Managing Debt

8 Things Debt Collectors Won’t Tell You

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debt collector4. Your debt may be too old for me to do anything about it.

“Stale debt is not collectible,” advises Atlanta bankruptcy attorney Jonathan Ginsburg. “Every State has a statute of limitations that make debt of a certain age not collectible. Debt collectors are not currently obligated to advise you that they cannot sue you or legally ding your credit report if you refuse to pay stale debt.”

In most states, the statute of limitations runs four to six years from the date you last made a payment. And that’s the catch. “In some states, a voluntary payment on a stale debt can revive the debt and make it legally collectible,” Ginsberg warns. But don’t be surprised if you hear about a very old debt. “Stale (or zombie) debt is big business,” he adds.

“Seniors are constantly targeted for old debts,” believes Alex Viecco of the debt negotiation firm New Era Debt Solutions. Viecco says they’re seeing a trend where debts that were the result of identity theft are, “coming back around for consumers. They certainly do not remember it and suddenly (collectors) act as if it was theirs.” He says his firm also hears from clients who complain about old medical debts that should have been paid by the insurance company but weren’t and resurface years later.

“Never admit to any debt without first getting more details,” recommends Viecco. At a minimum, you want to establish that the debt is legitimate, you owe it, the collector on the other end of the phone isn’t a scammer, and whether the statute of limitations has expired.

At the same time, don’t assume that just because a debt is older it can’t be collected, or that it can’t affect your credit reports.  ”There are a handful of states that do require the collector to tell the consumer that they cannot be sued,” says Mark Schiffman, director public affairs for ACA International. “While it is true that every state has a statute of limitations, which varies by state and by debt type, and that a collector may not sue or threaten to sue a consumer, the collector may still seek to collect the debt from the consumer so long as it is within the guidelines of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.” He also notes that under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, collection accounts may be reported for seven years.

5. Debt collectors are under pressure to collect, just like you are to pay.

Collectors “work on sliding scale commissions and the quicker they get someone’s money, the higher the commission,” says Philadelphia debt collector abuse lawyer Michael Forbes. “If they don’t get your money within a fixed period of time, your account will be sent back to the creditor.”

So while collectors may pressure you to pay right away, staving them off a bit might work in your favor if you can’t afford to pay the full amount you owe. “Collectors will generally not share that they may take a lower settlement offer at the end of the month in order to meet a quota, or nearer the end of the assignment contract when the creditor is going to pull the account back,” says Michael Bovee with, a free online debt advice community that also offers free sample debt collection letters. He explains that most assignment collection accounts (where creditors assign debts to collection agencies rather than selling them) stay with collectors for 90 days. Any accounts that are not collected at that point may go back to creditors, usually to be placed with another collection firm.

And while collectors may insist that you pay the full balance you owe over time, they may actually prefer to get a smaller, lump-sum payment, says Phelan. Why? “They get paid commissions much faster that way!”

6. If they really want to play hardball, they will have to sue you.

If you owe unsecured debt such as credit card debt, collectors must typically sue you before they can go after your property, including money in your bank accounts, or try to garnish your wages. But threatening to take such actions before they have sued you and won a judgment may be illegal. Even threatening to sue you to collect a debt may be illegal if the collector has no intention of doing so.

The FTC reports that in 2010, just over a quarter of all FDCPA complaints reported that third-party collectors falsely threatened a lawsuit or some other action that they could not or did not intend to take. In addition, 18.6% of FDCPA complaints alleged that such collectors falsely threatened arrest or seizure of property. No doubt some of these complaints involved overseas payday loan collection scammers. Still, some involved calls from collectors in the U.S. trying to collect legitimate debts.

“Debt collectors use applied psychology to persuade and threaten consumers to pay debt,” Ginsberg explains. “Often this psychology involves veiled threats of criminal action or litigation when these options are not available.”

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  • will

    What happens if a collection agency didnt validate the debt? I had retained a lawyer to fight the collection agency, they settled out of court paying me a settlement, and state that they no longer hold the loan and it was given back to the original creditor, but they haven’t removed the item from the credit agencies/credit report. The dates on the collection on my credit report were inaccurate. Do they have to remove this from my credit report since they no longer carry the loan?

    Thanks for any and all insight/advice.


  • Eddie

    write a letter of dispute and send it to the credit agency…also get your free credit reports and see if they did an inquiry on your credit and ask for that to be removed to.

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  • James mobley

    If a debt collector has only left voice mail on your phone and has not provided a statement in the mail concerning the debt but willing to fax the info, which is better from the debtors stand point,a fax or the mail Before doing any transactions..

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Do not accept a fax as a substitute for written confirmation of the debt. Written confirmation is required by law. If they did not send it their are either breaking the law or a scammer.

      • James mobley

        Thanks so much that’s helpful to know, by the way the company is bay area credit,I looked them up but got vague or little info, I did discover that they are not b.b.b. Accredited, would u know if they are legit?

        • Gerri Detweiler

          Offhand, no I don’t. I’d suggest you call your state attorney general’s office as a start to find out if they are licensed to do business in your state.

  • SVM

    I have been paying monthly to this firm. I just received a letter asking for full payment and when I called to ask they informed me that it is a new debt. The original creditor pulled it and now they have reopened it as a new account. They also mailed this to my work address not my home were they had a sheriff serve me notice the first time. I use my home address on the money orders that are sent.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I am sorry I am not sure I understand exactly what happened. Are you dealing with a legitimate collection agency here? Have you researched to find out if they are licensed and registered in your state (if that is required)?

  • http://laweoffice tara

    i got call from lawyer office saying you do not want go court do you . will when last amount my unemplyed and i am try get ssd how can i pay you and what a judegment

  • Help

    I had a collection agency call me would not give me the name of the company. I had two calls from them both numbers i googled and came back as a technology company. When I called one number I asked for the fax as I wanted to send they a fax from the FTC to stop calling they asked for my name and I said I did not have to disclose that to them and they refused to give me the fax#. And hung up on me. They have also called my mother and daughter. The original debit has been written off buy the company. I did have a complete with the attorney generals office.

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  • Rayne

    Well, I have a debt (auto loan) that defaulted several years ago during a long stretch of unemployment and eventually resulted in garnishment, beginning in 2011. For whatever reason, the creditor was very lax in renewing the 60-day garnishments (per WA state law), and the interest has accrued to such an extent that I believe it is impossible for this debt to ever truly be paid off. Fast forward to last year, when this company suddenly began texting me for ‘settlement’ offers, usually every 2 months or so. The terms keep changing (of course), and now — as my family is on the verge of moving to a new rental house — I get a text saying, and I quote “I need to speak with you about possible changes that may affect your ability to pay for the new rental.” Excuse me? I’ve survived the intermittent garnishment just fine…however cautiously this woman tried to word it, this sounds like a threat to me. Am I correct? Any suggestions as to how I might respond to this?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Rayne – You may want to talk with a consumer law attorney who regularly handles debt collection cases. This may be an illegal threat under the FDCPA. If it is, the collection agency would have to pay your attorney’s fees. (I am not an attorney so please don’t take this as legal advice.)

  • djtwfj

    Hi Gerri, I had an account that I opened probable in 1993, and it went to collections probably in 1999. I struggled financially in that time while I was going full time to school. Once I started working again, I settled most of my accounts but this one because it was the highest debt. This account used to be on my credit report, and now a collection agency is calling my parent’s house to get information about me.

    What are your suggestions?


    • Gerri Detweiler

      Have you made payments on this debt? If not, then I would imagine the statute of limitations has expired. What state do you live in?

  • Cheryl

    Hi, Gerri! I’ve tried to settle an account with a company and they refuse to settle with me for lesser amount that I could afford (settle for 700, balance 1000). I offered to settle for 700, but they refuse and said that I would have a balance still and I’m liable. I also offered to pay between 10 to 50 dollars a month until it’s paid, but they said that they don’t have to accept it. They threatened to take me to small claims court for the total amount. If I send them a cashiers’ check of 500 dollars and a letter of settlement and they send it back, am I still liable for the rest of the balance?

    • Gerri Detweiler


      Unless the amount they say you owe is wrong, they don’t have to accept less than the full payment. Nor are they required to accept monthly payments that you can afford. However, are you certain you are dealing with a legitimate collection agency and not a scammer?

  • Angela

    Hi, I just recieve a call from a private number, I answered it, and they guy said he was a process server, and he had my legal case at his desk, and If I wanted to find about the legal documents I needed to contact this 919-295-6121, I have 4 children, and I thought maybe I was being served for custody or something because i have NEVER been in trouble. I called the number some lady ask was my last 4digits such and such, I said no, you have the wrong person, so she said ok, the called me back saying No, she had the right person, they just had my ref# mixed up, and said I owed on a capitol one credit card from 2007, and I was like maam, I had a credit card back in 2002, the limit was 300, I do not owe 4,000 to captitol one. she then says she is marking this as a refusal to pay, and They will be sueing me, and I sound like a smart lady, do i want to be sued, or make payment arrangements, I said look No im not making arrangements, i dont even know is this is the same credit card from 2002, and No im not paying, then she hung up on me, I called back, she said there was no use for me, they were sueing me, and I want be broke all my life, so i cant run from the law forever??? I was amazed at these people. Im so lost, I have no clue if im being sued, wouldnt they have to serve me? and i never had a credit card open in 2007, maybe 2002 when i was 2o ish, im now 33years old, no credit card is listed on my credit report at all from the 2002 card i had. im so lost. she said this card last payment was made on jan. 2007, which means in 2014 that will not be valid, BUT I NEVER HAD A CARD IN 2007. EVER!!

    • Angela

      I now live in Ga. she states the credit card was 10 years old at first in the inital converstaion, then when she hung up in my face and i called her back after reading online about state statutes, then she said the credit card last payment was made on jan 2007, and the credit card was issue in LA. which is a lie, the card from 2002, i never paid on, its not even on my credit report anymore.

  • Angela

    She states she was from a laywers office, but i cant see lawyer being so rude, hanging up in your face, then telling you ( We will get the money after we garnish your back account, you cant stay broke all your life) the so called process server said ( maam you cant run from the law) when i was asking what in the world was he calling about.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      So glad you didn’t fall for this!

  • Alania

    Hi Gerri!

    Is there any sense in paying a charged off account? I have paid 2 of those off and wondering if it was a bad decision since bad debt is bad debt.

    I currently have 2 accts in collections, not charged off yet. Any sense in paying these off or just wait for them to “fall off?”

    I’m getting married later in the year and wanted to clean upy credit, but it sounds like I shouldn’t worry about old debts since they will not effect my credit in a positive way.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      The risk of not paying a collection account or charged off account is that you could be sued for the debt. If that happens, you’ll have a judgment on your credit reports, which starts a new reporting period. I can’t say whether that really will happen here, but it’s something you should be aware of as a possibility.

  • Dee

    I think I have made a HUGE mistake! Please help with some advice. I had a collection letter sent to my home in January for $1691.00 for Dental Services. Honestly, I thought my insurance had covered most of it and had paid them a lot of money I borrowed from my 401k back then. This was between 2004 and 2005. I got the collection letter and it said I could make payment arrangements because at the time I did not have enough to pay the entire amount within the 35 days. So I went online scheduled monthly payments thinking it would not be placed on my credit. Well it appeared today. It costed me 60 points off my credit score and now I am not going to be eligible for my home loan that I have been trying to get my credit score up for almost two years. I am devastated. I would have had the money to pay in full if I had to when I got my taxes back. But when I made the payment arrangements it didn’t say they would still put it on my credit. So I went on the website and now I see TERMS AND CONDITIONS: It states: that if not paid full within 35 days it will still be placed on my credit and until paid off it will be listed as Paid but they will NOT remove it. Any suggestions? I don’t want to not pay something I owe. I have not heard from this dentist office in 8 years. Please help!

    • Michael

      Dee – Can you post a reply with who the collection company was you made this payment arrangement with online? What was the name of the company on the letter head of the collection mail you received, if different than the company website you were on when setting up payments? When did you make the first collection payment?

      If you can post answers to these questions in a comment reply I may be able to help you with some feedback about your options.

  • Rochelle

    Hi Gerri
    I had an account in collections for a cell phone bill my sister had in my name. I tried to settle with them but they would not delete from my credit report. I since learned this month that the account is off my report and it has not been 7 years. Can this company put it back on my credit report since the account is not paid? I’m afraid to pay now because they might put it back on as a (paid collection).

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Rochelle – I feel like I am missing some information here but I’ll respond as best as I can. If it has been less than 7 years and 180 days since your sister fell behind on the payments leading up to this account being placed for collection then yes it can be reported again during that time frame. However, why did they remove it in the first place? Are they still trying to collect? Has the statute of limitations (which is different than the reporting period) expired on this debt? (If you aren’t sure, what state do you live in?)

  • Dogface

    Hi ~
    I have been contacted by a Collection firm in regards to me defaulting on my home alarm contract… Problem is that I was not contacted by the alarm company regarding the default prior… The contract clearly states that if I am in breach the contract that I will be notified by certified mail prior to default/termination. Second problem is that my alarm is still activated and working as of today… I have sent a dispute letter to the collection company asking for validation of the debtand recieved only partial of the infomation requested… Turns out that my account defaulted because my debit card expired and the automatic payments stopped. Also this company does not provide a monthly statement of acount, so I really had no idea of the nonpayment issue and the fact that my alarm is still activated… Help! how do you suggest I resolve this issue..?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      You probably won’t get anywhere with the collection agency. So go directly to the alarm company. Insist they pull the account back from collections. If they refuse, tell them you will be talking with a consumer law attorney about a credit damage lawsuit.

  • Jeff

    Hi Gerri,

    My wife worked out a payment arrangement with a debt collector and they have accepted this payment for the last 6 months. Today the phone calls began and we received a letter saying “This payment is not acceptable”. Can they change mid stream like this or have we established boundaries that indeed the payment is acceptable?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Unless you have something in writing, they probably can. Why they would pressure you to make payments you can’t afford it beyond me, but it does happen. The only thing you can do is try to stick to your guns and pay what you can afford – or find a way to come up with more money. But they can always decide to sue. Again, may not make a lot of sense.

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  • Kelly

    Hi Gerri~
    Our family has a lot of medical bills; some of which have been turned over to collections, others still with various hospitals and doctor’s offices. Today I called one of the hospitals to make payment arrangements on a bill of about $400. The hospital refused to make any arrangements at all stating that they could not do so until the $285 bill that was turned over to collections was paid in full. I called the collection company who offered me three choices: pay the bill in full, pay half now, half next month or split the bill into three equal monthly payments. Because I have about $3,500 in outstanding medical bills, I offered to pay $25 or $50 per month and the representative I spoke to refused saying it would take me too long to pay it off. I asked her to please send me something stating that I attempted to make payment arrangements but was denied. She again refused. She started asking questions like “Where do you work?”, “What do you do?”, “Is the kids’ dad working?” And finally she wouldn’t even let me fnish a sentence so I hung up on her. I can’t believe I am willing to pay something each month and am being denied. What should I do? (we’re in Michigan)

    • Michael Bovee

      Kelly – When an unpaid account is sent off to a collection agency by your original creditor or service provider, it is typically done on a contract. This will mean any payment arrangements will have to go through the assignment debt collector. It also means they may refuse payments if what you can afford is too small.

      More often than not, your offer of a smaller payment would be successful if you were working with the medical service provider, or their direct billing agent.

      You do not have to answer the debt collectors questions. As pushy as it sounds like things got, I am glad you hung up.

      I would encourage you to:

      Call the hospital and let them know that payment was refused when you offered what you could afford. Ask if the account will be pulled back at a certain time so that you can work with paying them direct.

      If the account is not going to be pulled back anytime soon, commit to saving up your money until you are in a position to knock down the 285.00.

      It sounds like there are other medical debts out there. You can also look to tackle another debt, and circle back to this one later on.

      Have you put together a comprehensive outline of all of these debts and targeted money from your monthly budget that can applied over time to clear them all? If you would like some help with that, post a follow up comment reply with the balances and status of each debt. I will then have some questions for you to answer, followed by additional feedback.

  • Carole Waterman

    My husband got sick and was out of work for three weeks. I called my credit card company to see if there was anything they could do to help and they said no. I made arrangements to pay the past due monthly fee and current fee on the 3rd and they won’t stop calling. What can I do to stop the calls. This is the first time I have missed a payment.


      Carole – if it’s your first late payment the credit card issuer hasn’t sold the account to a collection agency (that doesn’t usually happen until the account goes 180 days late). This means that it’s the credit card company’s in-house collection department that’s calling and they don’t fall under the same guidelines under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act as collection companies — it’s the lender calling, not a collector. The laws under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act do not apply to in-house collections –which are typically the collection departments of banks, retailers, credit card issuers, etc. You can ask them to stop calling until you pay the bill on the 3rd (since that’s what you’ve agreed to), but you can’t make them cease the calls like you can with a third-party collector. What’s probably happening is that you’re in their automated “late” call queue and you’ll remain in the queue until the you pay on the 3rd. Very frustrating knowing that it’s your first ever late payment but if you can get caught up on the 3rd, the calls will stop.

  • Laura

    Hi Gerri, I recently noticed an unpaid debt on my credit report with a debt date of 2013 – however when I called I was informed the account is from 2003 and was closed in 2004. I also received a letter from the collection agency with the amount but no details of the bill, only the original company. I called the phone company (turns out to be a home phone) but could not get specific information – only that the account is so old. I currently reside in TN but the bill is from GA.
    My questions – what are my options:
    1. the collection agency is reporting the bill as a NEW debt – is that legal?
    2. given that it’s past the debt limitation statutes for both states (went to collection in summer 2004), am I obligated to pay this bill?
    3. should I contact the credit report bureau to have the bill remove – especially since the date is INCORRECT?
    4. send a dispute letter to the agency?

    I know this is wordy/long but I wanted to make sure you have all the details.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Laura – Collection accounts can only be reported for 7 years and 180 days from the date you first fell behind with the original creditor leading up to when the account was placed for collection. If this bill was written off in 2004, then it sounds like it should not be on your credit report now. Dispute it. Here’s how:

      if you can’t get it resolved, talk with a consumer law attorney. The collection agency may be breaking the law and you may be entitled to damages.

      And no you don’t have to pay a collection account that is outside the statute of limitations.

  • kimberly

    Me and my boyfriend got took to court over a medical bill. We settled out of court. Never got seen by a judge or nothing. Talked to the lawyer that was there to collect the debt and made arrangements to make 50 dollar payments on a 600 dollar bill. We have got all the check stubs showing where we paid it. They are now sending us letters and calling saying we owe them 7 to 800 dollars for court cost. Can they do that to us when we settled out of court on a certain amount and even signed an agreement saying that’s all we owed?


      Kimberly – this doesn’t sound right. If you’ve already paid the debt according to the signed agreement, and now they’re adding more to it after you’ve paid it off, we’d advise contacting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. If they’re not able to help, then you may want to consult with a consumer law attorney because the collector may be breaking the law under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. TTo find a consumer law attorney in your area, visit

  • need advice

    My sister’s husband died recently. She has been calling creditors trying to get a little relief for the debt owed. One company (Bank of America) tells her she is a cosigner on the card – however she is sure she is not. She asked them for proof. They replied saying there was record of her calling on the account. This is definitely not true. Then they stated they don’t keep records from that far back. Now, the bills are coming to her house in HER name. How can I help her? The sudden death, as I am sure you are aware, has been very hard for her as it is.
    If writing a letter is what you think she needs to do since the people on the phone are not willing to help, what should she say?

    Thank you in advance for your help.


      Has she pulled copies of her credit reports? Before taking the BofA representative’s word for it, the easiest way to tell if she’s a co-signer or joint account holder is to find out how the account is being reported in her credit reports. If she’s an authorized user, she has no legal liability for the account and can simply dispute the account and the bureaus will remove it from her credit reports.

      If she’s listed as a joint account holder or co-signer, it’ll be much more difficult to prove she’s not unless she has some sort of documentation or evidence that says otherwise. This doesn’t mean all is lost, however. If she’s sure she was never on the account (either jointly or as a co-signer), her best bet in fighting it would be to consult with a consumer law attorney. At least with an attorney, they can request evidence to have data for past credit reporting information to be subpoenaed (which would show whether or not the account had always been reported that way or if it was updated after her husband’s death). An attorney would also be able to advise her on whether or not she has a strong enough case against BofA. A good place to start would be the National Association of Consumer Advocates at

      Please do keep us posted and let us know how things turn out.

  • emanuel

    my wife having medical collection in my name I called Kaiser and its my wifes medical collections I got paperwork saying it’s my life what they put it underneath my name in collection now if I get that clear off can they put it back on since is my wife’s collection not mind

    • Gerri Detweiler

      If you dispute the account because it is not yours and you get it removed by disputing it with the credit reporting agencies, then they are not supposed to report it again without first certifying that the information is correct. Keep good records of what’s happened (including the letters stating that it would be removed) and if the problem recurs, talk with a consumer law attorney with experience in credit damage cases.

  • emanuel

    I got medical collections in my name the medical collections are not mine they are my wifes collections I got paperwork from Kaiser saying they are my wifes medical collection now can I take them off my collection credit report and never go back on again or the collection will put them back on my report

  • emanuel

    can my wife Medical collections go on my credit report and I have a wart saying they are my wife collections and not mines can I take them off and never get them back on again by the collection agency

  • jewell

    I had a serious car accident that left me in financial difficulty. I have made an agreement with all of my credit card companies except for 2. one of the companies I pay just the interest with $1.00 coming off of the principle a month and the other keeps hounding me. I was caught up with the one that keeps calling me but they only have a hardship program lasting 1 year so all of those payments were probably for nothing.. Meanwhile I have been unable to use any of my credit cards in over 7 years. Someone told be there was something called the fact act which would not let my credit card company to file anything about being late with my payments. I am told it would be different if I was still able to use the card but since the company cancelled back in 2005 the fact act would apply. Is this true??? Sincerely Jewell

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Jewell – You have been given wrong information. Nothing in the FACT Act prevents creditors from reporting late payments that are accurate.

  • jewell

    If you owe money to a company and have paid them on a regular basis for many years, and they canceled your card over 8 years ago but continued to pay and then were unable to pay them on a regular basis or would be late on a regular basis can they affect your credit score or would something called the fact act keep them from being able to report. I do continue to pay them but because of my health situation I will never be on time. Sincerely, Jewell

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Jewell – If you can never catch up on this bill then you really need to talk with a bankruptcy attorney to find out whether you need to consider filing.

  • Alex

    Hi Gerri, I have a friend whose mother was a shopaholic with the home shopping network. She is now a “Ward of the State” and in a nursing home. There is no way the mother can pay the amount or anything for that matter. We have written a letter to the credit card company but they just sent a letter saying they want payment in full. Is there any way to not pay this as her daughter doesn’t have the money. Thanks for any insight you can give me to help her.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      If her daughter did not cosign she certainly isn’t responsible. And if Mom doesn’t have the financial ability to pay then there may not be much they can do about it. Are they calling the daughter? Has it gone to collections?

  • Britt

    Hi Gerri,

    Just rec’d a letter from a collection agency for $1,700 for an apartment complex I lived in 3 years ago. This is the first correspondence I’ve ever rec’d from them. They told me they tried to contact me at my old address and by phone (the phone they had, I had never heard of) but I NEVER rec’d anything from them. Also the apartment complex never contacted me. Anyhow, I do believe the charges are legit and the company however they are contacing me 3 years later? Can I try and settle for a less amount or what should I do?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      First, request written validation of the debt which is your right under federal law. Then go ahead and contact the apartment complex. This is a substantial amount of money and you want to verify what happened. You can then decide whether to pay it in full or try to settle it, depending on what you learn and whether you have the money to pay it off. But if you discover that the bill was not legitimate in the first place you may need to talk with a consumer law attorney.

  • Lee

    Hi Gerri,
    I had a debt collector call and yell at me about a payday loan from ten years ago. I asked them to give me the debt information in writing but they refused. I offered to give my address but they wanted me to agree first that I owed the debt and that they would send me the information in writing once I agreed on the debt and on a settlement. I said they had to send it to me in writing before I could agree to anything. She screamed at me that she was putting it down as a refusal and hang up on me. Does this “refusal” mean I’m being sued?

    Thank you,

    • Gerri Detweiler

      They are acting illegally. By law they must send you written confirmation of the debt. That’s not optional and you aren’t required to agree to pay the debt in order to get that information. There’s a good chance they aren’t legit, but just to be on the safe side, keep notes of any conversations you have with them. If the calls persist – and if you can’t find out who they are – report them to your state attorney general and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

  • Consuela Lasley

    Years ago trying to reestablish credit got a credit card that gave me maybe fifth dollars but charged me four hundred was paying lost job now trying to garnish me for over a thousand dollar is there any thing I can do

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Consuela – This sounds like one of the “fee harvester” credit cards that were pretty much outlawed by the Credit CARD Act. They were often predatory cards that got a lot of consumers like yourself into trouble.

      You mention that they are trying to garnish your wages. To do so, that means they must have obtained a court judgment against you. If that’s the case, then you’ll want to read this article: Creditor Gets a Judgment Against You – Now What?

      If, on the other hand, they don’t already have a judgment against you then they are likely trying to initiate a lawsuit against you. In that case, you’ll want to read these articles: Seven Ways To Defend a Debt Collection Lawsuit

      We hope they help!

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Consuela –

      It is possible the debt has grown due to interest and fees. I can’t say for sure whether it’s legitimate or not since it depends on the contract. Will they let you settle it for less than the full balance? If not, you may need to talk with a bankruptcy attorney to find out what your options are for dealing with the garnishment.

  • julian

    I called this debt collector and the first agent I spoke to said they would take a prepaid visa and when I called to give them the number and get a installment plan ..the manager said that I their client had said the only way was for me to put in a checking account to pay it back..and when I said I could not do that he said than he would make sure that things went worst quickly for us and wished us good luck…we want to pay we dont have the money before June …what can I do he was very rude

    Thank you

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Stick to your guns. Giving a debt collector access to your bank account is very risky. A prepaid card is safer but keep in mind you may not have a record of your payments. Try sending them a certified letter stating what you are able to pay and how you are willing to pay. You could also consider opening another account just for the purpose of paying this debt, if you can find an account that won’t charge you hefty fees. We wrote more about this topic in this article: The Dos and Don’ts of Paying a Debt Collector

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I wouldn’t recommend you pay that way either. There’s no reason they shouldn’t take a bank certified check or money order. Are you sure they are legitimate and this debt is legitimate?

  • Toya

    How do you settle a debt when the company that is refusing payments. I went through a company to get a small loan to pay for a down payment on my car. I wrote them a check to pay them back and unfortunately it bounced do a dispute I am in with my bank (currently). I immediately contacted the comapny and explained the issues I was having with my bank and that I would need to make payments on the loan. Unfortunately they declined my payments and although I have not given up on trying to make payments with this company, they are refusing my payments and marking my account as “refusing to pay” The last phone call I made to them I was threatened, bullied and belittled by their agent over the phone and told that “I needed to stop calling because I was wasting my time and theirs” I am unsure how to handle this matter. I take full responsibilty for the debt, but all the going back and forth is still not getting the debt paid. They want the payment in full and I honsetly do not have it. I just need to know what my options are at this point? I am so desperate for answer that I have even lingered with the idea of filing bankruptcy just so these people can get there money in full since they are refusing my payment…

    • Deanna Templeton

      Toya – When you say they’ve refused payment, have you sent them money and they’ve returned the checks? Unfortunately, if you defaulted on the original terms of the loan, collectors aren’t legally obligated to accept or agree to payment plans or what you can afford to pay them.

      Can you share a little more information about the debt or the total amount of the debt? One option you might want to consider is taking whatever amount you can afford to pay them each month and setting it aside until you have a large enough payment to negotiate a settlement with them.

      Bankruptcy is an option but we’d strongly urge you to speak with a bankruptcy attorney to make sure it’s the right fit for your financial situation. I’d hate for you to file bankruptcy because of one debt if you’re able to negotiate and work through it.

      Dealing with a collection can be nerve-wracking and stressful, but thankfully offers several resources that I think will help explain your options and give you a better understanding of the process:
      The Dos and Don’ts of Paying a Debt Collector
      Seven Ways to Defend a Debt Collection Lawsuit
      What to Do When a Debt Collector Demands a Full Payment

  • Michael

    Hello, I’m in desperate need of some assistance regarding an issue I’m having. In 2011 I fell behind on 6 or 7 CC accounts 30 days. I called each of them and negotiated payment plans. I made all payments on time and paid all accounts off using a personal loan in April 2013. I applied for a new account in May and was denied due to derogatory credit, so I ran an updated report and to my dismay realized 1 account, Sears MBNA, had reported my account as a collection in May. All my other accounts show paid closed. My credit was spotless and now is ruined after years of hard work. I have 5 various credit reports between that time that show my account with them on time with no past due amounts. They all show one 30 day late in Mar 2011 and on time since. No indication of collection ever on any credit report or from Sears. Was not getting statements since I was on a payment plan and on paper statements which required login, but all emails from them each moth show on time payment made and all phone calls to their system said payment made before due date. Sears will not fix this and is saying even though I was on time with the arrangement they offered my account was in collections the whole time, which is why they’re reporting me as a collection for may after the debt was fully paid per the agreement. The credit agencies have made matters worse by now making it show I’m delinquent in April and moving the Collection to April instead of May. Need help! Please let me know what I can do about this? Thanks, Mike

  • bob

    I have charge offs for credit cards that have not been paid on since 2007. Is there a way to get them off my credit report without costing a lot of money. I am on SSDI and do not have much to spare

    • Credit Experts

      Hi Bob – Charge-offs remain in your credit reports for 7 years and there’s no way to have them removed if they’re accurate.

      Typically you wouldn’t pay a charge-off, you’d pay the collection that resulted from a charge-off.

      Paying a collection won’t remove it from your credit report either, but it will keep it from doing more damage if the collector decides to sue. Collection accounts will remain in your credit reports for 7 years from the date the account originally went delinquent.

      Ideally, the best way to handle a collection is to try and negotiate a settlement for less than you owe in order to resolve the debt. For tips and advice on how to handle collections (and negotiate settlements), these resources will help:

      The Dos and Don’ts of Paying a Debt Collector
      Seven Ways to Defend a Debt Collection Lawsuit


    First Street Dental is going to sue me they say can they when they gave me back all my money, took off $ 1,700 for pain and $ 500 HUNDRED more to close my bill ,,they did bad work on my mouth I hate the work that was done ,I still hurt every day .gave back money twice now HOW CAN THEY SUE ME

    • Credit Experts

      Norma – It’s really hard to say and would depend on the dentist office billing records. From the sounds of it, there’s a remaining balance and they didn’t actually refund/credit the entire procedure. If they’re attempting to sue for non-payment, we strongly urge you to read: Seven Ways to Defend a Debt Collection Lawsuit

      You may also want to consult with a consumer law attorney to see if you have grounds for a counter-suit. To find a consumer law attorney in your area, visit

  • veteran1992

    Hi Gerri how come a collection company can put a collection that is already on your credit report from the original debter on your report again under another account number. Then if it gets paid that account number plus the original one is still on your report creating a double negative.Even if it doesn’t get paid to the first collection company and it gets sold to a second one or third one they do the same and before you know it you have three or four of the same account on your report just under different account numbers from different collection agent

    • Credit Experts

      It’s one of the reasons why collections end up causing so much damage. Ignoring a collection, or not addressing it in the hopes that it’ll eventually fall off your credit report, often causes it to spiral into several collections — causing even more damage in the process.

      To get answers to all of your questions on duplicate collections, Gerri covers this topic in a lot more detail here:
      Credit Report Double Jeopardy Means Double Damage

  • Olga Keg

    I recently received a call from collection agency’s law department. The representative was extremely rude. I though that he finished with his sentence and when I made my reply the representative went ballistic:” You should not interrupt some one who is speaking! You should let that person to finish the senescence first!” Then he refused my proposed offer. I own them about $3,700 and I offered them to pay 2k in $100 per month, or to pay 1,500 in 3 $500 installments, he said he will talk to his “manager.” Next thing that happen the “manager” got on the phone he said that he appreciates my offer, however if I am willing to pay 500 per months I definitely have funds to pay the entire amount. So he said that I either pay 3.7 in $100 per month, or I pay 2,300 right away, or 2,300 in 3 payments. On one hand I understand that he does not believe me, but on the other I honestly do not have such money and the only reason why I can pay 500 per month is because my boy friend is willing to help me. So he declined my offer and said, “good luck mam, will see you in court.”
    Few days ago, the very same rude representative had suggested that if I do not pay they will proceed with the law suit and the law suit settlement will stay on my record for 20 years. So if I want to keep my credit history in better condition I better settle with them…

  • Amber

    my husband and I recently found when reviewing our credit report for the first time That there was an over $8,000 collection put out for us from an apartment we lived in over 5 years ago :( we talked to the collection agency and asked how this could possibly be so high?! especially because we left the place mostly clean, other than a couch that my mother was supposed to pick up but never got around to it :( we did leave 1 month earlier than our lease was up, which we know was wrong but things were tough back then and money wasn’t as fluent as we would have like it to be :( there response was that they “had to replace” all of the appliances and washer and dryer (all of which worked perfectly well when we were there) as well as the floors (which needed replacing when we moved in) “remove trash” and $900 charge for removing the furniture..oh and of course the last month rent we didn’t pay and some other fees for breaking the lease :( anyway!! it’s been 5 years already and we didn’t even know about it. The collection company said we’re not allowed to speak to the apartment people, and that there is nothing we can’t dispute it any longer and that even though they weren’t telling the truth :( there’s nothing we can do to make it go away other than paying the full debt :( but my husband noticed that on our credit report it says that the record will remove itself in 2 years? but I’m concerned that if we ignore them we will get sued :( and if we get sued will it still go away in 2 years? or just start all over again :(.

    • Credit Experts

      Amber – your best bet is to try and negotiate a settlement to clear the debt. Otherwise, you’re right — it could eventually become a lawsuit and result in a judgement, which would stain your credit reports for another 7 years. Having said that, collectors can’t arbitrarily charge outrageous fees on top of the original debt, and by law, they have to validate the debt and send you confirmation of the charges but only if you request them to (which you should absolutely do.) To get you started, here are several great resources we strongly encourage you to review so that you understand your rights, how collections impact your credit, and also how best to address/resolve the collection:

      Seven Ways to Defend a Debt Collection Lawsuit
      Debt Collectors Killing Your Credit? Here’s What To Do
      The 7 Biggest Questions About Debt Collections & Your Credit

  • Credit Experts

    “By law if I am making attempt, however small, can they do that?” — Unfortunately, they can. This is because collectors are not legally obligated to accept payments based on what the borrower/patient is comfortably able to afford. However, if you made payment arrangements, they usually stick to those agreements –did you get the negotiated payment agreement in writing, by chance?

    Dealing with medical collections — or any collection for that matter — is nerve-wracking but does offer several resources. To help you understand your rights, and how best to handle collections, the following resources should help:

    Four Medical Bill Myths That Can Cost You Dearly
    What to Do When a Debt Collector Demands Full Payment
    Debt Collectors Killing Your Credit? Here’s What To Do
    Seven Ways to Defend a Debt Collection Lawsuit

  • Credit Experts

    Jay – By law, you have 30 days to respond to a collection notice and request the collector validate the debt, but this doesn’t stop the account from being reported in your credit report. Having said this, you also have the right to dispute the collection (especially, if the doesn’t belong to you or you don’t agree with the debt or the amount). For more on how to deal with collectors, your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and steps to take to dispute the debt, the following resources will help:

    9 Ways to Turn the Tables On Debt Collectors
    Seven Ways to Defend a Debt Collection Lawsuit
    What to Do If a Debt Collector Calls
    How to Write an Effective Credit Report Dispute Letter

  • Credit Experts

    AE – you need to get whatever you agree to in writing. When you agreed to making payment arrangments on the debt, the clock restarted with the most recent payment. For help with dealing with collectors, and how best to handle collections, we urge you to read through the following resources so that you know your rights and the best steps to take going forward in your negotiations with this collector:

    The First Thing You Must Do Before Paying Off Debt
    What to Do If a Debt Collector Calls
    Seven Ways to Defend a Debt Collection Lawsuit
    9 Ways to Turn the Tables On Debt Collectors

  • Shae

    Hi Gerri, A few months ago I noticed a debt in collections on my credit report. I went through hell and high water to find out what it was from.. Turns out it was from a fitness center contract I had almost 10 years ago .. Beats me how it’s still on my credit because I had closed the account when I moved from the area.. I disputed the item and one day I got an email saying my results were in so I called and checked with the representative from experian and was told that it wasn’t removed .. So I called and made payment arrangements with the collection agency .. A few days later the debt was removed off of my credit report.. I’m a little puzzled at what to do now because I’m scared to call the collection agency and ask if they did it or did or just assume experian removed it because they found no evidence connecting me with this debt.. Please help need some advice on the next steps to take..

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Shae – If you made no payments on this debt for ten years it should absolutely not be on your credit reports at this late date. And it’s very likely outside the statute of limitations so you do not want to make payments on it or you may start that period all over again. Have you made any payments yet? Have you checked your other two credit reports – Equifax and Trans Union?

  • dgamboa

    i have a question. What if its a dental bill that im getting harassed and thretend over and im concerned when i started sending payments i was told it wasnt good enough, then when i told him that somebody from the collection place has accepted my payments he told me that they wouldnt of done that argued with me then hung up the phone, i make less then $600 a month with 3 kids on welfare, i sent them what i could. they had me in tears i was literaly tramatized by the phone call, what can i do?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I am sorry to hear what you’re going through. The collection agency isn’t required to accept what you can afford, but at the same time, they aren’t allowed to harass consumers. (The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act gives examples of harassment, such as threatening to take action they can’t or don’t intend to take.)

      I’d suggest you continue paying what you can. Keep a good record of your payments, including copies of cancelled checks so you have proof they were received.

      If the same person calls again, ask politely to speak to their supervisor. If they refuse to let you do that, or you can’t get someone helpful on the phone, consider filing a written complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

      One more thing, though, if this bill is very large making small payments may mean it never gets paid off. Collection agencies can usually add interest to accounts in collections so you may find yourself paying and paying and making no progress on the debt itself.

      You may want to instead consumer talking with a bankruptcy attorney about whether it makes sense to file, or to find out what your legal rights are if you stop paying all together.

      Hang in there.

  • Miss Anna

    Hello Gerri, thank you so much for the service you are offering here. We are all grateful for your time and expertise! My question is this: I had to file bankruptcy back in 2008. When I pulled my credit report early this year for the first time since then, one of my creditors that was included in the bankruptcy had just reported me in 2012. Can creditors choose when to report you like that? Can I have that removed or does the 7 yr waiting period start from 2012. Again, thank you kindly, Miss Anna

    • Gerri Detweiler


      When you say they reported you, what exactly did they report? If the account was charged off before or with the bankruptcy, they can report that for 7 years from the date it was charged off. If there is a notation “included in bankruptcy” that can be reported for seven years from the date you filed. Is that what they are reporting – or something else?

      And thanks for the kind words! So glad we can help you.

  • Rob

    I just offered to pay £425 of my £516 debt and the guy on the phone refused to accept it…. what does this mean?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Rob – I am afraid I don’t know how settling debts works in England. Sorry I can’t be of more help.

  • Credit Experts

    Dale — first you need to make sure the pay day loan collection is legit and not a scam — Gerri covers this in the following articles:

    Beware of Fake Payday Loan Debt Collection Scam

    If the collection is valid, and you owe it, there are steps you can take to validate the debt and negotiate a settlement and you’ll want to get everything in writing and document the process. The following resources will help explain your rights and walk you through how to negotiate with the collector:

    Infographic: What to do if a Debt Collector Calls

    Seven Ways to Defend a Debt Collection Lawsuit

    Debt Collectors Killing Your Credit? Here’s What To Do

    • Christopher Moser

      I was getting calls from a “law firm” about a payday loan I had apparently received in October 2010. The numbers that showed up on my caller ID were weird (like 000-000-0000) and sometimes there were real numbers. Type the number from your caller ID in to a search engine and see what it pulls up. If you get links for a message boards about the numbers, it is a scam artist. I told them I would call the FBI and turn them in . . . that stopped the calls. If it is a valid debt, then do what the experts said. If the searched number pulls up message boards, or in my case once, as Locksmith in Manhattan, NY, then don’t worry about it.

  • BarryK

    In 2006/2007 my career went downhill and i lost everything. I was sued for credit card debt and obviously judgments were awarded against me. Most of the judgnents have been written off, but a couple have appeared again.

    I am getting letters from law firms saying they are demanding full payments of debts from these old accounts . What do I need to do at this point.

    • Credit Experts

      Unfortunately, with judgments, they rarely ever just expire and disappear — meaning even if they expire from your credit report, the statute of limitations to collect on judgments can often run 10-20 years (depending on your state), and even then, they can often be renewed (again, depending on your state).

      When it comes to judgments, your options are much more limited –you can fight them, you can pay them, you can try to negotiate a settlement (which usually requires a larger lump sum payment), or you can file bankruptcy if the debts are so large that there’s no possibility that you’ll ever be able to pay it. You can read more about judgments and what to do when one is filed against you in the following resources:

      Creditor Gets a Judgment Against You – Now What?
      Help! I Found a Judgment on My Credit Report
      As far as other collections (that have not yet made it to judgment status), if you’re receiving a legal summons for the debts, there are steps you can take to negotiate the debts before they make it to judgment status. To help you understand your rights and the proper steps to take when being sued for an unpaid collection, this resource will help:

      Seven Ways to Defend a Debt Collection Lawsuit

  • Credit Experts

    Typically the creditor would automatically update the status at the credit reporting agencies when they send their regularly scheduled updates — usually monthly. If you want to know when that will happen, it may be worth contacting the creditor and asking them when they plan to report the update.

    If it’s a collector, they should send the update shortly after the debt is paid.

    As soon as the update is reported to the credit reporting agencies, your credit reports will reflect the change. Likewise, as soon as the information is updated in your credit reports, your credit scores will also reflect the updated balance. If the account was a collection account, paying it probably won’t improve your credit scores, but it will keep the collection from causing further credit damage in the future –if the collector were to sue or file a judgment against you, for example.

    For more on this topic, the following resources do a great job of explaining how paid/unpaid collections affect your credit:

    The 7 Biggest Questions About Debt Collections & Your Credit
    Will Paying a Collection Account Remove it From My Credit Report?
    Will Paying a Collection Improve My Credit Score?

  • Frustrated

    A medical debt collector contacted me trying to get the balance paid in full. I am not able to pay the full balance. I offered what I was able to pay a month and they told me “don’t even bother sending that amount if that’s all you’re going to pay a month!”
    What should I do?

  • Credit Experts

    If they turn it over to collections, it could. And with an 800 score (which is excellent), it could drop your score significantly. There are caveats to this rule (which you can read here: A Debt Collector Came After me for $8.97) but in most cases, this would cause a significant hit to your credit and it would be better to just pay the $50 than risk the damage. If it’s the principle of the matter, which we totally understand, it really ends up hurting you more than it would the heart monitor company… in which case you have to decide if $50 is worth the damage to your credit and the higher interest you’ll pay on future financing options.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Jennifer – Even if your husband has the power of attorney that doesn’t mean he is responsible for your mother-in-laws medical bills. In fact, I can’t think of a circumstance where he would be, unless he signed something specifically agreeing to take financial responsibility for her unpaid bills.

    What your sister in law did is a form of identity theft – medical identity theft – and it is extremely dangerous to both her and your MIL. Think about it: information about your SIL’s health conditions, medical treatments, blood type, allergies etc could be mixed with your MIL’s and result in misdiagnosis or improper treatment for both of them!

    Your husband should fill out an identity theft affidavit which he can get at the FTC’s website, then contact the hospital to find out how to report this. It is very important that the medical records from your SIL are removed from your MILs. If your MIL is on Medicare, I would suggest he contact them as well to report it and to see if there is anything they can do to flag her account in the future.

    I don’t know what kind of family tensions this may cause, but what your SIL did is illegal and risky and it should not happen again.

  • Credit Experts

    Keston – If they’re the same debt, they can’t collect it twice. You should be able to use your proof of payment and the settlement confirmation from the collector to prove the debt was paid. If Macy’s won’t update your account with the credit reporting agencies, you’ll want to file a dispute and include copies of your proof of payment and any other documentation from the collector.

    The following resources can help you through the dispute process:

    A Step-by-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Errors
    8 Rules of an Effective Credit Report Dispute Letter

  • Anthony

    Hi, A friend and I acquired a piece of property back in 2007 in a developing neighborhood. Needless to say, the value dropped well below what we owe. We made a decision to stop making payments on the land and just got our first letter from a collection agency asking for the full amount.

    What kind of options do we have here? It says in the letter that the bank is not willing to foreclose at this time.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Anthony – I’ve written a series that describes your options for dealing with an underwater home. The same options generally apply to a vacant lot. Please be sure to talk with a bankruptcy attorney to learn your legal rights and responsibilities with regard to this property.

      Underwater On Your Home? Your Six Options

  • Elizabeth W

    Hi Gerri,

    Thanks for this forum and your advice. I have a question. I paid off some medical debt in 2005 to a collection agency. I have the payoff letters from the company. I recently received a letter trying to collect on the debt. What should I do?

    • Credit Experts

      Hi Elizabeth – If you’re sure the debt is the same debt that you’ve already paid, you should respond to the collector, in writing, asking them to validate the debt (to make sure that it’s the same debt you paid in 2005). And rather than waiting for the validation, also include copies showing your proof of payment for the debt with an explanation that the debt has already been paid and you no longer owe it. Collectors can’t continue to try and collect on a debt that you’ve already paid so they’d have to stop further collection attempts.

  • Credit Experts

    “It was my understanding that if an agency does not refuse your offer, and they cash your checks, they are agreeing to your terms. Is this the case?”

    This is a common misconception. Unfortunately, unless the agency agreed to the terms in writing, there really isn’t an agreement. And just because a collection company cashes the check doesn’t mean they’ve agreed to your terms. This is one reason why we always urge consumers to get the agreement in writing. If you don’t have an agreement FROM the collector (in writing) there really is no agreement in place.

  • Steph

    We are attempting to settle a deficiency judgment for a 10 year old debt. The debt has been sold to a third party law firm that deals in collections. We are attempting to remove this debt in an effort to clean up our credit report. This judgment is the only thing standing between us, and qualifying for a home loan. We offeedr 10 cents on the dollar for original amount owed, and were turned down. We offered 1/3 of the entire original debt. This offer was submitted to original creditor, whose response was a demand for pay check stubs. Its my understanding that these are requested in an effort to obtain a higher amount than offered, or to determine if they would collect more money garnishing wages vs. agreeing to settle. My question is what do we do next. This debt originated in Colorado. The statue of limitations on a judgment filed in county court in Colorado is 6 years and renewable every 6 yrs. We have 60-90 days to fix this. What do we do next?

    • Michael Bovee

      My experience is that legitimate judgment debt rarely settles for 10% of the balance owed. Even negotiating a 30% pay off is a challenge with judgments. The instances I see where this type of reduction gets approved (outside of bankruptcy), is with hardship and fixed income scenarios.

      Asking for this low of a reduction is often looked at as an exception. Exceptions can require documentation and manual review, as opposed to files where a set spread of what would be an acceptable settlement are pushed through in the normal course of collection.

      If sending in documentation, such as pay stubs, does not support your position that 30% is as good as it gets, do not send anything in. As you have pointed out, that information can be used to determine how to collect the most. But there are instances where that documentation is used to support why accepting so little on a judgment is advisable.

      If there were no time crunch, I would suggest waiting a few months before making another offer. With the time crunch, and the prior offers of 10% and 30% so close together, you would be telegraphing you have a need or goal, which often means having to agree to a higher payoff amount (but not always).

      Are you still living in Colorado?
      What is the balance on the judgment today?

  • Credit Experts

    June – Unfortunately, collectors don’t have to agree to payment arrangements, or agree to payments that you can realistically afford. In which case, another option is to save up a larger sum of money so that you can try to negotiate a settlement later. Keep in mind too, that if you agree to payment arrangements and then default or are unable to stick to the payments, the statue of limitations clock will reset to the date of your last payment. Only agree to a payment arrangement that you know you can afford. For more help on dealing (and negotiating) with debt collectors, the following resources can help:

    What to Do If a Debt Collector Calls
    9 Ways to Turn the Tables on Debt Collectors
    Seven Ways To Defend a Debt Collection Lawsuit

  • Credit Experts

    Unfortunately, this is a case of identity theft and the only way to address it so that you’re not held accountable for the debt (and it doesn’t damage your credit) is to report the theft. This isn’t an easy decision and is one of the reasons why ID theft numbers are often thought to be much higher than they actually are — many family members simply don’t report the theft.

    I know it’s not an easy decision to make, but you have two choices… you can pay the collection and accept the damage, or you can report the theft.

    If you decide to report the theft, the following resources will help guide you through the process:

    Consumer Guide to Identity Theft: The Basics
    Identity Theft Emergency: 5 Crucial Steps for Victims
    Identity Theft Victim’s Bill of Rights

  • Credit Experts

    Gerri offers excellent advice on how to handle a debt collection lawsuit here:

    Seven Ways to Defend a Debt Collection Lawsuit

  • Credit Experts

    This is a story we hear all to often and I wish I had a better answer for you, but unfortunately, the provider doesn’t have to agree to accept monthly payments or work out an extended payment plan — and in many cases, they prefer full payment over monthly installments. Legally, they are within their rights and can send the account to collections if the bill isn’t paid according to the initial terms that were signed and agreed upon prior to the procedure. Gerri has written about medical debts, your rights and how to handle medical collections when you can’t stop the provider from turning them over quite extensively. To explain this problem, and your options, the following resources may help:

    The Ultimate Guide to Solving Your Medical Bill Problems
    Can I Stop a Medical Bill from Going to Collections?
    Four Medical Bill Myths That Can Cost You Dearly

  • Credit Experts

    Erin — In answer to your questions:

    My first question is, if and when they agree to my offer and we can come to a payment agreement, will this account now show on my credit report since it’s been paid?

    The fact that the account went to collections is what matters here, so even though you pay the debt, the collection record will remain in your credit report for 7 years from the date the account first went to severe delinquency status, typically at the 180 day late mark. When you pay the debt, the collector will update the collection to show that it’s been paid. For more information about how this works and the impact it will have to your credit and credit scores, the following should help:

    Will Paying a Collection Improve My Credit Score?
    Will Settling a Collection Account Hurt My Credit?

    My second question is, are there any tips or suggestions you have for me for negotiating with them? Or is this amount large enough that I should seek legal representation?

    Negotiating a settlement would be your best bet here. Because collectors buy these debts for pennies on the dollar you’ll likely want to start by offering 25-50% of the amount as a settlement offer and negotiate up from there. Keep in mind, too, that settlements are usually paid in one lump sum. If you negotiate a payment plan, make sure you get it in writing and just be aware that if you default on the payment plan, the debt clock will restart based on the last missed payment. However, before you do anything, we’d encourage you to read through the following resource so that you know how to approach the situation and how best to deal with the collector:

    Can a Debt Collector Double My Debt?
    9 Ways to Turn the Tables on Debt Collectors
    Seven Ways To Defend a Debt Collection Lawsuit

  • Credit Experts

    Two — Rather than calling them, send them a written letter requesting validation of the debt. Typically, you’d do this when they first send you a collection notice, but if you no longer have the notice, sending a written request to validate the debt, will give you a paper trail in the event you need to dispute the debt in the future. For more information on how to approach the situation and how best to deal with a collector, we’d also encourage you to read through the following resources:

    Debt Collectors Killing Your Credit? Here’s What to Do
    Can a Debt Collector Double My Debt?
    9 Ways to Turn the Tables on Debt Collectors

  • Credit Experts

    This has scam written all over it. For more information about these types of scams, you may wish to read through the following:

    FTC Cracks Down on Payday Loan Debt Collector
    How to Beat Debt Collection Scammers at Their Game

  • Help!

    Last week, I Received a letter from a collection agency for $186 for a doctor bill. I have excellent credit, so I called the hospital. Here, they never sent it to the insurance company and are doing so now. They told me they’d tell the collectors to put a freeze on the account and that I didn’t need to contact them. I’m not so sure about that. Part of me thinks I should ask for validation at a time the hospital can’t validate the debt amount, since they’re waiting for the insurance company. If the amount is lower, like a co-pay, will it still go on my credit. How do I keep this off my credit? Thanks!

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I agree with you. I would send the collector a certified letter stating that you spoke with the hospital and that they acknowledged their error and are billing your insurance. State in your letter that you will be checking your credit reports and do not expect to find it reported there. Then do so. Get your free credit reports to make sure it’s not showing up. I would also recommend you sign up for’s free Credit Report Card so you can get a free credit score each month and keep tabs on whether it changes, should they start reporting. Let us know how this turns out!

  • Mr. Man

    I am married but I have lived separate from my wife since 2009. My wife went to a dentist for some minor dental work. My wife used her dental insurance from her job to pay for “some” of the charges incurred. The residual of the dental balance (roughly $400.00) was billed to her directly. I do not have any dental insurance in my name but can use her insurance if needed because we are still married and I have a dependent card in my name through her employer’s dental plan that she gave me. She ignored the residual bill that the Dental office sent to her back in mid. 2011. The dentist sent it to collections the same year. This is were it get’s tricky. I never had any idea that she even went to the dentist because they billed “her” (rightfully so) and sent that bill to “her” address. Well this collection debt was lingering for two years. My wife filed for bankruptcy (chapter 7) earlier this year (2013) and her debts were scrubbed. Then a month or so later after her bankruptcy discharge, I get a negative hit of a collection account on my credit report! It says “joint responsibility,” it shows my wife’s name, it shows the upcharge that collections agencies add for their services ($1,100 now), and it shows the $1,100 debt being “included in a chapter 7 bankruptcy discharge” on my credit file as if I filed for bankruptcy and didn’t pay my dentist bill etc.!!! I took a nice hit on my FICO score! It was reported to all three credit agencies. I did an online dispute for Equifax stating that it wasn’t my account and they removed it. I did the same thing with Transunion and they removed it. Now Experian on the other hand has given me hell! I first did an online dispute and the upheld it as my account with no change. Then I mailed them documents from the dentist office of who bill it was and “my wife’s” dental insurance info and included a letter explaining the situation and the fact that even if I am liable that I never received any legal notice etc., and still they (Experian) upheld it with no change after review. I can add a statement of explanation to my file or contact the collection agency they explained. This negative info is set to remain on my Experian credit file until 2018 it shows. Now something to me is inherently wrong with this picture and there should be something I can do beyond this! My wife even said she would pay the debt off but that will only show her balance on my file as being zero perhaps but the word “bankruptcy” would probably still be there… And those credit agencies will tell you anything to receive payment. I contacted them directly myself and these guys are jerks! They were not trying to hear anything I was telling them… I have a few ideas left but what is my immediate recourse!!!?

    • Credit Experts

      Mr. Man – For cases like this the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau can help. They now regulate and oversee the credit reporting agencies so if two of the bureaus have addressed the problem, but the third has not — file a complaint with the CFPB. They’ll open a dispute and contact the bureau directly to help resolve the issue. To file a complaint against Experian, visit

      The only caveat I would make here is that if you live in a community property state, collectors are legally able to come after the spouse for unpaid debts –even if your name wasn’t on the account, or in this case, you weren’t the person receiving the actual dental procedure.

      As long as you’re not in a community property state, and you’re not a joint account holder or co-signer on the debt, any unpaid debt your wife accumulates during the marriage would be her responsibility — and you would not be liable.

  • Credit Experts

    Felipe — If at all possible, you should try and cancel the lease, especially if you’re no longer living in the apartment. You’ll most likely have to pay a penalty for breaking the lease but it’s better than having to pay the rent each month if you’re no longer living there.

    If you stop paying, the apartment will likely turn the account over to collections and additional fees and interest will be added to the debt. This may not be a problem if you’re not living in the US, but if you ever plan to come back it can affect you in the future if you need to apply for credit — whether it’s a credit card, a car, a home mortgage, etc. The debt will most likely be reported to the credit reporting agencies, creating a credit file record in your name. Credit reports are not only identifiable by social and they don’t need your license. If at all possible, it would be best to terminate the lease and pay the penalty fees so that you don’t have to worry about the debt coming back to bite you if you ever do decide to come back to the US.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Felipe – I agree with all that advice, and will add that we just published an article about how these credit problems may affect your ability to re-enter the US: Can a Bad Debt Get You Deported?

  • Dee

    Hi I cancelled an appt due to my daughter getting sick and I didn’t want to leave and the dental office told me I have a $25 cancellation balance now. Will this go on my credit if I don’t pay?? I mean seriously I can’t control when my baby gets sick.

    • Credit Experts

      Dee — It could. It depends on whether or not the doctor’s office turns the account over to collections. Believe it or not, we’ve heard stories of collection balances as low as $8.97 … you can read more detail about low dollar collections and how they impact your credit in the following article:

      A Debt Collector Came After Me for $8.97

      You’d think the dental office would waive their cancellation fee considering the circumstances. It may be worth going higher than the front desk and speaking to the dentist directly.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Some good points though on number 2, that’s a matter of state law: Can a Debt Collector Double My Debt?

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I agree with you Zoe – I would not feel comfortable giving them access to your account. Contrary to what you’ve been told, a creditor can send you to collections even if you are making payments. So this may put you in a tough spot.

    But the first thing you need to figure out is who you are dealing with. What is the name of the company and what state are they/ you in?

  • Stephanie

    Hi Gerri, after finishing a lease on an apartment I was told that I will be charged for new carpet and minor damages. I have contacted the manager twice and both times he said that he did not have the total yet and would give me a call back. It’s been a month now and still no word; can he send me to collection without warning me of the bill ? Thank you

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Stephanie – What a great question. Yes, it’s possible. So if I were you, I would send him a letter reminding him you are waiting for the bill. You can make it friendly – but just make it clear that you are waiting to hear. Send it with proof of delivery – delivery confirmation should work – and include your contact information. Keep a copy with a copy of the delivery confirmation information for your records.

      If you don’t want to go that route, at least keep handwritten notes of when you spoke with him and what was discussed.

      Hopefully it will all get resolved easily. It’s just good to stay on top of it. No sense in ruining your credit over it.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Isa – What is the situation with this debt? I’m making a guess that it is an account that was late or charged off that you are hoping to remove from your credit reports. (If I am off base, then my apologies!)

    If so then I assume you have been reading information online that if a creditor can’t verify a debt it must be removed. However, what constitutes verification is not spelled out in the Fair Credit Reporting Act – it’s usually a matter of case law and involves suing the credit reporting agency and/or creditor if they fail to verify the debt.

    If the information is accurate then my best advice to you is that you focus on rebuilding your credit. As the negative information becomes older it will carry less weight, and recent positive information will help you get back on track.

    If there is incorrect information on your credit report that you can’t get fixed, then please respond in more detail about the problem and we will try to advise.

  • Diva

    Hi Gerri ,
    My husband has completed his loan for his truck . However he had 4 deferred payments . They are asking for 2000.00 in 9 days. If we send them half in 3 days and a partial of the other half in the the 5, will they still repo it?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I hope not! I don’t know what the rules are in your state for repossessions, but it sounds like it could be a risk. I’d suggest he try to negotiate with them and get something in writing describing what they agree to. If he can’t, then he may want to try to get a personal loan and use that to pay them off. He can shop for one here:

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Are you trying to get copies of the statements from the original creditor so you can see what kind of interest was charged on the account? If so, one way that may work is to check your credit report. It likely lists the charged off amount which can show you how much you owed when they wrote it off.

    Before you make any payment arrangements you may want to check the statute of limitations for this type of debt in your state. If you haven’t made any payments in four years and the statute of limitations is four years, for example, then you could use that as negotiating leverage to try to strike a good deal.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Paid or unpaid, this debt should not be on your credit reports if it is truly 11 years old.

    When did you fall behind with the original creditor who placed it for collection in the first place? That’s what starts the clock ticking and the account can only be reported for 7 years and 180 days from that date.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Christine – I see no reason why this should on your credit report after ten years. Please follow the instructions in our article about disputing mistakes on credit reports (below) and, if that doesn’t work, you’ll need to contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and/or a consumer law attorney. A Step-By-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Mistakes

  • Credit Experts

    Leland –
    We can’t be sure if or when the bill is going to collections, and your plan to pay it off as soon as you can is a good one. Your credit may suffer, at least temporarily. (Credit scores, after all, are supposed to predict the likelihood that you’ll be able to pay as agreed. So, the sooner you can catch up on payments, the better for your score.) Gerri Detweiler wrote about this issue, and you may find this post helpful:

    Debt Collectors Killing Your Credit? Here’s What to Do?

    Good luck with putting this behind you and protecting your credit score.

  • Credit Experts

    Kimmie –
    In general, a collection agency can ask your employer to verify employment, or ask for your address and phone number. If you are not allowed to receive personal phone calls at work, you should let the collector know that, and the calls to you at work should stop. You may find this post by Director of Consumer Education Gerri Detweiler useful: 8 Things Debt Collectors Won’t Tell You.

  • jpelham

    I was wondering. I have an old phone bill almost 7 years in collections. It is about 1350.00. They just recently started sending me settlement papers after about 3 years of not hearing anything. If I do not pay this debt, will it come off in or around the 7-71/2 year mark? I know they can still sue me I just doubt they will. I am not trying to bilk the system I just had cause in the beginning not to pay them and it escalated. Anyway, if I let this go will it come off? They never call, I received 2 letters this past year and that is it.
    thank you!
    Great info on this site

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Paid or unpaid, collection accounts may no longer be reported after 7 years and 180 days from the date you first fell behind with the original creditor. So it sounds like it will be coming off your credit reports soon. (Also, paying it won’t change your credit scores – as you probably already know.)

      In addition it’s very likely that the statute of limitations have expired on this debt. Have you checked? That doesn’t affect how long it stays on your credit reports but if they have expired it gives you a defense if they try to sue you.

  • Credit Experts

    Kristy –
    It varies by state, but generally the statute of limitations runs out four to six years after the last payment on a debt.’s Director of Consumer Education Gerri Detwiler addressed old debt in this post: Does Your Old Debt Have an Expiration Date?

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Unfortunately it probably is. I can’t say for certain, but if you stopped paying in 2010 then that’s generally when the clock would start ticking on the statute of limitations. In most states the statute of limitations is 4-6 years for most consumer debts. As to the amount they claim you owe, my guess is that you’ve been making very small minimum payments while interest has been accruing at more than 22% a year. When you add in late fees, the balance starts adding up.

    I am not saying you shouldn’t fight it though. Many times debt collection lawsuits can be successfully challenged for a variety of reasons. I wrote about that in this article:

    Seven Ways to Defend a Debt Collection Lawsuit

  • Gerri Detweiler

    You’ll need to start by finding out for sure whether the statute of limitations has expired on this debt or not. My understanding is that in Ohio debt collectors are given a particularly long period of time to sue, but I can’t confirm what applies specifically in your situation. You can try reaching out to your state attorney general’s office to see if they can confirm the statute of limitations for you. If not, you’ll need to talk with a consumer law attorney.

    If they are still entitled to sue you for the debt and you can’t raise a defense, then you need to think about finding a way to settle the debt. (In almost all cases, debt collectors must sue you and get a judgment before garnishing wages to collect consumer debts.) You can learn more about debt collection defense here:

  • Credit Experts

    You can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

    And you can read more about debt collectors calling your employer in this resource: Can Debt Collectors Call Your Workplace?

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Congrats Hector!! There is nothing you need to do once they are paid off. Unless they are charging an annual fee you don’t want to pay, there is no need to close them. You may even want to use them from time to time and pay in full to keep them active on your credit reports, but that’s optional.

    Do check your credit reports about a month or two after to make sure they are accurately reported with zero balances. You can get your free annual credit reports and use our free Credit Report Card to monitor your score.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Unfortunately they aren’t required to accept your offer. All you can do is try. I think you’ll find this article helpful in understanding the situation: Why It Pays to Know Your Debt Collector

  • Concerned

    Hello! I got a call saying someone is trying to locate me and that I am in trouble, they have even called my relatives saying I am in trouble as well, they gave me a number to call back and a firm number. What do I do. Please help.

    • Credit Experts

      Did they say what sort of trouble? First, know that not all debt collectors are legitimate. You should ask for, and the collector should provide, verification of the debt, This resource from might be useful:
      6 Important Things About Debt Collectors
      If you believe the debt collector is breaking the law, you should file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection bureau. And let us know how things turn out.

  • Corey

    Hello Gerri, I was told that when you hang up on a debt collector that it is illegal for them to call you back within 24hours. Is that true?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Corey – I am not aware of any laws to that effect. You can instruct a debt collector to stop contacting you. If you do, they can only contact you to inform you of legal action they are taking against you. I don’t always advocate that approach (it leaves them no other avenue to collect) but there are times when it makes sense.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Michelle – Are these federal loans? If so, you’ll want to check out Income Based Repayment asap. It may lower your payments significantly based on your income. This article may help: Pssst…Want to Know The Best Kept Secret In Student Loans?

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I would recommend you communicate with them. They may even be able to offer you a temporary hardship program. You don’t have to supply a lot of details about your financial situation, but at least let them know you have a plan for catching up.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    If a fraudulent charge could be denied just because there was a signed sales receipt, most consumer’s allegations of fraud would be denied.

    Was the card presented in the transaction? If so, do you have any idea of how it was taken out of your possession and used?

    Consumers often find it helpful to get a police report in these situations but I don’t know how that works where you are.

    If you can’t get anywhere with this, then you may want to complain to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They may be able to help you make some progress.

    And yes they should have your current address. Otherwise, it might be possible to notify you of action they are taking to collect at your last known address – and you wouldn’t get it. So make sure they have your current contact information.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    That sounds like an illegal practice. Definitely file a complaint with the CFPB and consider talking with a consumer law attorney.

  • nayanuki623 .

    Hi Gerri-
    I have an electric/heat bill from 2011 of around $500 that went into collections. When we moved, my boyfriend put the utilities in his name-no problem. Now that we have moved again, this company said that his name was listed as a resident under the 2011 bill and they cannot transfer the utilities to the new residency until this $500 balance is paid. Because this amount was put in collections in 2012, is it possible for them to put that over his head when the debt due is no longer theirs to collect?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      This is a very common problem. If you don’t pay a utility bill, the company may refuse you service – even at another address – until it is paid. In addition if you were a resident or relative of someone living at an address where the utility bill was not paid you may have to pay it in order to get service. I wrote about utility bill problems in this article: 5 Sticky Utility Bill Problems & What to Do About Them

      I said may because consumer protections may vary depending on the rules in your state. You’ll need to contact the agency that regulates this utility – often your state public utility commission – to find out.

      I will add that this bill is not that old and it is probably not too old to be collected (though I can’t say for sure – state statute of limitations will apply). It’s best for you to try to resolve it so you don’t keep running into this problem in the future. You may want to find out if they will work out a payment plan with you so you can take care of it.

  • Credit Experts

    The higher your credit score is, the bigger a hit you will take for an unpaid bill. (While the bill is in dispute, however, it shouldn’t hurt your scores.)

    This post may be useful to you: How Much Will One Late Payment Hurt Your Credit Scores?.

    • rakobrad

      How many points est.? I’m really only willing to pay a pro-rated portion on this bill as I’ve had trouble with this company for years.

      • Credit Experts

        What is the status of the account now? If it is already on your credit reports as a collection account, then paying it won’t help your credit scores.

        A recent delinquency — especially if it goes to charge-off status — could drop your score by 50 – 100 points. Is it worth it? You may want to pay it under protest then complain to everyone you know. There appears to be a mandatory arbitration clause in Sprint contracts, so if you want to pursue it legally, you will likely have to take the dispute to arbitration:

        But if you really want to pursue it that’s what you should do rather than damaging your credit for seven years.

    • rakobrad

      I talked to someone about it from sprint, who said they threw out all my records and could give me no account information, so I refused to pay the bill. I got a call from someone at a collections agency who said it would be labled as “disputed” and that sprint would contact me. It just makes me so upset that corporations have zero accountability for proper business practices. I have no intention of paying until sprint calls me back. Will I take a hit if its marked as in dispute by the collector? I am just confused bc I had a medical bill in dispute for over a year, my credit score was 708, it finally was resolved and my score was back to 770 within 6 months.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I would really encourage you to talk with a consumer law attorney with experience in student loan issues. There is a locator service at the student loan lawyer website. If you really don’t want to go that route you could try filing a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They may be able to at least help you get some more information about this loan.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    So sorry you went through this, especially when your husband was stationed overseas. This is a tricky one since technically the information is accurate. However, given the circumstances I would encourage you to appeal to the credit union to remove it. While they aren’t supposed to correct accurate but negative information, I don’t see why they couldn’t make an exception given the circumstances.

    I’d suggest you send a letter to the head of the credit union. Point out that your husband was deployed overseas, you never received any correspondence indicating that the loan payment had increased significantly or was late, and note that as soon as you found out about the problem you moved mountains to bring it current. Ask them to remove the item given the circumstances.

    If they won’t, then my only other suggestion is to complain to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau about the insurance and the problems it created for your credit.

    Will you let us know what they say?

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I am having a little bit of a hard time understanding your situation, but it sounds to me like you had an unpaid Macy’s bill, moved out of the country, your mail wound up at your old address and the bill ended up in collections and on your credit reports. The question then is whether you supplied Macy’s with your new address before you moved and/or whether you tried to take care of the balance at that point. If you didn’t, then it’s hard to imagine how else they could have handled it.

    And unfortunately paying a collection account doesn’t remove it from your credit reports. It can still remain on your reports for 7.5 years from when you fell behind on the Macy’s account.

    If you did supply Macy’s with your new address and they failed to send you the bill, then my suggestion would be to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. They may be able to help you resolve it.

    Otherwise, you’ll just have to wait it out. (Sometimes when you dispute an older collection account with the credit reporting agencies it does not get confirmed, and is removed as a result, but there’s no guarantee that will happen.)

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Unfortunately the hospital is not required to accept what you can afford to pay unless you are in some kind of financial assistance program. I wrote about that here: Four Medical Bill Myths That Can Cost You Dearly

    Can you get a loan to pay it off? Have you tried negotiating a settlement and/or have you had the bill audited to make sure it is correct? Hospital bills are notorious for containing overcharges.

    • Mrs. Foggybottom

      No we filed for bankruptcy last year. We owe around $3000. That was JUST the ER bill we later got a bill from the doctor that saw her, and a separate bill for labs.

      • Gerri Detweiler

        The best advice I can give is to:

        a. See if you can settle or

        b. Appeal to someone higher up – request an in person meeting to discuss the bill

        c. Audit the bill to see if there were overcharges that might be removed.

        If all else fails you can let it go to collections and try to negotiate with them, though they may tack on additional fees or interest.

        I know it’s a no win situation. Consumers have so few protections. I wrote about that problem here:

        Time for a Fair Medical Billing Act

    • Mrs. Foggybottom

      Also, the hospital has accepted four $50 payments….isn’t taking the $50 checks, cashing them, and applying the payment to our account an acceptance of payment?

      • Gerri Detweiler

        It may be acceptance of payment but that doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t change the amount you are required to pay.

  • libknot

    Call the National Student Loan Data Systems (NSLDS) 800-433-3243 for a record of ALL your federal student loans. You will need a pin. It sounds like to me your husband has a federal Perkins loan which is made through the school with federal funds. The school is the lender and therefore the Perkins loan stays with the college. Whoever did the consolidation most likely did not include the Perkins loan.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    This is a tough one. Without something in writing it’s hard to prove what was agreed, but given that they already took the first payment from you it sounds like they reneged on the deal they made over the phone. That’s why it’s so important to get something in writing spelling out the terms of your agreement.

    If I were you, I would complain to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Get a friend to help you write a complaint letter so it’s clear what happened and how you want this resolved. (You want them to honor the agreement you made which was XX.) Hopefully they can help you resolve this. Let us know what happened!

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Jennifer – I can understand why you would be hesitant to identify yourself to someone who just showed up at your door. Quite honestly, he likely just wants to be able to serve you so he can get paid for his services. Once you are served, you are going to have to figure out how to deal with the lawsuit. This article may help: Seven Ways To Defend a Debt Collection Lawsuit

  • James

    Can a collection agency refuse a payment plan that is affordable for the person paying? My wife was told she either had to pay the full amount of 1600 or 350 a month and she told them we could afford a hundred and taken out of our account on a withdrawal. We were told no and that if we even tried to send it in they would send it back. We are trying to make this right and pay this bill but they pretty much told us if we can’t pay their monthly amount that would take nothing. Is this common, or legal for that matter?? Thanks.

    • Credit Experts

      Yes, it is legal — you do not get to set the terms of repayment. However, that doesn’t mean you cannot negotiate with the collection agency or that they will not ultimately agree to different terms. If they do eventually agree to smaller payments, be sure you get that agreement in writing. You can find more useful information here: The Ultimate Guide to Debt Collectors

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Donald – I don’t know how the court would view this unfortunately. I’ll have to recommend you talk with a consumer law attorney. A consumer law attorney who regularly handles collection and credit damage cases should be willing to give you a low-cost or free consultation. Visit for a referral.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Is this a private or federal student loan? Have you looked it up on the National Student Loan Data System? Let me know whether it shows up there – and if you know whether it is a private or federal loan.

  • Kitties

    Hi Gerri, I see you are offering some advice to people here.
    I could really use some advice myself right now as Michael Agruss’s ignored my free evaluation request from their site.
    I had been renting an apartment with 2 other roommates in Washington state. we all had a big falling out and the other two roommates drowned in their debt and couldn’t continue as we were. So we all split at the end of the lease.
    Now 3 months later, out of the blue and without prior notice from the apartment complex or anyone/anything I received a call from collections claiming I owe something like 1,200 dollars. and they will let me off at half. Naturally I refused
    1.) I haven’t received any mail regarding this, and still havent almost two weeks later after the first call they made where I requested it.
    2.) they refuse to negotiate on the damages, continue to cite that “You sighed a lease” and ignore my claims that the damages were cause by the other roommates. (I can easily pull witnesses to this)
    3.) Claim to be from Genesis, a collections agency, yet the number appears to come from Pride Recovery Services after a search.
    4.) my old roommates are ignoring all calls, and trying to disappear… collection agency appears content to ignore them and focus on me.
    again, I cannot even validate their claims because they haven’t yet mailed my current address(which I provided, so they have no excuse) and I stated as much on their second attempt to collect from me. They insisted on immediate payment, no negotiation, and that I would be sued if I did not pay.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Generally when you sign a lease you agree to be fully responsible for the rent plus any damages to the property, regardless of who made them. So they probably aren’t wrong about that. (You could try to go after your roommates for those costs if you wind up paying them, but it doesn’t sound like you will be successful.) In fact, the collector doesn’t even have to attempt to go after the other tenants.

      However, the collector is required by law to send you written notice of the debt within 5 days of their initial contact with you by phone. Have they done that? If not, then you can do one of two things: contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to file a complaint or try another consumer law attorney. If you do, I would suggest you do not focus on the fact that you don’t feel it’s fair they are going after you for damage your roommates did. I understand it doesn’t seem fair, but it’s probably not illegal. Instead, focus on the fact that the collection agency is not following the FDCPA by sending you written notice of the debt.

      (I am not an attorney so please don’t take this as legal advice.)

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Is this a business debt or personal debt? And what do you mean by cooling off period – was it in the contract?

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Roni – This is a tough one because she technically defaulted on that last payment. I am also not clear on what happened here, “When she finally got a hold of the person calling her, they told her what the problem was and she made the payment. But a collection agency has been calling her.”

    Did she pay the collection agency or the gym? Does she have proof of payment? Who is trying to collect now? A different collection agency or the same one? Who is hanging up on her? I’d need more details to be able to try to respond more fully.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    The only thing you can do at this point Rory is to try to talk with the creditor. If they don’t know where it is then you will be waiting to hear from a collection agency. I don’t think there is any central repository of defaulted debt.

  • Pingback: Can I Pay a Creditor Less Than I Owe? | Best Credit Repair

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Karen – I think you will find this article useful: Can I Pay a Creditor Less Than I Owe? As it states, you may have had an implied contract.

    If you are being sued, I would really encourage you to talk with a consumer law attorney. The first consultation should be free or low cost. If you can’t afford one, your local legal aid office may be able to help – or at least point you in the right direction.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    If I understand your question you are saying that you agree to pay someone else’s debt but now have changed your mind. Is that correct? How did you authorize the payment? Did you give them your credit card number or bank account information? If so, then I would suggest you close that account. I don’t think you have a legal responsibility unless you cosigned or signed something agreeing to pay the debt, but you may need to talk with a consumer law attorney to be certain.

  • Gerri Detweiler


    The statute of limitations and the time period that collections can be reported are two different things. Collection accounts may be reported for 7 years and 180 days from the date you first fell behind with the original creditor leading up to when it was place for collections. So let’s say he made his last payment in June 2008. When he missed the Aug 2008 payment, that would start the 7.5 year period. When the collection agency picks it up or starts reporting it has nothing to do with it. Make sure they are reporting the original date of delinquency correctly so it doesn’t stay on there longer than it should.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    If it is on your credit report as a collection accounts it hurts your credit, regardless of the circumstances or type of debt. As for whether they could do that, we can’t give you a definitive answer as it would depend on the arrangement you made and how it would be viewed. We wrote about that here: Can I Pay a Creditor Less Than I Owe?

    My suggestion? Check your credit reports to see if it is on there, and if so, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and/or talk with a consumer law attorney.

  • Gerri Detweiler


    You can try. But you may also want to talk with a consumer bankruptcy attorney. They can advise you as to whether it makes sense to file to protect your paycheck.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    What state do you live in Betty?

  • gina

    Hi Gerri. I owed about 700 dollars for a medical bill- I have religiously paid 100.00 per month for the last 4 months. Now I am getting collection calls, and they even called my girlfriend and told her it was a call to collect a debt. can they do this? Should I contact a lawyer?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      From what you are saying it sounds like they turned the balance over for collections even though you were paying? We wrote about that issue here: Can I Pay a Creditor Less Than I Owe?

  • xavier

    OK so my husband had a car loan with a bay federal but he was late with a couple of payments so at the end he only 4000 on the loan but bay federal sold his loan and we paid a debt collector what was owed know a different debt collector is charging me 4000 I have receipts but they still charging me help what can we do

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Send the collector a certified letter, include copies of the receipts and tell them that he has paid the loan already. If they continue to try to collect, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Lisa – Are you a Canadian and did this problem happen there? If so, we unfortunately cannot help as we are not familiar with Canadian consumer protection laws.

  • patches

    Hi I have an old credit card debt from 2001. just recently in 2013 the debt collector started calling me about paying them. like once a month they call. I have told them everytime they call I am not giving out my information over the phone and ask them to send me something in the mail. everytime I get the same answer they tell me they have already sent something out and they can not send anything out again. I have not got nothing from them. I thought after 7 years they can not bother you about it but idk what are my rights here? can they keep harassing me.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      What state do you live in? Will they give you their company name and contact information?

    • mcthrash

      just because they can no longer sue you for the debt does not mean they can not call you and try to get payment on a debt you know you owe .. best advice is … you never have to bother with debt collectors if you A.. keep in touch with your creditors and b.. pay your bill or at least make some effort to get something in each month

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Is this an old debt? If so then paying it may revive the statute of limitations. But if it’s a small debt it may be a good idea to pay and and put it behind you.

  • Credit Experts

    We are not lawyers, and it sounds as if you may need one. We suggest you get in touch with a consumer law attorney (you can find one at the website for the National Association for Consumer Advocates), and we also encourage you to submit a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. (

  • Liliana

    ive received a letter in which tells me i have a balance of 22000.00 but when i call the debt collector he refuses to take any payment plan from me. and ofcourse gets nasty. the student loan is from sallie mae from year 2001. i still want to pay at least the minimum without a payment plan with whatever i can afford… what do you think i should do?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Do you know whether this is a private or federal student loan? That’s key. If it is a federal loan they must offer you a reasonable and affordable payment plan.

  • Denise

    My daughter is in collection. The agency will not make a contact with her for payents. Every 6 months they raise the amount of the payment. What she owed went on her step kids bills. Now all that is left is hers and her daughter with the soon to be ex as responsible party. He is getting ready to file bankruptcy. The agency is always threatening to garish my daughters wages.
    1) Does the collection agency have to put the payment plan in wring if they are asked)
    2) if her husband files the bankruptcy will the bill be solely hers if he is named as responsible party.
    3) If regular payments are being made and has been for well over a year can wages still be garnished.
    Thank you

    • Michael Bovee

      Denise – Can you share more detail about the collection account (type of account, balance, name of debt collector)? It would be helpful to know as much as possible in order to offer the best feedback.

      1. There are instances where a collector does need to put an agreement in writing.

      2. There are many instances where a joint account will end up being the sole responsibility of one co-debtor, after the others bankruptcy.

      3. For most debt, wages cannot be attached without a court judgment.

  • BJ

    Gerri-I live in WA state. I was issued a summons from a collections agency a week ago for an outstanding hospital fee in the amount of $389.18. I contacted the agency to pay the full amount of $389.18 and the agent refused payment unless I paid all the fees they added which came to almost $900. I told her I could not pay that amount. I would pay $389 or nothing. She said then she would apply a judgement against me. I proceeded to call the hospital directly and paid them the $389.18 in full. Why did the collections agent refuse my payment and can they still apply the judgement now that the hospital is paid in full?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      If you actually received a legal summons for a debt, you need to respond. You can likely show that you paid the debt, but I don’t know whether you can still be assessed fees and interest at this point. That would be a matter of state law, and every state is different. (And I am not an attorney.) Read the instructions on the summons for responding and check the court’s website – they should have information on your options for responding. It may mean you need to respond in writing with proof that you paid, or it may mean that you need to show up in person on the court date. Do not assume it is taken care of because you paid. If you do it is possible the collector will proceed and still get a default judgment against you.

  • Kandice Little

    HI! A my husband has a loan that went delinquent with sallie mae. We had made payments here and there but not consistently. It was sent to Allied interstate. We called them trying to set up an arrangement. The original debt was 4,950 but with fees and interest its up to 9,122 dollars. They agreed to drop the debt down to 4600 and allow us to pay 2200 dollars down and then 200 dollars a month for 12 months. We told them we wanted the agreement in writing prior to us giving them any money. They agreed on 2/10/14 to send us a letter with the terms of the agreement. We were to pay the 2200 by 3/3/2014. Later that evening we got a call saying they needed us to make the payment by 2/28/2014 for the 2200. We agreed and then this morning I got a call again saying they could no longer take a credit card and needed our bank info for the payment. I explained I would not give them any information until I had the agreement in writing. The lady I was speaking with said she would email it right then and got my email address and the proceeded to say I sent it now I need your info. I explained again until I read it and was satisfied it was what we agreed to that I would not be giving them my bank info. She agreed and said I could call back once I got the email. I never received the email from them and they called bank now stating they want the 2200 today. Now they are saying they won’t take any kind of arrangement they want payment in full. What should I do? I want to get this paid but I can’t give them the full balance owed. I have prepared a letter that I am going to send certified mail stating the terms we originally agreed upon. If they refuse the arrangement what is my next step? I have asked repeatedly for them to send me a bill and they will not do it. They won’t even give me an address to remit payment to. I need to get this taken care of as my husband is in the military and can get in trouble for having debt. Please help!

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Is this a federal student loan or a private student loan? Consumer protections are much different for the two. If it is a federal student loan then you can insist on a reasonable and affordable payment plan to bring your loan current and you can try to get your loan out of default and into income-based repayment. If it is a private loan you don’t have the same protections. Either way, I would suggest you consider talking with a consumer law attorney with expertise in student loan law. It may help you figure out whether they are breaking any laws in their attempts to collect from you. You can find one through or You can also try filing a written complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. If they get involved, the servicer may be more willing to work with you in a consistent manner. (They have been investigating student loan servicing abuses so you should file a complaint regardless of what you do.)

      I hope you’re able to get this back on track.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Please let us know what the attorney says. They may be breaking the law.

  • poohbear

    I owed a hospital $1200. They sent it to collection agency so I paid them anywhere from 30 to 50 dollars a month. I was laid off my job I tried paying each month until about 3 months ago. I still owe $900. I still don’t have a job. I’m not sure that to do.

    • Michael Bovee

      Sometimes it just is what it is. You can call the collection agency and communicate the income loss, and that you will not be able to send payments in as agreed.

      Be aware that collectors are trained to try to get an agreement to pay at every opportunity. So, while you are unable to pay now, be careful not to agree to any later payments. Just let them know you will be in touch as soon as things turn around.

      Just to be sure – this account was not part of any legal action to collect?

      Were you making auto payments, or did you call or mail your payments in each time when you were ready?

  • Tabitha Alcaraz

    I owe the last apartment I was at 800, I sent them a check and have proof that I sent it to them, I used bill pay. The check has not been cashed and I am in collections saying I owe more than I did, is this legal?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Unfortunately it’s really hard to tell, and I am not an attorney so I don’t want to misinform you. It would depend on why they are charging you and what landlord-tenant and other consumer protection laws in your state say. First, I would suggest you consult your state attorney general’s office. They may have information about landlord-tenant laws. If that doesn’t help, you will need to consider talking with a consumer law attorney or local legal aid.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Liz – It is true that collection agencies aren’t supposed to do “pay for delete” deals. Have you contacted Sears to find out why you didn’t get any bills? Is it possible they had the wrong address for you?

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I am sorry but we don’t know their policy. You will need to check with them.

  • kb

    me and my husband filed bankruptcy in 2005 it has been removed from his credit and not mine ?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Did you file Chapter 13 or Chapter 7? If Chapter 7 it can remain for 10 years from the date of filing. If Chapter 13 it should be off there – you can dispute it. (If it’s a Chapter 7 and it is off his credit then he got lucky.)

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Not at all. Are you sure this is a legitimate debt collector and not a scammer? It’s usually just the scammers that send emails because they are based overseas.

    • Igo

      It’s from a company called Capital Harris Miller and Associates based out of Chicago, IL; and I’ve been reading other people’s comments about these guys and I’m kicking myself for sending them money in the first place yet glad that I didn’t send any more. They’re pulling the same “Dog The Bounty Hunter” wannabe crap again like they did the first time they called!

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Ten years from the date you filed. The credit reporting agencies might remove it slightly earlier than that. You are getting close!

  • Gerri Detweiler

    You may be able to sue the credit reporting agency for failing to notify you before reinserting the information. You can find a consumer law attorney with experience in credit reporting cases at Your other option would be to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    The rules about robocalls from debt collectors are somewhat unclear at this point but the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is working on that. I would recommend you file a complaint with them at Make sure you provide all the information you have discovered. You can also try contacting a consumer law attorney with experience in debt collection.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I am with you – I wouldn’t pay them that way unless I had something in writing. Did you see this other article we wrote: The Dos and Don’ts of Paying a Debt Collector

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Lynnell – It’s possible that by negotiating with them you restarted the statute of limitations. It depends on your state law. (It is worth checking out.) But even if you did, it doesn’t sound like it should be on your reports at this late date. Collections may be reported for 7 years plus 180 days from the date you first fell behind with the original creditor leading up to when it was charged off and placed for collection, regardless of whether the it was paid or unpaid. I would recommend you read our advice for disputing credit report errors, and in your case, I recommend you do so in writing (not online) to fully protect your rights in case you need to sue. Of course, you can always consult a consumer law attorney as well. A Step-By-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Mistakes

  • Igo

    @gerridetweiler:disqus P.S. I also filed a complaint against them at, as well!

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Let us know what happens!

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Sally – This is a really tough one. Technically it’s not a billing error if you didn’t send them your change of address in time to receive the new statement. You might try disputing the collection account on your credit report – they might remove it given the circumstances. Or if they don’t verify it, then it will be removed.

  • Jack

    I am attempting to resolve a debt on my credit report and sent a letter to the collector requesting to they remove the item upon payment a month ago and had never received a response. I spoke to one of their operators asking if they’d ever received my letter was told they won’t remove an item. I then asked if he would send me this in writing along with information about the debt before I paid and he refused. Saying he could take my payment by phone but wasn’t going to send me anything in writing. Can I dispute this?

  • Credit Experts

    Do you mean the debt collector is continuing to call? It is your right to ask them not to contact you by phone anymore. (There may be reasons you don’t want to do so, however.) has a resource that might be useful to you: Understanding Your Debt Collection Rights. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also accepts complaints about debt collection practices. You can submit a complaint here:

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I am so sorry to hear of the stress you are going through. From what you are saying it sounds like you don’t have much of anything that would at risk if you were sued, and if that’s the case, you could simply write the collector a letter telling them to stop contacting you and instructing them to leave you alone.

    My strong suggestion is that you talk with a bankruptcy attorney. You may not need to file bankruptcy (certainly not for that small of a debt) but the attorney can explain to you what the debt collector can and cannot go after to collect from you. The attorney may be willing to write the letter explaining the situation for a small fee.

    Either way, you are going to be a lot less scared if you know that there’s nothing they can really do to you. Most consumer bankruptcy attorneys offer a free or low-cost consultation. If you can’t find one that will, ask them about legal aid in your area which may be able to provide a similar evaluation.

  • Michael Bovee

    dulce – Most debt collectors will work with you to resolve a debt. The older the debt, the more likely it is that settling the account (paying less than the amount owed), will make the most sense.

    How much is owed? How much can you come up with to settle it in a single lump sum payment?

    Have a plan and a target you are shooting for before you call. But have realistic expectations too.

  • Credit Experts

    Steve –
    We’re sorry to hear you are in such financial difficulty. It sounds as if you might need to ask a bankruptcy attorney for advice.

    Actually, creditors don’t have to accept what you can pay if it’s not the amount due. We wrote a little more about that here: Can I Pay a Creditor Less Than I Owe?.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    It is difficult to advise you since it’s hard to follow what exactly happened here and who dropped the ball. Also, I don’t know the requirements in your state for notifying a tenant of damages after they move out.

    My main suggestion is to put everything in writing from here on out. You can call the guy you talked with before and ask him what happened, but follow up with a letter by certified mail. Same thing with the collection agency (I assume that’s what you mean by creditor?) – you need to send them a written dispute if you believe this is erroneous. I would also urge you to get check into landlord/tenant laws in your area to find out if they were required to give you a written estimate of the damages when you moved out.

    You may even want to consult with a consumer law attorney since this will definitely affect your credit scores if the collection accounts show up on your credit. Along those lines, get your free annual credit reports asap to see if this is on there and get your free credit scoreso if it is later reported you can document the damages.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I am sorry but I don’t understand your question or situation.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    It seems unusual since you are calling them. I am not sure what the legal argument is though…

  • latrice

    Hi recently I checked my score and found out that I had something in collections. I never knew I had something in collections because I was not warned. Never recieved a letter or call from the agency that I owed payment before sending it to the debt collectors. I was wondering is there someway I can dispute this

    • Michael Bovee

      Latrice – What was the debt for? How long ago was it that you missed payments?

      You have the ability to dispute incorrect information on your credit reports. What is it that you consider to be wrong?

  • Greg Roberts

    Hi Keston, my friend is currently on a payment plan with a collection agency for a medical procedure, of a series of tests performed while she was in-patient. The current plan is set at 20 dollars a week. Now the collection agency is calling her wanting more money, and also saying she was 90 days late on her payment plan, which she is not. I have the money order reciepts.
    They are threatning to garnish her husbands check now. What shoul she do?

    • Michael Bovee

      Wage garnishment typically happens as the result of a collection lawsuit that ends in a judgment. Was there a judgment already in the courts prior to the payment plan being set up?

      If not, what is the name of the collection agency?

  • Michael Bovee

    It may still be possible to work this out with the school, but only if they still own the debt, and are willing to work with you on this. What school is this? Have you contacted the school directly about any options they may have at this point?

  • Matt

    persistence you know you’re doing it right when you call to demand good customer service 25+ times a day and they tell you to stop calling them and hang up on you.

  • Michael Bovee

    A debt collector (or creditor) may try to go after assets, what little there are (other than any life insurance), but that should be a fairly formal process. You should talk about your concerns with an experienced estate attorney in your area, and before having any additional discussions with collectors and creditors.

    Do not let a debt collector lead you to believe you must pay for any of these debts as if you are the one liable. You are not, and cannot be made to be.

  • Credit Experts

    If the information in your credit report is accurate, the collector is not required to take it off your credit report. If the information is not accurate, you can dispute it. The good news here is that the more time passes, the less impact the collection will have on your credit scores.

  • kat5874

    My father passed away back in August of 2013. At some point over the past few years he added my mother on to his credit card. My mom and him did not share bank accounts. Well since she is on the card she is now responsible, but is she responsible for the whole bill?

    • Credit Experts

      Our condolences on the loss of your father.

      Whether your mother can be held responsible for the credit card debt will depend on whether the account was a joint account, in which a surviving spouse would be held responsible, or whether she was an authorized user, who had credit privileges but not payment responsibility. Here are a couple of resources that might clarify the issue for you:
      4 Ways Joint Accounts Can Ruin Your Credit
      Should You Add an Authorized User to Your Credit Card?

  • Gerri Detweiler

    You need to go back to the medical provider and push them to pull it back from collections. I wrote about that here: Reader Stops Mysterious Medical Bill From Damaging Her Credit

    If they won’t do it I would really encourage you to talk with a consumer law attorney ( In the meantime get your credit reports to see what is reported. (Do NOT use online disputes because doing so may force you into arbitration.) You can also try filing a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

  • Credit Experts

    No, they cannot refuse to send you written proof via postal mail. This resource may be useful to you:
    The Ultimate Guide to Debt Collectors.

    You should also consider submitting a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. You can do that here:

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Not to my knowledge. In my 20+ years of credit education, I’ve never found a law that requires that kind of specific notice.

  • Kathrine Ezeribe

    Ok here is my situation, My husband lost his job and now works for min wage. Back in aug of 2012 I had got a contract with an alarm company. They told me the price was good for 18 months but they failed to tell me it automatically renewed. In fact I was forced into a quick sign and nothing was discussed. I tucked the papers away and left it. Now they are threatening me to pay them off even though I told them we can not pay. They sent me an ademdom to sign saying I get three months off pay but would extend the service. Im afraid to sign it though I had already sent one in signed and they claimed they lost it. Is there any way I can talk them out of the renewed contract? I feel it was a dirty trick. Im stressed, they are about to shut off our lights and gas. I had a bankruptcy back in 2010 so Im not sure I can get help there. Also I have fibromyalgia and recently developed a rare form of arthritis that is difficult to treat. My medical bills are even preventing me from seeking the treatment I need. I don’t know what to do at this point.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Katherine – I am sorry this is such a horribly difficult time for you. It sounds like they are going to try to get you to renew and hold you responsible no matter what. And it also sounds like they have a contract that would obligate you if they decided to pursue it.

      The first thing i would do is try to find out if your state has any consumer protections for this kind of situation. Check with your state attorney general or your state department of consumer affairs. If not, then the only thing I can suggest is that you try to get them to change their mind. I’d try to find out the name of the owner or president of the company and send them a certified letter. If that doesn’t work, you can try filing complaints with anyone and everyone you can think of. It may or may not help.

      There is also the risk they can turn you over to collections, but unless you can pay it I am not sure what the alternative is.

  • Credit Experts

    Who called you, and what sort of papers? Are there criminal charges or a judgment? We have some resources that might be useful to you. But be careful; it sounds as if the oollector might not be legitimate.
    Here are some posts we hope you’ll read:
    Understanding Your Debt Collection Rights
    Collections Crash Course

  • Michael Bovee

    karen – The words and phrases you say were used just sound off to me. Do you even recognize the debt they are saying is owed? If so, how old is the debt (when last paid)? What is the name of the collection company contacting you?

  • marty

    My landlord has sent me to collections and now they have filed this with an attorney. I finished my lease on the apartment but didn’t give my vacate notice. I didn’t ask for my security deposit which would have covered that extra month rent. Can they legally take me to court? Can I ignore this and treat it like a credit card and it will soon stop?

    • Credit Experts

      Marty –
      A standard lease agreement would normally require that you give notice that you are moving even if you are at the end of your initial lease. Lease money and security deposit have to be kept separately, and so unpaid rent can’t be taken from the security deposit. Yes, you can be taken to court. We hope you won’t ignore it.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    So you paid this debt as agreed and they are still trying to sue you? If so then you can answer the complaint that you were sent with that information. Unfortunately I can’t give you a detailed response as to how to do that since it depends on the procedures in your state. I’d recommend you find out if there is a legal aid office in your area that will help you answer the complaint or explain how to represent yourself in court. If there is no legal aid office it would still make sense for you to talk with a consumer law attorney to find out whether the debt collectors actions are legal, and they may be able to give you some pointers on how to represent yourself if necessary. They should offer a free or low-cost initial consultation. Visit for a referral to one in your area.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    If you cosigned the lease then I am pretty confident you are responsible for the entire amount, including any penalties. But you may want to check out landlord tenant laws in your area to be sure. If you want to protect your credit, then you may want to pay it to avoid it being placed for collections. I would suggest that if you do pay it you get something from the management company in writing stating that if you pay the full amount it will not be sent to collections or appear on your credit reports.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    It is not better to dodge it. Depending on state law, they may be able to serve you at your last known address and then get a judgment against you if you don’t show up in court.

    I would recommend you talk with a consumer bankruptcy attorney right away if it all possible to see what your options are. They should know how these actions usually proceed in your jurisdiction and they will likely offer you a free or low-cost consultation.

    I would also be sure that you are dealing with a legitimate collector and not a scammer. If they call again ask them for the name and address of their collection agency. By law, they are required to provide you with that.

    • Barry Masteller

      Gerri, Firstly, thank you for the prompt information. The person i spoke to was very rude. A person first called me over and over, at least 5 times. I finally picked up the phone, thinking it was an emergency or something (as it was unlisted number). I was told that i was being sued, and to call this other number to find out details, the person initially calling was the one serving me, and told me he would wait for a call back, after I called the other number, to see if there was some resolution. The guy was very aggressive. He made some statements, like I don’t have to talk to you, the sherif is on is way..etc..
      The best buy account has not had a payment since before 2009 (end of 08). He told me that it was a 2010 collection debt, but as I think about it, there have been over 5 years since i was in a position to make a payment. I have not checked the mailing address mail, where he sent the alleged law suit information, but will post when i do.
      My Q:
      Is the statute based on when I first defaulted, and failed to pay? The bill started out around 600, I need to check my records, those are also geographically not near by atm. Now, interest etc..1200. The offer he had for me was 600 now, or be sued (as well as get even more rude). He was clear that the account was purchased by his company, and that there was 3 more months till the 4 year statute date was in effect, so he said he that’s why he was making haste. Again after some thought on this, i began thinking about the dates since my last payments, when I was able, and recalled it was at the end of 08′ I last made a payment.


      • Gerri Detweiler

        It sounds very fishy to me. Please be careful. Statements like “the sheriff is on his way” give me pause, as does the notion that you should pay someone who calls you out of the blue and whom you can’t even confirm is legitimate. Please don’t pay him until you have more information. It has all the hallmarks of a scam.

        Oh and the statute of limitations typically starts when you stopped paying.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    As much as I would like to advise you I am not an attorney and don’t know how this is handled in every jurisdiction. I’d really encourage you to talk with a consumer bankruptcy attorney, or consumer law attorney since they will be able to go over your options and should be able to answer your questions. You can find one at NACBA and/or That first consultation should be free or at a low fee. In addition, some legal aid offices do a good job of helping consumers prepare to represent themselves in debt collection lawsuits.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    You are clearly going to have to fight back, but to do so you need to get advice from someone familiar with Virginia Landlord-Tenant law. Two things to look into:

    1. File a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development HUDwhich takes complaints about bad landlords. You’ll also find information about your rights on that site.

    2. Contact Virginia Legal AID: which may be able to help as well.

    And there is also the option of filing a complaint against the law firm with your state bar association. Or you can contact your own attorney for help.

    Please let us know how it turns out!

  • Stacy

    In my medical office setting, if an account is turned over to a collection agency, and still has an open amount due, am I obligated to forward medical records on to a new doctor?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Stacy – You need to check with someone in your office. I don’t know, and as you know medical record privacy is highly regulated.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I would consult an attorney to find out if, in fact, you are responsible for her bill. If you can’t afford one, then find out if there is a legal aid office that can help. You need to clarify whether the information they are giving you is accurate.

  • Gerri Detweiler


    I can only comment on your rights when it comes to dealing with collection agencies. You always have the right to request verification of a debt when a debt collector contacts you but you need to do that within 30 days of their initial contact with you, and in writing. In the first case it sounds like that time has already elapsed. How long has it been in the second situation?

    Whether the landlord is required to notify you before they turn the bill over to collections would be a matter of state law. Generally a specific notice isn’t required, but it may be different under landlord-tenant laws in your state. You can learn more about landlord-tenant law and your rights here:

    You will also need to research what your rights are with regard to your security deposit. In some states, they can’t charge you for normal wear and tear which it sounds like is what may have happened in the first place.

    For these kinds of matters, getting everything in writing, and responding in writing, is usually your best bet. You can always talk with a consumer law attorney or file a complaint against the collection agency at

  • Stacy Elder

    Hi so I stopped paying my AT&T bill and now they say I owe 1000 for cancellation fees and such. Well they called and said they could set up a payment plan for 400 per month for 3 months I told them i couldn’t and they said it will only get worse from here and they would be taking further actions.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      You do risk this goes to collection and affects your credit scores, not to mention the hassles of dealing with calls and letters from collectors. If you really don’t think you owe those fees then put everything in writing and send it by certified mail so you have a paper trail. But that doesn’t mean you are off the hook.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Quite possibly yes. Defaulted student loans can carry steep penalties.

    Is this a federal loan? If so then you need to get out of default and possibly into IBR. If it is a private loan then your options are more limited.

    You may also want to file a complaint about the fees with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which is taking a close look at student loan servicers and collection policies.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I don’t know the procedures specific to your area, but I would recommend that you contact the court and unless you can confirm that the matter has been dropped, show up. The last thing you want is for them to get a default judgment against you which will complicate things. Getting written confirmation of everything is a very good idea – and having documents notarized doesn’t hurt!

  • DevotedSunflowerFan

    In early April 2014 I disputed an item that one of the credit reports said would “drop off” my report in March 2014 (it was still there in April). The credit bureau wrote back and said the item was “updated” and the date to remain on my report was extended by 2 years! How is this possible when it was originally scheduled to go away last month?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Is it a collection account?

  • Gerri Detweiler

    First of all you should be sure you know how old these debts are. They may be outside the statute of limitations which I believe is 4 years for most consumer debts in Texas.

    Then if you are thinking about paying vs. settling we have several articles that can help:

    Will Settling A Collection Account Hurt My Credit? and

    Does Your Old Debt Have an Expiration Date?

  • pikabu

    i have an account in collection, can i go to the original creditor and pay it off?? or has to be with the collection company?

    • Credit Experts

      You might have to pay the collection agency. Collection agencies buy uncollected debts from original creditors, and then they attempt to collect the money due. Sometimes, an original creditor (a hospital, for example) might be able to pull a debt out of collections but is not obligated to do so. Here are a couple of additional resources about debt collection that might be useful to you:
      The Ultimate Guide to Debt Collectors
      Can a Debt Collector Double My Debt?

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Collection accounts may be reported for seven years and 180 days from the date of first delinquency. I see no reason why that should be extended for two years. I would recommend you talk with a consumer law attorney; if the debt collector is trying to manipulate the dates it may be breaking the law and you may be entitled to damages and attorney fees. Visit to find one in your area.

    If you really don’t want to go that route, I suggest you file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which may assist.

  • Mub

    I was out of country for a while and was unsure about the cox communications modem if I have in my possession so when I spoke with their representative I said I will be returning back by april end do I have time to look for the modem , she said yes and took just the internet service fee(last). on April 19 I called up cox customer service and paid the full balance over the phone and was given reference number and the account was closed with zero balance, on April 22 I got notice from collection agency for the amount that I paid with cox. It says that they wlll report tocredit bureau if amount is not paid in full. I am about to buy a house and don’t want my credit score ruined especially when its paid in full and I got notice a day after.How can I ensure they dont report to credit agencies and if reported how can I get it reverted or get it deleted

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Anytime you get a collection notice you have the right under federal law to dispute it. You have 30 days to do this so make sure you act quickly. Put your dispute in writing and send it by certified mail return receipt requested and keep a copy for your records. You can essentially tell them that you believe you paid this bill in full. Then in the meantime, try to get a clear answer from Cox as to what’s happening with your account. Keep notes of everyone you talk with and what’s discussed. If this was turned over to collections then you want to get them to pull it back from collections.

      Your other option is just to pay ONLY IF you can clearly establish that they won’t report it if you pay it in full by their deadline. (I would want something in writing to that effect if I were in your shoes.) Then you can always go back to Cox to try to get a refund.

      Neither is a perfect solution, but it depends on how much time and effort you want to put into it.

      I would also recommend you get your free copies of your credit reports and get your
      free credit score so if they do end up reporting it you will have proof of how it damaged your credit.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I am really sorry to hear what you went through and that the landlord was uncooperative. Unfortunately I don’t know what the landlord tenant laws are in each state. You’ll need to research that to find out if they should have let you out of the lease for that.

  • Credit Experts

    Maria –
    Unfortunately, not recalling taking out a loan doesn’t mean your husband doesn’t owe it. However, the collector does have to verify the debt if you request it (this will be done via postal mail). Federal law requires that the collector provide this information if you ask for it.

    But also be aware that some people who call may be scam artists rather than legitimate collectors, so it’s extremely important to check. Here’s a post that might be useful to you:

    The Ultimate Guide to Debt Collection

  • Julie

    We filed a bankruptcy that was finalized 2 years ago. We have been trying to find a school loan that was sold to a different company so we can start making payments. We finally received a collection notice from the company that now has the loan. They want the full amount $15,000 up front. We had a co signer on the loan and they are threatening to go after her. I know during the bankruptcy they can’t contact us, we offered to start paying $100 a month like we were before the bankruptcy they wont accept it. We called the original owners of the loan and they can’t help us. Do you have any advice?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Ugh this is just what the CFPB released a report about yesterday: Have a Private Student Loan? Read This My best suggestion is that you file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It may prompt the servicer to work with you.

      • Julie

        Thank you so much.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    If she believes her lease lets her terminate early due to the job change, then I would suggest she research landlord tenant rights in California (or Louisiana? – not sure which you mean by LA) and pursue the matter against the landlord. It will be difficult for her to do herself because she is now elsewhere. It may be worth it to at least pay an attorney familiar with landlord-tenant law to look at the lease. If he or she thinks she has a good case, a letter from the attorney may suffice. She can research state landlord-tenant laws here: state landlord tenant laws

    Alternatively she may be able to get help from the state attorney general’s office or state consume protection office.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    The biggest risk here is that the landlord turns it over to collections which will affect her credit scores for years to come – and be a pain for her to resolve. It’s worth being proactive about (to the extent you can). The first step would be to research landlord tenant laws in Ohio then take it from there.

    Will you let us know what happens?

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