In the spirit of Halloween, we want to warn you about zombie debt. As the name suggests, zombie debt is a debt that you thought was dead but has come back to life. This could be a debt you already paid off, a debt you settled with a creditor, a debt where the statute of limitations has expired, a debt that was wiped out in bankruptcy, or a debt that was never yours to begin with.
Zombie debts are old debts. That in itself is what makes them so dangerous to consumers, especially when debt collectors apply high-pressure tactics to have you pay up.
Another downside, these debts are oftentimes hard to verify. As debts are sold and resold, information can vanish, leading collectors to seek payment on erroneous debt. Making even a single payment on an old debt can reset the statute of limitations, leaving you vulnerable to a lawsuit.
Debt collection is the largest source of consumer complaints to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, with more than 85,000 complaints filed in 2015. The leading complaint: Consumers being harassed for debts they did not owe.
Here are some steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim and put zombie debt to rest for good:
- Request a validation letter. This will outline details, including the original creditor, the amount of the debt and how you can challenge it. This will help you verify that it is your debt and has not already been paid.
- If you already paid the debt: Write a letter to the collections agency demanding that it cease contact. The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act requires them to do so. Remember: You cannot legally be sued for a debt that is past the statute of limitations, even though collectors may still try.
- Pull your credit report to determine whether it is being reported to the credit bureau. You can do so for free at www.annualcreditreport.com.
- Know your rights. Do not let a debt collector bully you. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act protects you against abusive collection tactics.
- If the debt is not yours, it is otherwise invalid: Write a letter challenging the debt within 30 days of the initial contact.
- If you do owe the debt and can pay, resolving an unpaid account can end the collection calls and improve your credit score. Get any payment agreement in writing before sending money.
- If you do owe the debt and cannot pay: Tell the creditor you cannot afford to pay. Never give your credit card information or bank account information to a creditor. Instead, pursue debt relief through credit counseling or bankruptcy.
No matter what, be proactive. Do not ignore anything you receive in the mail from a debt collector and make sure and keep all of your correspondence in writing.
At the law firm of Kingcade & Garcia we want you to have a safe and Happy Halloween this year! If you have any questions on this topic or are in financial crisis and considering filing for bankruptcy, contact an experienced Miami bankruptcy attorney who can advise you of all of your options. As an experienced CPA as well as a proven bankruptcy lawyer, Timothy Kingcade knows how to help clients take full advantage of the bankruptcy laws to protect their assets and get successful results. Since 1996 Kingcade & Garcia, P.A. has been helping people from all walks of life build a better tomorrow. Our attorneys’ help thousands of people every year take advantage of their rights under bankruptcy protection to restart, rebuild and recover. The day you hire our firm, we will contact your creditors to stop the harassment. You can also find useful consumer information on the Kingcade & Garcia website at www.miamibankruptcy.com.