When to fight mistaken debt collection

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Dear Debt Adviser,
A cable service provider has been trying to collect about $73 from us. We’ve disputed the bill, and the debt collection has been on our credit report for six years and three months. Recently, we received a letter from a new debt collection company trying to collect on this old debt. If they try to collect, will this $73 debt still fall off our credit report like it’s supposed to after seven years? Sincerely,
— C. Burke

Dear C. Burke,
Well, you certainly did stick to your position about fighting that debt. You could have paid the sum, since it was small, and then dispute it. That would have saved your credit report and score a nasty ding.

The good news is that the Fair Credit Reporting Act will cure your credit report. It requires most debts to be cleared from your report seven years after the first date of continuous delinquency. It does not matter how many companies attempt to collect the debt during or after the seven-year period. All accounts associated with the original debt must be removed when the original seven-year reporting period ends.

Should any accounts associated with your $73 disputed cable bill continue to be reported after that period, you can have them removed. You can do this by disputing the item(s) with the credit bureau that is reporting it. Your reason for the dispute would be that the reporting period has ended.

But you’re not out of the woods yet! The time period for reporting a debt on your credit report is very different from the time frame that a debt can be collected using the courts. Each state has its own statute of limitations for collecting debts. You can check your state’s official website.

Your old debt is past the point where it can be collected using the courts for most states. But that doesn’t mean that you still won’t receive love notes from collectors for years to come. As you stated, you were recently contacted regarding the debt. I would certainly keep an eye out for any correspondence that indicates you are being sued for the debt. You must represent your side of the case even if the statute of limitations has expired.

For my readers, I usually recommend paying long-unresolved and small disputed debts while still disputing them. I know that it offends most people’s principles to pay a debt they do not owe, but to me it is often better to do so than to deal with collection attempts for the debt over a period of many years. Life’s too short to spend dancing with collectors and lawyers!

Good luck!

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