NEW YORK (MainStreet) — It happens to the best of us: you let an old debt get too far. No longer merely a collection, the debt has become a judgment. This means that a court has found against you and your debt is a matter of public record. It’s stuck on there for the next ten years, right? Wrong. In fact, there are ways to get judgments off of your credit report that are relatively painless.

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Pay For Removal?

One of the main things people will do to get a judgment taken off of their credit report is pay it. Sometimes this is done under a “pay for removal” understanding. However, Mike Sullivan of Take Charge America, points out that pay for removal isn’t an option once you have a judgment. “If [your outstanding payment] is 90 days late you can negotiate,” he says, “A judgment is a public record.”

This is because a judgment is entered by the courts, not your creditor. So your quest to get a judgment taken off of your credit report will begin with contacting the court who made the judgment.

But can you even get a judgment taken off of your credit report once it has been entered into the public record?

So Can You Remove It?

The short answer is yes. In fact, Randy Padawer, a consumer advocate at Lexington Law, is a little more bullish on removing judgments.

“I actually think removing judgments are some of the easiest things to do,” he says, going so far as to say “recent 30-day lates are much harder to remove than judgments.”

Padawer says this is because the courthouses and specialty data brokers who act as their intermediaries are, in his words, “notoriously terrible at meeting their legally required options when it comes to substantiating data reporting.” What this means, in effect, is that they don’t keep good enough records for the judgment to survive scrutiny. If you challenge a judgment, Padawer believes that more often than not, courts and third-party data brokers will fold without a fight.

“You start out by asking them to substantiate the judgment,” he says. This is basically just writing a letter and asking the court to prove that the judgment is valid and provide you with relevant information. “You have every right to ask questions about your judgment,” he says. In some cases, this might be enough to get the judgment removed.

What Kind of Information Can Invalidate a Judgment?

Provided that you collect the information, but the judgment, lien or other public record remains on your credit report, where do you go from there? Any kind of inaccuracy can mean that the judgment will be vacated. You might still have to settle the debt, but the judgment can be removed.

“If you have something that says ‘James L. Smith’ and your name is ‘James P. Smith,’ it can be as easy as bringing in your birth certificate,” says Sullivan. He further points out that the burden of proof is on the creditor to demonstrate that the debt is legitimate -- not on you to prove that the debt isn’t yours.

Padawer notes that basically any kind of inconsistency in the judgment can lead to its being removed from your credit report or vacated. “If the amounts are incorrect, if the dates are incorrect, if anything about it is incorrect, it needs to be modified or removed,” he says. What’s more, if you have proof that what you paid the company is more than what’s being requested under the judgment, this is also cause for removal.

For those who have received tax liens, the process is much easier: you can get any tax lien that you’ve paid off removed from your credit report. However, you have to actually request having it removed.

When it comes down to it, though, Sullivan urges people to contest judgments at the time, rather than blowing off a notice they might receive in the mail. “After the fact, your burden of proof is a little higher,” he says. “It’s amazing how many people do not contest judgments when they get a letter. It’s much, much easier to do it in court.”

--Written by Nicholas Pell for MainStreet

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