Wednesday, April 05, 2006

More on when bad debt goes, well, bad

A few good points came up in response to my debt-expiration-dates post, and I've done some more research to expand on it a bit.

-The FTC allows negative information to linger in your credit report for up to seven years. After seven years, you can request its removal. From an FTC FAQ on how the seven years is calculated: "Generally, the period runs from the date that the event took place." So, seven years after a debt was due, creditors generally lose the ability to put a black mark about it in your credit report. They may or may not also lose the right to sue you, depending on the nature of the debt and your state's statute of limitations. The credit-reporting statutes and the lawsuit statutes are completely separate.

-There's a big neon-flashing caveat to the limitations -- it dates to the period of "last activity" on your debt account. Making a payment, or agreeing in writing to do so, can reset the clock by moving your account back to active status. Tread carefully before paying or agreeing to pay anything on old debt. (Of course, you may still have a moral obligation to pay off an old debt. These policies only cover your legal obligations.)

-Some types of debt have no statute of limitations and never expire. Among them are student loans, past-due child support in most (possibly all) states, and most taxes.

-The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is actually pretty strict in regulating how collection agencies can approach consumers. For example, they're barred from calling outside "reasonable" hours, defined as 8am to 9pm. You can also force them to quit communication. If you notify a collector in writing that you want them to stop contacting you, they have to, except to notify you of specific remedies they're invoking. Forcing communication to stop does not mean they have to end efforts to collect the debt, but it does mean they can't keep up a barrage of calls and can only contact you further if they're filing a lawsuit or taking other remedy measures.