I just hate it when bad things appear on an otherwise good credit record. Here's one version of this all-too-common occurrence:

Dear Dayana,
I have excellent credit. except for one thing. Two years ago I had to leave the country for three months for a family emergency and one account became past due for 90 days. I paid the card in full after returning, but the credit card company reported the late payment on my report. I noticed that it's still there. Is there any way to get the late payment record removed from my credit report so that I can improve my score and have my credit report completely clean (this is the only payment that was late in my entire career)?
Regards, WM

Ouch. That one's definitely going to leave a mark. And unfortunately, there is no legal way to remove accurate negative information from your report, despite what credit repair scamsters promise.

The good news is that as time goes by, the unflattering notation has a reduced effect on your overall credit score. The even better news is that after seven years (from the time of the first overdue notice), that boo-boo will drop from your report altogether. (Seven years is the magic expiration date for most credit report blunders. But there are some that could follow you around forever.)

I don't want to leave you watching the clock for the next five years, so here are a few things you can do to pass time:

  • Make sure that the notation is accurate (e.g. reported as 90 days past due, not sent to collections -- if it wasn't -- and that the date is correct). If it is not, dispute the erroneous entry by contacting the reporting lender directly with a note that goes something like this.

  • See whether it was reported to all three of the major credit reporting bureaus -- Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. (You can review all three of your reports and get a free credit score to boot from Fool Credit Center sponsorTrueCredit.) You may find that the reporting lender tattled on you to only one or two of them. And that's just fine. No need to rat yourself out.

  • Put a brief "consumer note" on your report explaining this uncharacteristic lapse. It won't change your score, but if an actual human being is reviewing your credit application, he or she will see it and can consider it when making a decision about doing business with you.

You and I know that you'll never again miss a bill's due date. But for that reader out there who just realized that March's American Express bill is still in the Pizza Hut box he used to tidy up before his blind date arrived, there's hope. After you retrieve the bill from the recycling pile, call your lender and sincerely explain your tardiness. If possible, well up with tears. (They are trained in voice recognition to suss out genuine emotion.) Many lenders will forgive the occasional customer oversight, particularly if you have been a loyal and responsible patron. For good measure, ask them not to report a late payment to the credit reporting agencies, and if you're feeling confident, request that the late fee be waived.