Managing Debt

Can a Friend Send a Debt Collector After Me?

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A reader wrote to us, worried that a former friend of her daughter’s might take her daughter to collections over some manicures that had been done out of friendship — before the relationship soured.

Misunderstandings about money between friends are common. Should dinner at the expensive restaurant your wealthy friend suggested have been her treat? (You were not expecting to hear “separate checks, please.”) If your brother-in-law goes with you to a sold-out sports event, should he reimburse you for the ticket that unexpectedly became “extra”? Sometimes communication isn’t clear, and people assume they are on the same page when they are not.

In this situation, though, as the reader describes it, there were two friends, and one did the other’s nails out of friendship. Then, when the relationship soured, the one who did the manicures decided to charge, retroactively, and informed the former friend that those bills would be turned over to collections. The mother of the woman who had received the manicures worried about whether this could ruin her daughter’s credit.

The short answer is it’s very unlikely. First, a collection agency would have to be willing to pursue the debt. Anyone can try to take a debt to collections, says Michael Bovee, founder of the Consumer Recovery Network and a Credit.com contributor. “She could not get through the ‘who to work with’ filter of a big agency, but [might be able to with] one serving the local market,” he said.

If It Goes to Collections

And so the reader’s daughter could very well get a phone call or a letter about the “debt.” But that’s not a reason to panic or to pay, Bovee said. “When it comes to the debt, if there was a history of the service not [being] charged for, but more as a way to get together and catch up or gab about, I would say there is little to legitimize any debt is owed,” Bovee wrote in an email. “Your daughter could just as easily say, ‘Sure, she did my nails, and never charged me. I bought lunch/dinner/drinks and never charged her. That’s just how we were.'”

Bovee noted that the collection agency can report the debt to credit reporting agencies, but it’s uncommon for a small, local agency to do so (and unlikely that a larger operation would accept the case). If it did happen, he said, there would be so little evidence to substantiate the underlying claim, a clear, firm letter — or certainly a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau — could get it deleted from her credit report.

But the daughter — and all the rest of us — would do well to keep an eye on credit in any case. You can get a free copy of your credit report from all three major credit-reporting agencies once a year, and track your credit scores and other credit data for free on Credit.com. Big or unexplained changes in your score could signal to you that something is amiss so that you can take steps to limit the damage.

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