How to Remove Civil Judgments From Your Credit Report

Cole Mayer

Table of Contents

What is a Judgment?

Judgments on your credit report are one of the worst items that affect your credit score, and can prevent creditors from agreeing to give you loans or credit cards.

A civil judgment is a ruling by a court during a lawsuit, usually for unpaid collections or debts. For example, if you fail to pay rent, your landlord can take you to court, small claims or otherwise, in order to force you to pay. If the judge agrees with the landlord, a judgment appears on your credit report, regardless of whether you pay in full at the end of the trial.

How Does a Judgement Affect Your Credit?

Worse yet, a judgment is public record, meaning any creditor can (and will) find it before offering you a loan. While collections are between two parties and often handled privately, judgments are public and court-ordered, showing anyone who cares to look that you failed to pay child support, rent, alimony, or a small claims lawsuit.

Not only will it look bad to creditors, but it will lower your credit score, as well. Chances are, creditors will not see you as trustworthy enough to pay back a loan, and deny your application. If they do accept the risk, you are likely to be offered the highest interest rates available.

A few notes: A paid judgment is called a “satisfied judgment.” While it will still have a negative effect on your credit score and report, it will look better than an “unsatisfied judgment.”

How Long Does a Judgment Stay on Your Credit Report?

Typically, a judgment stays on your report for 7 years. That means 7 years of a major negative item on your report. But, that’s not the whole story. Collectors can continue re-filing the judgment until the statute of limitations runs out in your state — potentially up to 20 years!

Getting a Judgment Deleted From Your Credit Report

Pay the Judgment and Wait

A satisfied judgment, whether paid in full or simply settled or an agreed-upon amount, is unlikely to be re-filed. It will remain on your credit report for the 7 years, however; it is not automatically removed.

Discharge the Judgment by Declaring Bankruptcy

Declaring bankruptcy will discharge your judgment. This means you won’t owe the money, but the judgment will still remain on your credit report. This looks bad, as you’ll also have a bankruptcy on your report as well.

Vacate the Judgment

Vacating a judgment means the court decides it reverse its decision and voids the judgment. This could be because the court finds the judge did not properly issue the judgment, such as if the defendant (you) did not receive proper papers, or if the suit did not accurately reflect the situation.

Each state has a legal time limit to file, usually less than six months from the original judgment. This can be the best case, as a vacated judgment disappears from your credit report. It’s also the hardest of the four methods of removal. If you want to pursue this path, it’s essential you have a lawyer to help you file the motion correctly.

Dispute the Judgment

Similar to vacating the judgment, you can dispute the judgment. In this case, you dispute the information on your credit report with each of the three credit bureaus. The information must be incorrect for this to work.

This also usually only works in one of three scenarios:

  • For people who settled the case before trial, and thus there was no judgment made by the court
  • For people who have no record of a judgment against them, as often happens in cases of default judgments.
  • For people with debt that cannot be validated with a credible source

Seek Professional Help Removing Judgments

Removing judgments from your credit report is not easy. It may be wise to hire a credit repair company to do the work for you. This is most important if you are disputing a judgment, as the company will write dispute letters to Transunion, Equifax, and Experian for you, and handle any follow-ups as necessary.

For more information on credit scores and how to raise them, visit our Credit Score Learning Center. Learn more about disputing errors on your credit report at our letter template resource center.

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