Should I pay off this old bill?
March 21, 2014 8:40 AM   Subscribe

I have an unpaid bill from three years ago for about $200 that no one's trying to collect anymore. Doesn't seem to have shown up on my credit rating / reports. Is there any upside to paying it now? Is there any potential downside?

(to clarify, this is in the US)

So it's actually almost four years ago now: I dented the bumper of a rental car and my credit card coverage paid the damages ($300 or so). So far so good. But a month or so later I got another bill from the rental car company saying that the credit card wouldn't agree to cover their additional "loss of use" fee and they were holding me responsible for that.

I had every intention of paying them or at least calling them or the credit card company to dispute it, but I was in the middle of moving overseas and it slipped through the cracks. I got more letters over the next year or so -- I had my US mail forwarded to a mailbox -- first from the rental car company and then a collection agency. I would usually only check this mailbox every few months and I just never got around to dealing with it. After a while the letters tailed off and I haven't heard from the collection agency in more than a year.

Now I've just moved back to the US and am wondering if there's any upside to tracking down this collection agency and paying up. If it hasn't hit my credit report yet then it probably won't, right? Still it feels like the right thing to do on some level. But what if my debt is "re-activated" by my contacting them and they can tack on a lot more fees and/or cause a new hit to my credit?

Also, is it likely that I'm now blacklisted at this (major) car rental company? If so, would paying off the collection agency make any difference, or what would I have to do to correct that?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
"feels like the right thing to do"
There's your up-side.
posted by fivesavagepalms at 8:49 AM on March 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

You know, "loss of use" sounds pretty bogus to me, especially for a rental car company. If no one is looking for you to pay this thing, let's just file it away under, "we tried, failed, and now we'll write it off."

If you feel kinda yukky about it (I wouldn't) call the rental car company, explain what happened, and be prepared to be greeted with utter befuddlement.

After that, for get it.

If you feel funky about it, donate the dough to a worthy cause.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:05 AM on March 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I once owed about 20 dollars to a rental car company for a toll violation. I forgot to pay it until I found the bill a few months later, so I called up the company telling them I wanted to pay it off. They said they had just marked the bill as paid in their system after a few months and I was off the hook.

Of course, this was only 20 dollars, so YMMV, but you may be pleasantly surprised if you choose to call in.
posted by alligatorman at 9:10 AM on March 21, 2014

That's a bogus fee. It's not like the company didn't have a ton of other cars to rent out during that period. They turned down nobody who wanted to rent a car. So there's no loss of use. Which is why the credit card company told them to go jump in a lake. It's a cost of doing business. If you had contacted them at the time and said something about wanting to rent cars from them in the future but now you're not so sure because of this bogus bill, they would have "adjusted" it off your account right then and there. So don't feel bad, and don't pay it.
posted by beagle at 9:11 AM on March 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't think paying off the collection agency would affect whether or not you're "blacklisted" at the car rental company. And who cares? There's tons of car rental companies. Maybe I'm feeling crabby today, but I say don't pay it. If they're not chasing you anymore, they already wrote it all off as bad debt. It's just a number on paper to them, and not even a big one. It might pop up again the future, but probably not. If you're willing to risk it, I say forget it.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:13 AM on March 21, 2014

"loss of use" sounds like trying to take advantage of you, the consumer. If this was a legitimate charge in the industry, then your insurance company would have paid it. The fact that your insurance company did not pay it, and did not inform you that you need to pay it, says a lot. If you actually feel like this is a legitimate charge, then sure, pay it to feel good about yourself morally. But morally I'd be more outraged that they were trying to charge me, unless they could prove that they had a customer wanting to rent a car during the days the car was unfixed and that they were 100% sold out and could not make the money off of the car you had dented, then maybe they could be considered kind of ok for charging it. Sleep easy, I say.
posted by cacao at 9:13 AM on March 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I got a bill like this from a rental car company (I'll bet the same one) for $1500 alleging damage that did not occur -- many months after i rented the car.

I got the bill in 2011, have not paid it, and don't intend to.

They are just trying to wring money out of you.
posted by jgirl at 10:00 AM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

As others have said, it sounds like a very scammy charge. Sure, in a perfect world you'd have contested it at the time, but at this point, I wouldn't pay it unless it showed up on a credit report, and even then, I'd contest it first. Since the collections agency gave up so easily, I bet they were looking for people who could be scared into paying with minimal effort.

In my experience, the collection agency doesn't work for the rental car company, they just bought the debt giving them the right to try to collect money from you. They don't report back to the rental car company. As far as the rental car company is concerned, there is no longer anything to collect from you. The debt has already been written off their books (and reported to credit agencies if they do that). If they do have a blacklist for unpaid scammy charges (which I doubt), paying the collections agency will not get you off of it.
posted by superna at 11:08 AM on March 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I know that in Missouri, all rental agreements state that Missouri law allows rental car companies to charge a day-rate for "loss of use" while a car is being repaired, I believe something around $80/day depending on the car.
posted by johngumbo at 2:08 PM on March 21, 2014

Don't pay it. If it's already been written off, aging on the account should have stopped and the statute of limitations for debt collection should be in effect. If you pay it, however, it could "reactivate" the debt, causing you to owe a lot more money with interest. Before taking action, you might want to ask someone with concrete debt and collection experience.
posted by toodleydoodley at 6:09 AM on March 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Chiming in to say that whether or not "loss of use" is a bogus charge, it's certainly not just a quirk of the rental car company you went with.

I once smashed a rental car (it was a company doing something closer to what Zipcar do than, say, Hertz) into another car when trying to pull out of the parking lot where they'd left it for me to pick up. Fortunately, I had checked the "pay £10 extra now and waive the £1000 excess" box.

They came after me with a £900-odd bill for fixing the car in spite of me having checked the excess waiver box (I remember a heart-stopping half hour before they emailed me back to confirm that I had actually checked the box - I was 19, in college and had no money at all), which they then waived when they did confirm that I'd actually checked the box. But they also charged me ~£60 then for loss of use which I couldn't (or didn't investigate whether or not I could, as I was shit scared) wriggle out of. The guy whose car I drove the rental car into also tried to come after me for money he claimed the insurance hadn't paid out six months later, which was a whole other fun story.

So - whether or not they're legit, loss of use charges are something that rental car companies will go after you for in various jurisdictions (this was in the UK in 2009 or so).

As to what you should do, all I've got is another anecdote. My boss recently did her grocery shopping at a store where you scan all the items yourself, pack them straight into your own bags inside the cart and then pay the total that the scanner shows at the end (I don't know if this is a thing you have in the US, but it's been gaining popularity in the UK recently as a way to shop). She bought quite a lot of fancy cheese at the deli counter and forgot to scan it as it was a totally different interaction to taking things off the shelves and putting them in the cart. When she realised this at home, she called the store's customer service line and tried to pay for the cheese over the phone. The person on the other end commended her for her honesty, but said that it was either too complicated or not worth it from their perspective to charge her card over the phone for the cheese. So, free cheese with zero guilt!

I guess your situation boils down to: are you someone who would call up and try to pay for the cheese, or would you take the free cheese in the first place and keep your mouth shut?

My boss is someone who would call up to pay for the cheese, and she's a good person. I'm the kind of person who would keep the cheese without trying to pay for it, and I don't think that makes me a bad person. Which option feels more true to you and your values?
posted by terretu at 7:05 AM on March 24, 2014

« Older Expat married to a local, really struggling...   |   When is it safe to kiss someone after getting a... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.