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Late payments are the bane of any struggling consumer's existence.

By paying a credit, auto loan, or mortgage loan after the payment's due, borrowers trigger an avalanche of negative outcomes, including higher interest rates, late payment fees, and lower credit scores, among other financial headaches.

Lenders and creditors take payments seriously, as do the credit reporting agencies who track and generate a consumer's credit score:
  • Your bill payment history is among the most important components of your FICO credit score - the main financial benchmark lenders use to evaluate your credit risk. Payment history accounts for 35% of your credit score.
  • According to FICO, just one lone 30-day late payment can cut up to 110 points off a 780 credit score.
  • A late payment to a credit card company, for example, can turn a 15% credit card interest rate into a pricier 20% interest or higher, even if you only paid late a single time.
  • A lower credit score that's the result of late payments can cause you to lose out on a mortgage, an apartment rental (yes, landlords do check credit scores), or even a job (many employers check credit, too.)
  • A late payment, left untouched and unfixed, will stay on your credit record for seven years.

That's why it's imperative that you pay your bills on time and every time. That goes double for the bills credit scoring agencies track with the most aggressiveness - things like credit cards, auto loans, mortgage loans, and home equity loans.

By avoiding late payments on these types of credit accounts, you'll keep your interest rates low, your credit score high, and you'll have more money in your pocket as a result. If not, late payments will cause you seemingly endless personal financial problems that are difficult to entangle.

How to Remove Late Payments from Your Credit Report

The situation isn't hopeless. Even if you do pay a bill late and it hurts your credit scores, there are remedies in place that can help you remove the late payment and get back on the path to pristine financial health.

These eight action steps can help get the job done and get you back on the path to pristine personal financial health:

1. Get a Copy of Your Credit Report 

If you've paid a bill late, suspect you have, or want to know the impact a late payment has on your credit, your first step is to get a copy of your credit report and check it out thoroughly.

You can get a free copy of your credit report once a year from annualcreditreport.com, which will send you a copy of your credit report from all three major credit scoring agencies - Transunion (TRU - Get Report) , Experian (EXPGY) , and Equifax (EFX - Get Report) . It's also possible to get your credit reports on the cheap from any of the above credit reporting agencies. Just go to the agency's web site where you'll find directions to get a free (once a year) credit report sent to you directly.

The single act of getting your credit report won't eliminate any late payment listed on a report, but it's the primary tool needed to erase a late payment from your credit report and avoid harsher financial penalties. The main goal is to use your credit report to check for late payments so you can start the process of getting rid of them.

2. Check Your Report for Errors 

Once you have your credit report in hand, thoroughly review it to see if any late payments that appear on the report are valid. Screw-ups happen all the time with communication between creditors and credit reports agencies, and an on-time payment may be listed as a late payment because of a coding or administrative error.

Make sure you have good records of your bill payments, especially the big ones like mortgage or credit card payments. You'll need the records to match up your actual bill payments with any late ones listed on your credit report.

3. Request Late Payment Information Be Removed From Your Credit Report

If you see an error or discrepancy, and believe you have a good case for its removal, formally request the credit bureau in question (that's why it's important to review credit reports from all three major bureaus - what's on one report may not be on another credit report.)

By law, if a credit reporting agency can't verify that a late payment included on your report is valid, it has to take it off your credit report. All three of the major credit reporting bureaus allow you to easily make such a request online. Experian, for example, has an online "dispute center" where you can request items be removed from your credit report. You can make the same request by phone or mail.

Here's the information you need to file a dispute with the three major credit bureaus:

Transunion. Credit Bureaus Dispute Information TransUnion LLC Consumer

Dispute Center P.O. Box 2000 Chester, PA 19016

Online: https://dispute.transunion.com

Phone: 800-916-8800 - 8am-11pm EST

Experian. Experian Dispute P.O. Box 4500 Allen, TX 75013

Online: https://www.experian.com/consumer/upload/

Phone: (714) 830-7000

Equifax. Equifax Information Services LLC P.O. Box 740256 Atlanta, GA 30374 Online: https://www.equifax.com/personal/disputes

Phone: (800) 846-5279

4. Issue a Complaint to Uncle Sam

If you don't get satisfaction through the three credit bureau reporting agencies, you can go up the ladder and make your case for a late payment credit report error with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB does provide recourse for consumers who can't get a late payment issue fixed, but it may take a while. Start that process and get some extra tips on the federal government's consumer finance dispute page.

5. Send the Dispute Directly to the Creditor or Lender

You can also generate a dispute complaint with the creditor (also known as the "furnisher") who cited a late payment. Consumer.gov has an excellent "direct" dispute page, along with a dispute letter template, that makes the process easy-peasy.

6. Negotiating Directly With the Creditor or Lender

If the complaint winds up being rejected, you can try negotiating the late payment issue with your lender or creditor directly. By no means is this an easy process, but it's doable if you dig hard enough, get to the right decision-maker at the company, and be prepared to make partial or (more effectively) a full payment to wipe the slate clean.

Additionally, offer to switch your monthly payment method from paper checks or phone calls to automatic withdrawal. Lenders and creditors love once-a-month automatic payment withdrawals as they virtually guarantee the payment will be recorded and it doesn't cost them much money to process a payment that way (it's a 100% digital process.)

Simply write another letter or even better, get a customer service manager on the phone or via email or web engagement and ask that the company remove your late payment from your credit report in exchange for you making automatic monthly payments. You may be surprised how effective this tactic can be and it's definitely worth a try.

When you do cut a deal, make sure you get it in writing and send it along to each of the credit reporting agencies.

7. Ask for a "Goodwill" Adjustment 

If you've only paid a bill late once or, at the most, twice, a creditor may remove your late payment notice if you write a straightforward latter asking for forgiveness. That may sound awkward at first, but companies do like to hear from customers who've made a mistake (but not a lot of mistakes) and work with them to fix their credit.

8. Work With a Professional Credit Repair Service 

Yes, there are more than a few fly-by-night credit repair companies out there who over-promise and under-deliver on late payment removal services.

That said, there are companies - Credit Karma, CreditRepair.com and Lexington Law Credit Repair come to mind - that have a good record of working out credit score and late payment disputes.

It might cost you several hundred dollars when all is said and done to work with a professional credit repair service, but that's a small price to pay to get your good credit restored and likely save thousands of dollars by having a higher credit score (and subsequently better loan and credit deals) down the road.

Get Going

It's not easy to remove a late payment from your credit report and will require some legwork, diligence and even creativity.

Follow the steps above, however, and you'll vastly improve your chances of removing that late payment from your credit report, and set the stage for future robust personal financial health.