Managing Debt

87-Year-Old Pays Bill, Still Gets Hit With Collection Account

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All Charles Hoffman wanted to do was switch his phone service. He accomplished that, but not without some serious miscommunications, which ended up damaging his credit report.

The 87-year-old New Jersey resident canceled his Verizon phone service in June 2012, paid his final bill of $112.09 and went on with his life, the New Jersey Star-Ledger reported. That is, he did until he received notice from a collection agency for an unpaid bill of $112.09. Hoffman presented his bank statement and bill showing he paid Verizon, and he thought that was the end of it, until he pulled his credit report this year and saw a delinquency of the same amount.

As a result of the negative item, Hoffman’s credit score was 720. That’s actually a good score, but it’s lower than he expected it to be, and even though he’s not in the market for a credit product, he knew he needed to restore accuracy to his credit history, the Star-Ledger reported.

How Small Errors Become Big Credit Problems

The issues Hoffman dealt with could happen to anyone. According to company policies described by the Star-Ledger, Verizon requires customers to cancel phone, Internet and cable services separately, even though they’re bundled into one bill. Hoffman canceled his Internet and cable five days after switching his phone service, so when he paid the final phone bill, it was credited to the wrong account.

After a few rounds of attempting to sort this out with Verizon, the company told Hoffman the delinquency will be removed from his credit report.

“I feel a lot better now,” Hoffman said to the Star-Ledger. “Now all I want is the credit report to be fixed. I’m 87 so it’s not that I’m going for a mortgage. It’s the principle. If anyone looked it up, I’d be an adverse risk.”

How Consumers Can Correct Damaging Errors

From start to finish, the $112.09 phone bill had a negative impact on Hoffman’s credit for at least 2 years, though he wasn’t aware of the account’s presence on his report until he recently checked it.

His experience highlights the importance of regularly checking your credit scores and credit reports, because you may have no other way of knowing your credit history is being inaccurately reported. That inaccurate history could hurt your chances of getting a loan or credit card you really need.

You’re entitled to free annual credit reports from each of the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — but you can get free credit scores even more often. On Credit.com, you can get updates to two of your credit scores every 30 days for free, so you’ll notice if there’s a sudden change and, perhaps, an issue with your credit.

If you find an error on your report, you have the right to dispute it, and the instructions for doing so are easily accessible on the credit bureaus’ websites (you can also read about disputing errors here). Don’t wait until you need to apply for credit to check your reports — a dispute can take some time to resolve.

More on Credit Reports and Credit Scores:

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