How to deal with zombie debt

You can blame my impressionable mind or The Walking Dead for my reoccurring zombie theme, but unlike my last article, this one is quite a bit more serious. Zombie debt and those that try to collect it are a menace to society. Companies who buy up junk debt target people they feel are most likely to pay up on debts that are often past the legal statutes of limitations.

John Oliver did a fantastic piece on zombie debts back in June where he expands on the threats, badgering, harassment and inappropriate tactics these companies use. If you ever get a collector asking you to pay up on a debt that has “come back from the dead,” follow these steps closely.

  1. Never acknowledge the debt

When you aren’t sure whether or not you actually owe the debt, don’t say anything that could indicate the debt is yours. If you pay even a dollar toward this illegitimate debt you are giving them the legal right to collect the whole balance, which you may not even owe.

  1. Watch out for traps

Besides the potential harassment, they may also try a number of tricks to get that first payment from you. They often report old debts as new to credit bureaus even though they may be past the legal collection dates. With all of the empty promises you can’t afford to handle them with anything but cautious skepticism.

  1. Ask for proof

In any debt situation you have the right to request the original agreements that you signed, along with the account history. If they do not produce these documents, they don’t have the right to take action against you. Make sure that you keep referring to step one and never acknowledge the debt.

  1. Check the statute of limitations

Every state has a different set of rules for how much time you can go without paying a debt before a collector’s right to collect through the court system expires. When that period ends, how long it lasts, and what can bring the debt “back from the dead” all vary so check with your state before moving forward.

  1. Write a formal response

If you are not responsible for the debt, you have never acknowledged it, and it is officially past the legal collection period, draft an official statement to the collector demanding they stop harassing you. Tell them if they don’t stop, you will pursue legal action against them. Make sure to include all relevant documents and send the letter through certified mail to receive a return receipt. There are resources available to help you draft this letter correctly

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