Managing Debt For Dummies
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Debt collectors who pursue old debts are not breaking any laws unless they violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) or your state’s debt collection laws. Beware fast-buck motives, though! Some debt collectors go so far as to

  • Contact consumers about debts that have been charged off as uncollectible. The creditor may charge off on a debt because it thinks the amount of the debt is too small to bother with or because the consumer who owes it is judgment proof.

  • The creditor may decide to try to collect the debt later, or it may sell the debt to a debt collector who specializes in collecting very old debts.

  • Try to collect debts for which the statute of limitations has expired. The statute of limitations begins on the first day you miss a debt payment, and it typically lasts between four and six years. To find out the statute of limitations on your past-due debts, speak to a consumer law attorney in your state or contact your state attorney general’s office. A debt collector is legally entitled to collect a debt after the statute of limitations has run out on it; however, the debt collector is breaking the law if he sues you over the debt or threatens to sue you.

    You can unintentionally reactivate the statute of limitations on an old debt by telling a debt collector that you agree to pay some money on the debt, even a very small amount like $5. When the statute of limitations is reactivated, it starts running all over again as though you just defaulted on the debt. Also, in some legal jurisdictions you can restart the statute of limitations on a very old debt simply by acknowledging that the debt is yours.

  • Tell credit bureaus that an old debt in your credit history is a new debt. Most negative information can remain in your credit history for only seven years and six months. Some debt collectors take this unscrupulous and illegal step in order to put pressure on you to pay the debt, promising that when you do, they will get the new negative information removed.

If a debt collector violates your legal rights when he contacts you about a debt that has been charged off or for which the statute of limitations has expired, get in touch with a consumer law attorney right away. You should do the same if a debt collector tries to get away with reporting to the credit bureaus that one of your old debts is new.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

John Ventura: John is a best-selling author and a nationally boardcertified bankruptcy attorney. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Houston Law School and the director of the Texas Consumer Complaint Center at the Law School.
As a young boy, John dreamed of becoming a Catholic priest so he could help everyday people, and he spent his high school years in a Catholic seminary. After graduating, however, John decided to achieve his dream by combining journalism with the law. Therefore, he earned an undergraduate degree in journalism and a law degree from the University of Houston Law School. Later, he and a partner established a law firm in Texas, building it into one of the most successful consumer bankruptcy firms in the state. He subsequently began a successful consumer law firm in South Texas.
Today, as Director of the Texas Consumer Complaint Center, he supervises law students as they help consumers with their legal problems. He is also a regular speaker at law conferences around the country and serves on the Bankruptcy Council for the Texas Bar Association.
John is the author of 13 books on consumer and small business legal matters, including Law For Dummies, 2nd edition; The Everyday Law Kit For Dummies; Divorce For Dummies, 2nd edition; and Good Advice for a Bad Economy (Berkeley Books). John has been interviewed about consumer money matters by numerous national media including CNN, NBC, NPR, Bloomberg Television & Radio, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Newsweek, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, Money, Inc. Martha Stewart’s Living, Bottomline, Entrepreneur,,, and In addition, his comments and advice have appeared in major newspapers around the country, and he has been a frequent guest on local radio programs.

Mary Reed: Mary Reed is a personal finance writer who has coauthored or ghostwritten numerous books on topics related to consumer money matters and legal rights. The books she has coauthored with John Ventura include The Everyday Law Kit for Dummies, Divorce For Dummies, and Good Advice for a Bad Economy (Berkeley Books). Mary has also written for the magazines Good Housekeeping, Home Office Computing, and Small Business Computing, and she has ghostwritten numerous articles that have appeared in national and local publications.
Mary is also the owner of Mary Reed Public Relations (MR•PR), an Austin, Texas-based firm that provides public relations services to a wide variety of clients, including authors, publishers, attorneys, financial planners, healthcare professionals, retailers, hotels, restaurants, and nonprofits.
Prior to starting her public relations business and writing career 20 years ago, she was vice president of marketing for a national market research firm, marketing director for a women’s healthcare organization, and public relations manager for Texas Monthly, a national award-winning magazine. She received her MBA from Boston University and her BA from Trinity University in Washington, DC.
In her free time, Mary serves on the board of a community development corporation in her neighborhood. She also enjoys long morning bike rides, road trips with her husband, gardening, working her way through the stack of books by her bed, taking care of her six cats, and spending time with her family and many friends.

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