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To put things into superhero terms: collections are basically the sworn nemesis of credit. In fact, even a single item marked ‘past due’ on your credit report could totally slash your score. So what’s a consumer to do? Here are three ways to conquer the financial foe and elevate your creditworthiness to victor status.

1. Resolve Your Most Recent Debt First

Depending on the state you live in, the statute of limitations for any unpaid item to remain on your credit report can be anywhere from 7 to 10 years or more.  If you have the financial means to start resolving debt in collections, start at the top and work your way down. In most cases, resolving debt less than two years old will likely have a greater score impact than paying off older items

2. Prioritize Items You Can Afford

If you’re looking to improve your credit, it’s best to take care of the most recent debt you can afford to pay in full before you tackle items that you can only make a single, non-resolvable payment on. Here’s why. A fully paid account is more likely to have a positive affect on your credit versus a derogatory item that still carries a balance. You should also note that if you choose to communicate with a debt collector without resolving the debt, you run the risk of extending the time frame they are legally allowed to contact you. In fact, dialogue such as this may also prolong the amount of time the item at stake can stay on your report. Therefore, if you decide to correspond with a collection agency, be sure you are ready to pay the debt owed.

3. Negotiate a Payment in Exchange for Removal 

Before you make a new transaction with a debt collector, try to negotiate a payment in exchange for removal plan. You may have to speak to a manager for this one, but it’s crucial to your credit that you receive documentation stating that once you pay the amount you both agree to, the collection agency will then remove the item from your report.  A statement such as this can help to ensure that your good payment doesn’t go unnoticed from a credit standpoint. Oh, and here’s a secret: it may be possible to get a deal on your remaining debt!

“Collection agencies typically purchase debt for crumbs in comparison to the original amount owed; therefore offering as little as 80% or less of the remaining balance due could still lead to a deal.” – Adam Johnson, Director of Operations at ScoreShuttle

How to Get a Deal on the Debt You Owe

First, calculate exactly how much money you can realistically afford to pay. Then, reach out to the debt collector to negotiate a payoff amount they are willing to accept. Once you have a deal in place, make sure to get your agreement in writing prior to making any major money moves.