Dear Debt Adviser: Twelve years ago, my daughter was offered numerous credit cards, even though she was only an 18-year-old student. Her story is the familiar one of too much credit and no way to pay it all back. ... She has at least one account that was delinquent and closed more than 10 years ago. She has started getting calls from a collection agency asking for payment. In an earlier article, you indicated these debts should no longer be on the credit report. However, are collection agencies still allowed to pursue payment?
Thank you for your help. — Marlene and Melissa
Dear Marlene and Melissa: Can the collectors still ask for payment on an old debt? Well, if they didn’t ask, they would never get anything. This is the motto of many collection agencies.
First, I would encourage your daughter to get free copies of her credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com. She should check whether any of her old debts are being reported in error. The rule is negative accounts must be removed seven years from the first date of continuous delinquency. Any accounts that fit that criterion should not appear on her reports. If any accounts more than seven years delinquent are reported, she should dispute the item with the credit bureau reporting it. She can dispute items online at the credit bureau websites Equifax.com, Experian.com or TransUnion.com.
A valid debt is collectible until it is paid, but the steps a collector may use to collect the debt change over time. For example, a collector cannot use the courts to collect a debt if the statute of limitations has expired. The statute of limitations for collecting a debt differs by state. You can find your state’s laws by visiting CreditInfoCenter.com.
In general, this second debt-related clock starts ticking from the last payment date for the debt — any payment restarts the statute of limitations countdown. Whether the accounts are still legally collectible in the courts depends on when your daughter last made payments. If the debt is beyond the statute’s dates, I suggest she notify the collector in writing that the debt is past the state statute and uncollectible. Be sure to keep a copy and send it certified mail with a return receipt. This should keep the debt from being resold or pursued in court.
Steve Bucci is the author of “Credit Management Kit for Dummies.” E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.