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Do I have to pay this debt?
August 29, 2012 8:31 PM   Subscribe

Do I have to pay this debt? It's a seven year-old health bill in the state of Wisconsin that I don't remember incurring.

I recently received notice that an unpaid health bill I incurred seven years ago was referred to a county collection agency (Waukesha county in Wisconsin, if it's relevant). I've been receiving bills from the county health department for a fair period of time, though because I've never been able to figure out what the charges were for, I (probably stupidly) just ignored them and threw them away.

Now, since they've put the bill on an official letterhead and stuck some threatening language in there, it's making me feel even dumber for ignoring it. Out of desperation (and probably further stupidity), I googled the statute of limitations in Wisconsin, and it looks like it's six years. I sent a letter disputing the debt and asking for an itemized list of the charges...which pretty much tells me that it's a health bill and doesn't really jog my memory. Can I use that to get out of this, or not so much since they've sent me bills before?

I realize that it's probably a terrible thing to try and get out of paying a debt, and if I could actually remember incurring the charges (and if it wasn't $650.00 I don't really have) I probably wouldn't bother trying to.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
I don't think the Statute of Limitations has anything to do with this.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:34 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


The limitation period for an action in debt absolutely has something to do with this.

However, you can't go getting legal advice off random people on the internet, I'm afraid. The most anyone not qualified to practice in the jurisdiction can tell you is that you're correct as to what the limitation period appears to be. What no-one without proper training should even try to tell you is the date the cause of action arose. Without properly identifying that date, you really can't be sure of being in the clear.

You have a letter ostensibly threatening you with legal action. You are not sure whether you incurred the debt (and collection agencies do make mistakes, I can promise you) and you don't have the legal knowledge to know whether the debt is enforceable even if you did incur it and it can be proved that you did. You need advice from a lawyer as to whether the threat you have received is credible. You're already kicking yourself about leaving it too long to do the sensible thing, so do the sensible thing now. Do a bit of research on how to get cheap, qualified advice and see if you can save yourself some worry and some money.
posted by howfar at 8:51 PM on August 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, I just had a look at the Wisconsin legislation you're talking about and it looks like the limitation period for a judgment debt is 20 years. If there has been some form of default judgment (in your absence) against you in relation to this debt, this may be the period you are dealing with - but I don't know. Another reason to get a lawyer to look at all the paperwork you can show them.
posted by howfar at 8:58 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Get a copy of your credit report and see if it is on there. If it is, there should be some detail there. If it isn't yours, absolutely don't pay it. Dispute it. If you think it's yours but you can't remember exactly what it is for, then still get your credit report, figure out when and where it came from, and see if you can work something out with the original place it came from.
posted by cashman at 9:01 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


If the amount is a non-negligible amount, you should talk to a lawyer about this before proceeding further. Keep in mind that there may be interplay between your state law and federal laws on debt collection. Which is why you want a lawyer.
posted by Happydaz at 9:51 PM on August 29, 2012


Send them a certified letter saying that you don't remember incurring this debt and that they'll need to present you with some proof that the debt actually belongs to you. I had an agency recently claim that I owed $5k for something - I sent them a letter to the effect of "no I don't, give me proof" and a copy of that letter to the agency they claimed as the originator of the debt. That was like a month ago, haven't heard from either of them since.

In the future, don't let this stuff sit. =)
posted by kavasa at 9:59 PM on August 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, $650 is in the range of amounts absolutely meant for small claims court, if you have to take it that far. If they can not present proof that the money is owed, then it's not owed.
posted by kavasa at 10:00 PM on August 29, 2012


Send them a letter asking for proof of the debt!

Make sure it is certified and return receipt.

Google fighting bills that are not yours - wrong billing occurs and you have recourse. Follow best practices. Do not admit the debt is yours, since it likely is not. Do not speak to these folks over the phone in the meantime.

Yes. Check your credit report.

Get a lawyer if "best practices" via the internet does not solve this.


I saw your question much earlier today. I can't believe no one else laid this procedure out for your sooner. Requesting "proof of debt" via writing is always the first step.
posted by jbenben at 12:06 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, if you determine that it is your debt and make a single payment, that can trigger a new statute of limitations (i.e., starts it all over again), so yes, see about a lawyer (as I am not one), even if it's a legal clinic in your area. Cheaper to pay for an hour of a legal beagle's time than dealing with taking time off from work to go to court, getting your wages garnished, etc. Sometimes a letter from an attorney will be enough to get them off your back (if it's not your debt or the statute has run its course, for instance).
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:39 AM on August 30, 2012


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