How to get something off your credit report?
August 27, 2005 4:28 AM   Subscribe

Credit Agency/Debt Collection Filter. I just received my free credit report and found that a cable company has turned me over to a collection agency.

I checked my credit reports about 18 mo. ago, and it was clean. Last night I was able to get my annual free credit report. I had a collection, and it took me by complete surprise!

The entry is for a $99 cable bill and the "Date of 1st. Delinquency" is 05/2000 with a "Balance Date" of 04/2004. It has a "Status" of Unpaid. I travel doing contract labor, but have had the same "home" address for about 8 yrs. I have never received a bill for this amount.

I have a couple questions.

1. How do I prove they never sent me a bill? In four years you would think I would have received something via mail or phone.

2. Do I contact the cable company, Equifax or the collection agency? Once I contact one of the above, what do I say?

3. If I am presented a bill and I pay it, will it be taken off, or will it always be there?

4. My Quicken does not go back that far (or any of my records). What do I do now?

I don't know how hard they tried to get the bill to me. I'm not hard to find, and someone is always at my permanent address to receive my mail. (In fact, my address is public knowledge if you know where to look on-line).

How do I get this taken care of and off my credit report? I'm trying to get my ducks in a row to buy a house.

Thanks for all suggestins/advice in advance. If this post seems fragmented, I'm a bit frazzled.
posted by 6:1 to Work & Money (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Additional note--Experian doesn't have the collection on, at least not at this point. I had problems logging onto Trans Union to see if it was on theirs, but am working on getting into their system. I have filled out the on-line dispute form on Equifaxes site.
posted by 6:1 at 4:32 AM on August 27, 2005

Just dispute it on their site. The burden of proof isn't on you, it's on your cable company. If they don't respond in a timely fashion (most creditors don't), it'll be removed automatically. You don't even have to talk to anyone, just go to Experian's site (and the other two, if the bad mark is on their reports) and file a dispute. It's fairly quick and painless.
posted by Merdryn at 5:22 AM on August 27, 2005

Ah, read your follow up. You're done, since you disputed it. That's all you need to do. I'll lay odds that the bad mark is gone in six weeks.
posted by Merdryn at 5:22 AM on August 27, 2005

If the debt is already five years old, I recommend the same thing -- challenge the debt. If the cable company has no record of it, and they may not, the credit reporting agency will remove the record from your account, whether you actually owe the money or not. The cable company will have to call off their collection agency on your behalf. I advise you not to call the collection agency, but ensure the cable company does so, or this might pop up again.

Sometimes, and this will seem completely counterintuitive to most people, paying a debt like this hurts your report more than leaving it alone. Paying it acknowledges it, "refreshes" it, and it remains on your report another five to seven years as a delinquent account brought current instead of a collection, which is barely better.

Not receiving a bill is not a legitimate defense for not paying for subscribed services, so I wouldn't bother trying to prove one hadn't been sent. Most companies label your bill as a "statement of account" rather than an "invoice" or "bill" for this reason, and service terms will make it clear that its presence or absence has no effect on whether you owe for the service.

If this is your only unaligned duck, it shouldn't make much of a difference to your house-buying.
posted by Sallyfur at 5:38 AM on August 27, 2005

Response by poster: I just called Cox Cable. I was in one city for three months, and I had their service. I moved 20 mi. away and had their service for an additional few months. They had the second address, but never contacted me at that address, (even though I had an active account with them). Of course, they say they attempted, yadda yadda yadda. I agree that paying it may make it worse. They state they turned it over to the credit agency in 2000, but the report makes it look like it was turned over in 04/2004 (if I am reading this correctly). I am having my bank search their records to see if I had written a check for that particular amount in this time frame.

So, they have record of it.
posted by 6:1 at 5:51 AM on August 27, 2005

Best answer: Five years old? Do not have any more contact with the creditor or collection agency until you've read up on the applicable statute of limitations. At this point, depending on what state's laws govern the debt, it may well be "uncollectable" (i.e. they can't force you to pay). Whereas what you say or do can potentially reopen your liability.

The negative should disappear from your report in two years, and anyway that "last activity date" is something to specifically dispute (old debts hurt your score less than new debts) besides objecting to the listing generally.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 10:27 AM on August 27, 2005

Response by poster: NCM--Thank you. I will wait and see what Equifax has to say about it and challenge it that way. (I am in Florida, BTW).

Sallyfur--also, thank you.

This took me all by surprise, and it's been stressing. I appreciate the two of you taking the time to answer. :-)
posted by 6:1 at 10:56 AM on August 27, 2005

Response by poster: Merdryn--thank you, also.
posted by 6:1 at 11:30 AM on August 27, 2005

The art of credit forums are essential reading, especially this thread.
posted by evariste at 9:47 PM on August 27, 2005

The same thing happenned to me! After I attempted to deal with the cable company and their inability to find a record of what I was talking about, I was told that another closed account also had charges on it! So after getting that taken care of, I kept calling back every month or so to make sure there weren't any more charges. Eventually it stopped. But WTF?

So yea, I reported it to Equifax and it disappeared immediately. Don't deal with the cable company unless you want to make sure there aren't any other charges waiting to go to the collector.
posted by scazza at 6:34 AM on August 28, 2005

Late to the game so I dunno if anyone will see this but it's important - depending on where you are, you need to be very cautious in your contacts with this collector. Folks in the Pacific North unfortunately have had their rights to challenge and demand verification by the 9th Circ Courts - you have got to request information in the first 30 days after initial contact or you aren't entitled to it at all.

Someone above mentioned Art of Credit, you'll find information there on requesting validation and how you can protect yourself against unscrupulous collectors.

You also want to make sure you don't pay that bill without promise of deletion. One of the ugly catch-22s of the credit biz is that information lives on your credit report for 7 years from last activity. So that 5 year old entry will fall off your report in 2 years if you do nothing. If you pay it today and they update it'll be around for 7 more years. And for purposes of credit scoring you're better off with a 5 year old unpaid collection than a new paid one. Unfair but true. Don't play along. Law requires all reporting to be accurate but it doesn't require reporting - any claims by a collector that they can't delete are a bald-faced lie.
posted by phearlez at 8:49 AM on August 29, 2005

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