It may not chase you through a foggy forest or creep up the stairs to your bedroom, but zombie debt can be just as scary. But what exactly is zombie debt?
Zombie debts are old debts that someone is trying to collect on but have fallen off your credit report. These debts are usually three years old or older. Unlike what happens if you don’t pay a loan back, this kind of creepy debt is not something that has affected your credit—until now!
If debt is haunting you, we’re glad you stopped by this blog! We’ve got some tips, tactics to help you out, so read on … if you DARE! (insert ghoulish laugh and lightning crash here)
How Zombie Debt Works
You can feel the cold, annoying hand of zombie debt in many ways. Here are a few of them:
Zombie debt can be something that both you and your creditor forgot about, and now some audits of their books have discovered that you need to settle up with them.
Except for student loan debt, most pieces of debt have a statute of limitations. After a certain number of months or years, no collections agency can sue you or attempt to collect the debt. The statute of limitations on any debt depends on the state in which it was originated, but the average time frame is 3-6 years.
It’s Someone Else’s Debt
It can be hard to believe, but even in our high-tech age, huge mistakes can happen. It is common for a debt collection agency to go after the wrong person. If two people share a name or lived at the same address, their information can be merged during a bad data transfer made by third-party debt collectors.
It’s also possible that the issue with your zombie debt could be much more severe. You could be a victim of identity theft—a financially devastating crime where someone else uses your personal information to make fraudulent purchases in your name.
If you discover that you have been a victim of identity theft, make your bank and creditors aware as soon as possible. Additionally, you need to file a report with the Federal Trade Commission to help stop the identity theft from doing any further damage to your credit.
Debt and Your Credit Report
The way that you manage and pay down the debt you owe is recorded on your credit report. credit reports calculate activity like payment history and credit utilization into a credit score. Since your credit score is a picture of your financial health, you want to protect it. Learning how to correct errors on your credit report like zombie debt is how it’s done.
If an old debt reappears and attaches to your credit report, it could decrease your credit score. A bad credit score might even ruin your job search, so you want to keep it as strong as you can.
What is a Debt Collector
A debt collector is a person hired to pursue you for the money they believe you owe. Debt collectors work with people to pay or settle their past-due debts and delinquent accounts.
Debt collectors can work directly for your original creditor, or be employed by a third-party debt collection agency. Some creditors also use law firms that specialize in debt collection. Typically, debt collectors are paid a portion—anywhere up to 50%—of the money they collect.
How to Deal with Zombie Debt Collectors
Zombie debt can come in the form of old bills, settled debts, and other accounts that you may have thought were a thing of the past. Here are some things to remember when dealing with getting this debt off your back:
Never Admit the Debt is Yours
Getting a call from any debt collector doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to pay—or actually even owe—the debt in question.
There are debt collectors that will try to collect debt that has not only passed its statute of limitations, but may not even be yours. The second you claim responsibility, you can be on the hook for thousands, so never claim a debt over the phone.
Make Time to Talk. Or Don’t.
Once zombie debt rises from the financial depths, it won’t stop looking for you. It will be much easier for you to pick up those phone calls and get started with fighting the zombie debt off. When you hop on the phone call, remember to do nothing but verify any contact information they have for you and the debt amount. If you don’t want to talk at all, tell them that they can send you documented information (see below) and disconnect the call. Even though they’re trying to collect, you’re in charge.
When you talk to a zombie debt collector, you will want to document the call and take detailed notes. Record the date and time of the call, the amount you allegedly owe, and the name of the creditor making the claim. Zombie debt collectors are like the real thing—they can get menacing. Be sure to take note of any threats of action.
Get Everything in Writing
Arguing your case with a debt collector isn’t going to get you very far. You need the best weapon to fight off a monster like your zombie debt: good old-fashioned paperwork!
Instead of claiming or denying any responsibility, request a debt validation letter from the debt collector that shows proof of your connection to the debt.
Any reputable debt collector will have no problem sending you a validation letter. But, if you think you are part of a scam, contact the Federal Trade Commission and file a report.
Know Your Rights
Debt collectors can be aggressive and intimidating. Debt collection agents are trained to be assertive, but many can be downright bullies. Fortunately, there are protections out there for consumers:
Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
Debt collectors working for agencies must follow the regulations outlined in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. This is a federal law that details how third-party debt collectors attempt to collect debts.
This law also sets a couple of standards. It limits the number of times you can be contacted in a day. Additionally, it gives you the right to be contacted by debt collection agencies through your preferred method of communication.
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Created in 2010, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is a federal government agency that sets the rules on how finance companies sell their financial products and services. The CFPB also provides education and resources to deal with abusive financial practices—like harassment from a debt collector.
Recently, the CFPB enacted a rule that requires zombie debt collectors to tell consumers that they can’t take you to court. The rule also requires debt collectors to inform you that if you pay the debt with them, you could face legal action.
This rule is a perfect example of the type of advocacy the CFPB looks to regularly provide. However, there are consumer advocates who continue to push the CFPB to outlaw collecting any time-barred old debt that has passed its statute of limitations.
When dealing with debt that appears out of nowhere, it may be easy not to take it too seriously. Many people tend to ignore the calls of debt collectors, and especially those that call with zombie debts.
If it turns out that you owe the debt in question, take care of it quickly. There are loans available to help consolidate and pay off debt. There are even installment loans for people with bad credit that can help people kill debt and rebuild credit.
If you don’t owe the debt, you need to face it. Be sure to get the information you need to prove that the debt isn’t valid. The sooner you get the fight started, the quicker you can deliver a head shot to that zombie debt.