This afternoon, I received an interesting email from Gerri Detweiler, the host of Talk Credit Radio. Gerri is the personal finance expert at Credit.com and, not surprisingly, she gets dozens of questions from readers and listeners every day and she asked for my thoughts on an interesting question.
Here is my response to Gerri’s listener: there are several issues you will face in trying to remove the judgment from your credit. First, you need to remember that credit reporting and judgment records are two separate systems. Credit reporting agencies are private companies that maintain records for subscribers.
Credit repair and restoration tactics involve writing a credit bureau to challenge the derogatory entry. Your challenge will trigger a re-investigation and if the entry is not verified by the creditor, it should come off.
Public records like judgments, however, are more difficult to get removed because a judgment posted on a court docket are self-verifying – in other words, a judgment represents a finding by a judge that you owe money and as a matter of law, you owe this money.
The judgment will expire at some point, however, at which point the record of the judgment will fall off the court dockets. Once the judgment goes stale, it is no longer enforceable and will come off your credit report as well.
So, while you can challenge the presence of the judgment on your credit report, it is unlikely that the credit bureau will remove it unless and until the judgment expires or is otherwise canceled.
There is hope for you, however. Because the collection agency in your case filed bankruptcy, there will be a record of this bankruptcy proceeding and you should be able to find out what happened to the assets of the bankruptcy collection agency. The Pacer.gov site is the first place where you can look for a bankruptcy case number. It is possible that a bankruptcy trustee is still administering the assets of the debtor (collection agency) or it is possible that the trustee sold the assets to a third party. Either way, if you can find the current owner of the collection agency account you should be able to make an offer to settle the account for pennies on the dollar with the condition that upon payment the judgment will be canceled on the court docket and that your credit files shall be updated to remove the judgment entry.
My experience has been that purchaser of a bankruptcy collection agency will be happy to generate cash from old accounts, thus I would be aggressive in my settlement offer.
A less desirable alternative would be to collaterally attack the judgment in the state court where it was issued. A collateral attack alleges that there was some misconduct or error on the part of the plaintiff collection agency and that the judgment should be reversed on that basis. Obviously if the collection agency is defunct and the accounts in limbo, no one will answer the collateral attack lawsuit. There are a number of pitfalls to this strategy that are beyond the scope of this article but suffice it to say that you will need legal advice to assist you with any collateral attack.
In sum, the first course of action I would take involves finding out more about the collection agency’s bankruptcy filing and contacting the trustee to find out who has possession of the judgment currently.