Haunted by Zombie Debt You Don’t Even Owe? Here’s How to Get Rid of It

Brains. Braaaaaains.

Sorry, just channeling my inner zombie. But if you’re in the
mood to chop off something at the head, forget the fictional
walkers and consider taking a whack at zombie debt.

Zombie debt is way less fun than it sounds but potentially
scarier than the undead. It’s the debt — maybe a medical bill
or store credit card you never paid — that’s so old you can’t
be sued to pay it. But debt collectors buy up the debt and then try
to trick or convince you to make a payment on it, which restarts
the clock on the debt, allowing them to start hounding you
again.

In the United States, 71 million adults — or about 31.6% —
had debt in collections reported on their credit score in 2017,
according to an
Urban Institute study
. Even at pennies on the dollar, that’s
a lot of potential money for zombie debt collectors — aka debt
scavengers — to scare out of unsuspecting victims.

And it’s not just that zombie debt is annoying. Negative
items, like unpaid debts, must be removed from your credit report
after seven years, according to the
Fair Credit Reporting Act
. If your debt is resurrected, it
could be reported to the credit bureaus again and wreck your credit
score.

So use that ol’ noggin of yours to stop debt collectors in
their tracks with these strategies to fight zombie debt — no
machetes required.

 

How Zombie Debt Is Born

Debt begins its life when you don’t pay your bill — it
doesn’t matter if it’s because you can’t or won’t. 

After a debt is 180 days past due, it enters collections —
meaning the original creditor can sell your debt to a collections
agency to recover at least some payment for the bill. The agency
will in turn contact you (often repeatedly) to collect as much of
the debt as they can.

But debt is rarely sold once, paid off and buried. One
collection agency might sell your debt to another and then the next
agency will resell it. That can take awhile. 

Zombie debt isn’t necessarily old debt — it could be one
that you’ve already settled, one that was wiped out in a
bankruptcy or one that was misidentified and belongs to someone
else.

Depending on your state and type of debt, after three to six
years without any payments or activity, a debt is considered past
the statute of limitations, meaning you can’t be sued for it. But
collectors may pay bargain-basement prices for debt that they know
is old in the hopes of recovering even a small portion of the
money.

Even if the debt is past the statute of limitations, collectors
can still contact you, and if the collection agency can get you to
make just a small payment, they can restart the clock on your
debt. 

And thus zombie debt is born. 

How to Fend Off Zombie Debt Collectors in 3 Steps

If a debt collection agency starts calling you about a bill you
don’t recognize, it’s important to develop a clear plan of
attack to avoid paying money you don’t owe. Don’t be a victim:
Here’s how to fight back.

1. Demand a Debt Validation Letter

As unpleasant as it might be, answering a debt collector’s
call is the first step to getting zombie debt off your back. 

Yes, it can be overwhelming and scary, but this is your chance
to take control of the situation. Rather than letting it harass and
intimidate you, demand that the collection agency send you a

debt validation letter
.

Pro Tip

If you do still owe on the debt and you want to pay it off, ask
for a secure website where you can make your payment and keep the
receipt as proof — just in case the debt is zombified later.

A debt validation letter is a legal document outlined in the

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
(FDCPA), a 1977 federal law
that provides consumers with legal protection from abusive debt
collection practices. Third-party debt collectors are required by
law to send the letter to you upon request. They must include how
much you owe, who you owe it to and what options you have for
taking action. 

Read the letter carefully for mistakes. By having the
information in writing, you can begin your attack.

2. Send a Debt Verification Letter

They sound similar, but here’s the difference between debt
validation and debt verification letters: A debt collector sends a
validation letter saying what you owe, while you send a
verification letter saying why you don’t.

By law, you have 30 days after receiving a debt validation
letter from a collector to respond.

The key here is to address specifically what was in the debt
validation letter — this isn’t the time to overshare financial
info or try to explain your situation. If you’re not sure where
to start, we have a
debt verification letter template
you can add to your
zombie-fighting arsenal.

After you send the letter, the collection agency must cease
collection activity until they mail you a verification of the debt
information or a copy of a court judgment. You’ll then have the
option to fight the case in court or set up a payment
arrangement. 

If you don’t get a response, there’s a good chance the debt
collector was a scam artist. 

But hold onto all your records in case another agency buys up
the zombie debt and tries to pursue you again.

FROM THE DEBT FORUM

3. Fight Back: Know Your Rights

If you’ve done your due diligence to prove you’re not
responsible for a debt, but the collections agency continues to
hound you, it’s time to escalate the battle with the undead.

Here’s what to do and who to contact if you’re the victim of

unfair debt collection practices
:

  1. Submit a complaint with the U.S. Consumer
    Financial Protection Bureau
    .
  2. File a complaint with your state consumer protection agency
    through the state attorney
    general
    .
  3. Register a complaint with the
    Better Business Bureau
    .
  4. File a civil suit — you can find a lawyer in the National
    Association of Consumer Advocates directory
    .

If you do indeed still owe the debt and cannot pay the amount
owed, reach out to the collection agency to ask about a repayment
plan. By
dealing with the debt collector
directly, you could negotiate a
lower amount since the agency didn’t pay the full amount for your
debt anyways. 

If the collection agency isn’t willing to deal or makes an
offer that’s still beyond your means, consider reaching out to

credit counselor
— check out the Financial Counseling
Organization of America or the National Foundation for Credit
Counseling (NFCC) for their directories of member
organizations. 

With some diligence, hard work and meticulous record keeping,
you can bury that debt once and for all.

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer/editor at The Penny
Hoarder. Read

her bio and other work here
, then catch her on
Twitter @TiffanyWendeln.

This was originally published on
The Penny Hoarder
, which helps millions of readers worldwide
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Source: FS – All-News2-Economy
Haunted by Zombie Debt You Don’t Even Owe? Here’s How to Get Rid of It