It’s a beautiful Friday afternoon. A stress-free weekend is within reach, until the phone rings. When you answer the unlisted number, a debt collector informs you of outstanding debt. The walls suddenly get smaller. Your heart rate elevates and sweat forms above your brow. Questions race through your mind: Is this real or a scam? Should I just pay? How do I escape the situation?
Is Zombie Debt Real?
Although zombies are only real in horror movies, zombie debt is a real thing. The term stems from debt that has been long forgotten or “risen from the dead” and a debt collector attempts to get that money back. These old debts still have some value, but beg the question — to whom?
Several reasons can create zombie debt. Usually, the debtor has moved away and can’t be located. On other occasions, the debtor is found but doesn’t have the money to pay. Sometimes it was a clerical or computer error that attributed the debt to the wrong person. Then there’s good old identity theft that incorrectly places the burden of debt.
The original lender likely didn’t find it worth their while to track down the debtor to collect the funds. Instead of getting zero dollars for the outstanding bill, they’ll sell the debt to a debt collection company for a small fraction of the face value. Many times, if the debt collector can get just one out of thirty people to pay, they’re still making a profit.
Statute of Limitations
The phone call from a debt collector often feels intimidating like there’s no way out of the situation. Keep in mind this is a deliberate tactic. Debt collectors make no money if people don’t pay. They’ll use every trick in the book to get the cash. Guilt, lack of knowledge, and fear are key components of their business model. Arm yourself with knowledge. The statute of limitations is a good start.
The law that sets the maximum amount of time a debt collector has to legally collect is defined in the statute of limitations. That amount of time can vary from state to state and the type of debt, but six years is usually the magic number. If you get debt collector phone calls, start with finding out what the statute of limitations is in your state of residence and the state you acquired the debt. It can save a lot of headaches.
No need to fear, protection is available. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a federal law that governs debt collection practices. This essentially is the rule book debt collectors have to follow when trying to get your money. If you know the rules, you can use them to limit the deceptive practices all too common among debt collection agencies.
Here are some highlights that might benefit your situation:
- Debts over six years must be taken off your credit report and you cannot be sued.
- Debt collectors are required to be truthful about the debt and what will happen if you don’t pay.
- Debt collectors cannot report false information to credit reporting agencies.
- A cease and desist letter to the debt collector requires them to stop contacting anyone associated with you about the debt. No more phone calls to the workplace, relatives, old friends, anyone.
It can be difficult to know if they’re telling the truth. After all, it’s zombie debt because you thought the debt was dead. A good tactic to defend yourself is to notify the debt collector you’re recording the conversation. Should they break the FDCPA, you could collect fines from them.
How to Navigate Zombie Debt
Go back to that beautiful Friday afternoon. Right up until that dreaded phone call from the debt collector. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the rules at hand, these are some simple steps to keep all parties in check:
- Don’t give details over the phone. Ask for the debt collection company’s address.
- Don’t acknowledge that the debt is yours, even though it might be.
- Keep any letters they send.
- Mail a certified letter to the debt collection company within 35 days of the call. Dispute that you owe the debt and ask for proof.
- Don’t contact or talk with the debt collector until you receive proof of the debt or a judgment against you.
This is the information you need to determine if the debt is yours and if it’s gone beyond the statute of limitations. A debt collector might try to convince you to pay part of the debt. The statute of limitations resets to the latest “activity” in the debt. A partial payment not only acknowledges ownership of the debt, but also resets the timeline. If you’re beyond the statute of limitations it’s rarely to your benefit to pay a cent.
When to Call a Pro
Maybe you follow all of the above steps and educate yourself on the laws, but the bank account doesn’t match up with the amount you owe. Maybe it far exceeds your means to pay the debt in a reasonable amount of time. Zombie debt doesn’t have to trap your financial health. Contact Advocate Debt Relief to explore debt settlement options. Not only can they help discover viable relief options, but they can free you from the debt collector’s trap.