If collectors call on a very old debt, know your rights and assert them
Start by making them prove the debt is yours
By Tanisha Warner
Tanisha Warner is the communications manager for Money Management International, where she manages educational content designed to teach consumers about personal finance topics. She writes "Credit Care," a weekly reader Q&A about debt issues, for CreditCards.com.
Ask a question
'Credit Care' archives
Dear Credit Care,
Due to health
problems (heart attack), I was forced to file bankruptcy. It is 12 years later
and some creditors are starting to hound me for payments saying they weren't
covered by the court action. My only income is Social Security Supplemental
Security Income at this time. What should I do? -- Jack
A good rule of
thumb when contacted by anyone who says you owe them for a debt is to request
verification in writing that the debt is valid and owed by you. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act states that, to validate a debt, a
collector or creditor must provide you with:
- The amount of the debt.
- The name of the creditor.
- A statement that you have 30 days to dispute the
debt in writing.
- A statement that if the debt is disputed in
writing by you that the collector must obtain verification of the debt and
mail it to you.
- A statement that you can request in writing the
name and address of the original creditor.
I would recommend
that you ask anyone who calls you on the phone in an attempt to collect a debt
for the address to write and dispute the debt. If the collector refuses to
provide you with an address, keep records of the company name and the person's
name who called. For debts 12 years old, it is unlikely that the collector will
be able to provide you with verification of the debt.
Nearly all debts 12
years old will be long past the statute of limitation for
collecting a debt. Exceptions would be child support, federal and state income
taxes and federal student loans. So unless you are being contacted regarding
one of these debts that are excluded from the statute of limitations, you might
also consider telling any collector who calls that the debt is past the
statute of limitations to collect using the courts and you do not intend to pay
Lastly, if you decide
you don't mind the collector having the information, you might also consider
letting them know that your sole source of income is SSI, which is exempt from
garnishment (except for debts owed to the federal government).
Do be sure to open
all your mail. Some collectors may take the chance that you will ignore a
notice to appear or provide documentation to the court when summoned. You must
provide the statute of limitations as your defense should you be sued by a
collector; the court will not automatically do it for you. Even though your
current income is exempt from garnishment, you don't want a judgment against you
on your credit report, and that could be the result if you don't defend yourself
with collectors is causing you stress, you also have the option of not
answering your phone unless you know who is calling. If you don't have caller
ID on the phone that you use most often, you might consider investing in an
answering machine where you could screen your calls.
credit with care!
See related: 11 tips for dealing with debt collection, collectors, Debt collection sample letters
Tanisha Warner is the communications manager for Money Management International, the largest nonprofit, full-service credit counseling agency in the United States. She manages educational content designed to teach consumers about personal finance topics. You can find more money management advice on Blogging for Change and MMI's Facebook page.
Credit Care answers a question about a debt or credit issue from a CreditCards.com reader each week.
Send your question to Credit Care.
Published: April 23, 2012