When dead debt comes back to life
With Halloween almost here, we’ve got a question for you — are your zombie-fighting skills up to snuff?
We’re not talking about fighting just any zombie — this time your undead enemy is zombie debt.
Zombie debt is debt you think is dead, gone, and forgotten, but has somehow come back to life. Debt collectors are calling, and your walking dead debt now threatens to wreak havoc on your finances.
Zombie debts might be:
- debts you already settled with a company or other debt collector
- debts that were discharged in bankruptcy
- time-barred debts you may have forgotten or overlooked that are past the statute of limitations
- debts that no longer show up on your credit report, generally after seven years
- debts you never owed, like debts resulting from identity theft
Here are some tips for battling zombie debt when a collector resurrects it:
- Verify it’s a real debt. Before you fight back, make sure you recognize it. It could be a fake debt collector calling. Also get a copy of your free credit report at annualcreditreport.com to see if the debt is listed there. If your zombie debt is a result of identity theft, you’ll find tips and sample letters to help you dispute it at identitytheft.gov.
- Know your rights to protect yourself. Federal law gives you certain rights in dealing with debt collectors. For example, if someone contacts you about a debt you thought was dead, you can ask the collector to send you a written validation notice detailing the amount owed, and the creditor’s name. By law, the debt collector has to send you this notice within five days of contacting you.
- Don’t ignore lawsuits. If a debt collector files a lawsuit against you to collect a zombie debt, respond to the lawsuit, either personally or through your lawyer, by the date specified in the court papers to preserve your rights.
- Don’t accidentally reset the debt clock. If you make, or promise to make, a debt payment on a time-barred debt — a debt too old for a collector to make you pay — the statute of limitations clock may reset, and a debt collector can then sue you for the full debt amount, plus interest and fees.