June 04, 2011 (Original publish date) • By Dennis Beaver
Last week we began our look into a situation most of us would rather avoid, and that’s getting a call from a bill collector concerning a very old account – so old, in fact, that you have no idea if it was paid, or if it is even your account.
We learned from former bill collector Ed Lewis, author of “Collection Agency Secrets Exposed,” that a knowledgeable consumer “has far more power and influence than most people would ever think possible, and that it is absolutely critical to understand what the collector is hoping for when you answer.
“It’s catching you off-guard, making you feel intimidated or somewhat threatened and then getting your agreement to pay for this bill which, because it is so old, you might not owe and which might not even be your’s in the first place. Knowing what to say, and more importantly, what not to say during all of your contacts with collectors can have enormous impact on your bank account and credit report,” he cautions.
Do they have the right person?
Is it really your bill? You need proof – actual documentation – especially if it is a very old account. The older it is, age of that account becomes critical, as there could easily be statute of limitations issues, making it too old to successfully sue on, even if it is your bill.
“Federal law requires validation of the debt, and this means that the collector must give you copies of all of the documents – bills, receipts and anything you’ve signed – which supports their belief that you owe the money. They have approximately 30 days in which to comply with the law.”
“So, during that first phone call, ask for it and politely tell the collector that if they cannot obtain the information, to delete the entry from your credit report, as law requires,” Lewis strongly recommends.
“Also obtain the collector’s name, the company name, address, fax number, and their in-house reference number for your account. Tell the caller that you will only communicate with them in writing. This will result in the collection agency taking you seriously, because it’s clear you know your rights,” he maintains.
Get a deletion agreement
Let’s assume that within 30 days, you receive that validation, and it is indeed one of your old accounts, completely forgotten about, but you also learn that it is on your credit report. Let us further assume that it isn’t that old, so that you could be sued and there would be no statute of limitations defense available. Your best bet is to arrive at a compromise figure with the collector. But you would also like this off of your credit report. Is that possible?
“Bill collectors just want to collect money and have a contractual duty to their own clients to do so. They also have the ability to request the deletion of an account through a process called a Bulls Eye. This is true even if they tell you that they cannot. Deletion of an entry in a credit report is done through a computer system called e-Oscar, and it takes from 24 hours to 10 days for a credit bureau to update the credit report.
“If you are told that it isn’t their policy to delete accounts, ask to speak with a supervisor. Make it clear that you will pay the agreed-on amount only if the account is removed from the three credit bureaus, and that you want a letter which states this before you pay. This is absolutely critical, because there are collectors who will tell you that, but then do nothing at all, and you have no written proof of their agreement.
“But it is so important for another reason. Without a written settlement or deletion agreement to resolve the matter for less than the full amount claimed owed, real trouble can lie ahead.
“Here’s why: At some point, that account can be sold to a debt-buying company for pennies on the dollar. They could easily be unaware that you settled in full, because the records do not reflect that, and there is no letter from the agency proving it. Then, collection activities begin again.”
A blessing in disguise
“That call from the bill collector can be a blessing in disguise. A tremendous amount of good can come out of what most people would consider to be a negative experience. Just remember that the collector is almost always willing to compromise.”
“So, in most instances, by agreeing to pay some money, your offer will be accepted, the debt goes away, and a bad entry will be taken out of your credit report,” the former bill collector wants the public to understand.
His book can be found at www.collectionagencysecrets.com.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.