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TheStreet Open House

Debt Collectors Killing Your Credit?

If you are hearing from more than one collector for the same account, it can be a challenge to figure out who you should be paying. "It can be a real mess and I feel for consumers who have this issue," says Neeb. Explain to both collection agencies what is going on and ask them to help verify which one is valid. "Any collection agency that is worth its salt will help a consumer even if it's not our fault," he asserts.

Step 2: Decide What to Pay

Collection accounts can be divided into four buckets, Neeb explains:

  • Ones you know you owe, and the amount is correct.
  • Accounts you don't remember and aren't sure you owe.
  • Debts that may have changed hands.
  • Those in which you don't agree with the existence of the debt in the first place.

The first group -- debts you know you owe and the amount is correct -- are "low-hanging fruit," he says. Bovee agrees, adding, "If you are paying off a debt in full, there is not much to it. The collector will be happy to hear from you."

Deciding how to handle the others may be trickier.

If you dig up a debt you don't recognize, request written verification of the debt from the collection agency. The FTC points out, "Every collector must send you a written 'validation notice' telling you how much money you owe within five days after they first contact you. This notice also must include the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money, and how to proceed if you don't think you owe the money."

If they already sent this to you when they first tried to collect the debt, they aren't obligated to send it again, "but every collection agency I know will," Neeb insists.

If there was a legitimate dispute about the debt in the first place (for example, you were billed for a service you canceled per the terms of the contract, or for merchandise you returned), you can notify the collection agency that you don't believe you owe the debt and ask them not to contact you again. If you have proof of why you believe the debt was wrong, you can also ask them to stop reporting it to the credit reporting agencies. Include documentation of your side of the story if you have it.

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