Has a collection agency contacted you claiming you owe a bill you do not remember incurring and that does not appear on your credit report? Many unpaid bills will not appear on your credit report until after they have been turned over to a collection agency and some will never find their way onto your report.
When an Unpaid Bill Will Appear On Your Credit Report
When an unpaid bill appears on your credit report is basically up to the creditor to whom you owe the debt or any collection agency the original creditor hires to collect on the unpaid balance. Many creditors never report unpaid accounts to the credit reporting bureaus. Creditors unlikely to report anything at all on your credit report include:
- Local utility companies
- Insurance companies
- Small local businesses and trades people, such as plumbers, electricians, and accountants
- Credit Unions and small financial institutions
Other creditors may begin reporting an account as delinquent as early as 30 days after payment in full has not been made, may wait until the account is seriously past due to report anything, or may never report the account delinquency to the credit reporting agencies at all. Debt collectors, on the other hand, may begin reporting a past due account to your credit report as soon as they are hired to collect on the account or may attempt to collect on the debt for any number of days or months before reporting information about the account. Reporting information to the credit bureaus is completely voluntary and no creditor or debt collector is required to report anything at all. However, a debt collection agency is very likely to report a past due account on your credit report, as they use this as a way of getting you to pay the bill.
How to Determine if You Owe a Bill a Debt Collector Says You Do
Checking your credit report to see if the past due bill appears on it is not a good way to determine if you owe a bill, as it may simply have never been reported to the credit reporting agencies. In order to determine if you owe a bill that a debt collector says you do, you should:
- Ask the collection agency to send you debt validation information. This information should include the name of the original creditor, the amount of the debt, and legal notices about disputing the debt. Once you receive the information, you have 30 days to dispute the debt and request the name and address of the original creditor.
- Send the collection agency a simple letter saying that you dispute the debt and are requesting the name and address of the original creditor. Be sure to do this within the 30 days. The agency must then provide you with verification of the debt, such as a written contract or judgment, and the name and address of the original creditor.
- Contact the original creditor and ask what the debt is for, when it was incurred, and to verify your name, address, date of birth, or any other information they may have to help you determine if the account belongs to you and if it is in fact past due.
What to do if You Do Not Owe a Bill a Collection Agency Says You Do
If you determine that you do not in fact owe the bill that the collection agency says you owe, what you should do next depends on why you do not owe the bill.
You Paid the Original Creditor and Should Not Have Been Turned Into Collections
If you already paid the original creditor and the bill should not have been turned over to a collection agency, you will need to prove to the collection agency that the debt has been paid. The easiest way to do this is to contact the original creditor and get them to agree that the bill was paid and to notify the debt collector that they should stop collection attempts against you. In order to do this, you may need to provide proof of payment, such as cancelled checks, bank or credit card statements, and/or copies of bills the creditor previously sent you showing the balance as paid. If the creditor does not agree that the bill has been paid and allows the collection agency to continue collection attempts, you can try to submit evidence of payment to the agency, although as long as the original creditor claims you owe the bill, a debt collector is unlikely to stop trying to collect on it.
The Bill Belongs to Someone Else
If you are not the person who incurred the charges that the collection agency is attempting to collect, you should explain this to the agency and then cooperate with them by completing any forms they request or providing any information you can in order to prove that you are not the person who owes the bill. If the debt is a result of identity theft, you may also want to see What To Do If You Are The Victim of Identity Theft.
Your Health Insurance Company Should Have Paid the Bill
When a debt collection agency is attempting to collect on a medical bill that your health insurance company should have paid, it will do you no good to argue with the agency or even explain to them that your insurance should have paid the bill. Debt collectors are hired by original creditors to collect whatever amount the creditor claims is owed and have no authority to contact an insurance company about payment of a bill. Therefore, you will need to work out payment of the account with your healthcare provider and insurance company and then ask the provider to inform the collection agency that the bill has been paid and collection attempts should stop.
I Do Not Owe a Bill, But the Collection Attempts Will Not Stop!
If you have determined that you do not owe a bill that a debt collector is attempting to collect and have done everything you can to prove to the original creditor and the debt collector that you do not owe the bill, but it isn't working, you can try filing a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB is a federal government agency created to help protect consumers from unfair and abusive practices of financial institutions such as banks, credit card companies, and debt collection agencies. The CFPB will forward your complaint to the collection agency and ask for a response. This may convince the debt collector to investigate your claim more thoroughly and close the account as paid or not owed. You can file a complaint online by visiting the CFPB's File a Complaint web page.
If filing a complaint with the CFPB does not resolve your issue with the debt collector, you may need to consult a consumer attorney to help you stop the harassment and possibly even get you money from the collection agency. If you live in California and are being harassed or abused by a creditor or debt collector please contact our office at 1-800-219-3577, for a free, no obligation consultation.