out of deference to the creditor who initiated legal action, but at the behest of the court. Once a collection matter moves from being a two-party issue (the debtor and the creditor) to a three-party issue (with the court added), the court becomes the 800-pound gorilla in the room. The only way to get a judgment removed from a credit report is to go through the legal process necessary to have it vacated, and that takes the help of an attorney, which also means time and money – plus, having a judgment vacated is simply a tall order.

So what are the options? Other than waiting for the judgment to eventually fall off of the report (and hope that it does not reappear), you might want to see about settling it… or paying the amount due outright, if that’s small enough… in exchange for a satisfaction of judgment. It is up to the creditor to file the satisfaction with the court, so before paying anything, be sure you have the creditor agree in writing that the satisfaction will be filed as a condition of your payment. In the case of paying a judgment, even a small one, it is smart to involve an attorney – even though it is not necessary, and will cost you some additional bucks to have one help you with the process, the benefit and weight of legal representation in the creation and review of the settlement agreement, as well as in pressuring the creditor to live up to the terms of the agreement, if necessary, can certainly be worth the money.

The information contained here is for general information purposes only. Bob Yetman disclaims responsibility for any liability or loss incurred as a consequence of the use or application, either directly or indirectly, of any information presented herein. Nothing contained in this article should be construed as a solicitation or recommendation to engage in any financial transaction. You should seek the advice of a qualified professional before making any changes to your personal financial profile.