If a debt collector is suddenly asking you to repay a debt you thought was expired or forgotten, this is called zombie debt. Like its ghoulish namesake
, zombie debt can be difficult to kill for good. If you are suddenly asked to pay for debts that have fallen off your credit report, here are five things you should know:
1. What qualifies as zombie debt?
Zombie debt can be debts you owe but forgot about, debts you already settled with a creditor, identity theft, debts discharged in bankruptcy, or debts beyond the statute of limitations for when lenders can sue you for payment.
Be careful when paying your bills! Even one payment on an old debt can resurrect it. A creditor will remove old debt from their books and sell it to debt collectors for cents on the dollar. Sometimes, through faulty information transfers, debt collectors can wind up asking for payment on an expired debt. Even if they only collect a small portion of the original debt, they can turn a profit. Don't fall into this trap!
2. Get Info on Your Debt BEFORE You Pay
Try to find as many records relating to the debt as possible. Old receipts and bank statements can help you provide proof that you have already paid off the debt in question. If you have not paid off the debt, digging through your records can help you remember where this debt came from as well as the terms pertaining to the debt or if the debt was discharged/expired for any reason. Do not make a payment until you know the full story
behind the debt.
3. Get a Debt Validation Letter
A debt validation letter will include all the information the debt collector has pertaining to the debt in question. This will tell you the original creditor, the amount of debt remaining, and ways you can challenge the collection of the debt. You can use this information to verify it is your debt and check to see if you have already paid the debt.
4. Look at the Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations on debt limits how long a creditor can sue you for payment. In New Jersey, the statute of limitations on credit card debt
is 6 years—meaning if you have not made a payment on the debt in those six years, the credit card company cannot sue you for payment after that point. Despite this, debt collectors will often still try to sue for payment in the hopes that you make a payment and re-open the debt.
5. What Next?
If you already paid the debt, you can demand via letter that the collections agency stops contacting you. If it is not your debt, you have 30 days to reply via letter to challenge the debt. If you do owe the debt and have the ability to pay, you should make payments to resolve the debt via a written payment agreement. If you owe the debt and cannot pay it, consider seeking the help of an attorney experienced in debt settlement and bankruptcy like George Veitengruber, Esq