Who do I owe and how much do I owe them?
January 6, 2009 8:18 AM   Subscribe

Is there an easy and preferably free way of finding out if I owe anyone money (and how much)?

College was one big money issue for me. I never had enough money, I never saved money, I had horrible spending habits, and I never paid my bills on time (or sometimes at all).
Fast forward some years later and my money handling has become somewhat better and I work a decently paying full time job.

I'd like to work on improving my credit and pay off any debt. I believe that I owe people money but I don't know who or how much.
I remember one year I was suckered into purchasing a local newspaper subscription. I started getting the newspaper and the bill but I never paid it and finally the paper stopped coming. To my knowledge I never received a collection letter... do I still owe them money?
I stopped paying an electric bill at one apartment and a month or so later the electricity was turned off... but it was only 3 days before I moved out and my lease ended so I let it be... do I still owe them money?
I purchased health insurance through a well known company (I'll call them Acme). I stopped paying the insurance 3 months before starting my current job. Insurance from the Acme was offered through my job which I signed up for. I received 2 more bills from Acme which I never paid and haven't heard from them since... do I still owe them money?

These are only 3 examples... I've left a long trail of unpaid bills in my past (I don't even remember some) and now I don't know where I stand. Is there a really simple way to see which of them are still waiting for payment and/or are currently affecting my credit?
posted by simplethings to Work & Money (4 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You can order a free copy of your credit report at annualcreditreport.com and it will show all negative items creditors have placed on the report. Note that if the debts are old enough (more than 7 years, I think) it may be better for your credit if you just ignore them than if you pay them.
posted by phoenixy at 8:25 AM on January 6, 2009

Just because something doesn't impact your credit score with the credit bureaus doesn't mean that you don't still owe someone their due. You can send anonymous money orders if you would like to make good on old debts.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:30 AM on January 6, 2009

Once you further establish yourself those old debts will come back to haunt you. Creditors may eventually get a hold of your phone numbers and address and start mailing and calling.

Basically old debts (especially the piddly ones) are sold off to creditors for pennies on the dollar who then try to scare you into paying up, sometimes five and ten years after the fact.

Get your credit report and go through it with an eye toward contestable reports. Google around (and even look at past AskMes) as there is much information out there about contesting these things.

Find out what the terms are for the debts involved, and particularly look up everything you can find about when debts "drop-off" (I think it is about seven years or so for some.) The thing is, even if you pay up, there is no guarantee that the debtor will have the record reported as paid on your credit report, this is doubly so if the debt has been resold. So it's in your interest to contest everything.

For a while I was getting these weird little collection agency mailings asking for $140, but offering to settle now for $80 from some book club which I don't even remember joining. After about four of these showed up, I wrote them back basically saying, "I don't know what this debt is from, please provide supporting materials showing that I actually owe this." It's been a few years and I haven't heard from them since.
posted by wfrgms at 9:20 AM on January 6, 2009

Seconding obtaining a copy of your credit report. I recommend a book called "Solve Your Money Troubles: Get Debt Collectors Off Your Back & Regain Financial Freedom". An older version of this book saved my sanity after a nasty divorce years ago. I also highly recommend Mary Hunt's book "Debt Proof Living" to help you create a plan to pay off your debt and live debt-free. The peace of mind it gives you is priceless. Kudos to you for being willing to take responsibility for your old debts -- You'll never regret it!
posted by northernlightgardener at 9:43 AM on January 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

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