Late child support payments may not hurt your score

This post originally appeared August 11, 2016 on as “How delinquent child support affects credit scores

By Barry Paperno

Dear Speaking of Credit,
How do delinquent child support payments affect credit scores? – Russ

Dear Russ,
There are three common ways for child support debt to appear on a credit report. Two can affect your credit score and one cannot.

1. Collection
As with any other form of past-due debt, a collection item on a credit report for delinquent child support debt can seriously hurt your credit score. Collections for unpaid child support most often originate with either a state child support enforcement agency or an individual custodial parent turning to a collection agency for help.

No matter how the child support debt finds its way to the credit report as a collection, once there, its negative influence can lower a high FICO score (780+) by more than 100 points or continue to suppress an already-low score.

2. Court judgment
A court judgment for back child support usually results from a lawsuit brought on by a state child support enforcement agency or the custodial parent. A judgment can lead to wage garnishment, a property lien, tax refund confiscation or other means of enforcement.

When it comes to the scoring impact from a judgment, the damage done is similar to a collection, with a high FICO score dropping by more than 100 points or an already-low score remaining that way for years.

3. Trade line
Title IV, Part D, of the Social Security Act
requires “states to report periodically to consumer reporting agencies [credit bureaus]…the name of any noncustodial parent who is delinquent in the payment of child support and the amount of overdue support owed by such parent.”

Credit reporting item Score impact How long on credit report?
Collection Derogatory 7 years
Judgment Derogatory 7 years
Trade line Neutral 7 years if past due

More than 11 million individuals have their delinquent child support reported to the credit bureaus each year. Yet, when appearing only as a credit report trade line – not as a collection or judgment – child support payments have neither a positive or negative effect on their credit scores.

For some underlying background into why FICO scores don’t include child support information, I contacted FICO Principal Scientist Can Arkali, who shared that: “Our research indicates that not every state reports this information and in states that do, the information seems to be reported inconsistently – some states appear to report fully, whereas others seem to report only the negative information. Given the different nature of family/child support payment information relative to much more common credit obligations found in the credit bureau file and the inconsistencies in reporting, our models continue to bypass this information.”

Some of the inconsistencies in the reporting of child support information to credit bureaus include:

  • Child support reporting may or may not state whether payments are current or past due.
  • With varying time periods used by different states before reporting, delinquent child support is often not reported until the noncustodial parent has received sufficient notification and time to catch up on the past-due payments.
  • Some states may report to only one or two, but not all three, credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

Since all credit bureau reporting must follow the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) rules, a state child support enforcement agency is no different than a bank or other lender in its responsibility to comply. Child support-paying consumers receive the same set of rights ensuring the accuracy of this information and the length of time negative information can remain on their credit reports.

Though credit scores are not impacted by this information, lenders often consider delinquent child support trade lines when evaluating credit applications – regardless of the credit score. Even when the credit score is high, requiring late child support payments to be paid in full as a condition for credit approval is not unusual.

Avoid escalation
The lesson for consumers facing past-due child support tends to be the same as for other types of debt still in the earlier stages of delinquency. If paying the full past-due amount can’t be done right away, making payment arrangements with the child support enforcement agency early on can prevent the long-lasting score damage a collection or court judgment is sure to cause.

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