Commercial lenders are not a soft-hearted bunch. If they were, they would go out of business, since every unpaid debt is attached to a sad, bad-luck story. So if you owe and don't pay, they send the matter straight out to a debt collection agency who uses every legal means, and sometimes questionable means too, to get the borrower to pay. Needless to say, potential lenders do not like to see collections on a credit report.
Can a Collection Agency Affect Your Credit Score?
The three largest credit reporting agencies are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. All three do the same thing: collect and compile the credit histories of millions of Americans. If you've ever taken out a credit card or a bank loan, these agencies have a credit report on you.
A credit report outlines a person's financial history, from the jobs held, to the loans taken out, to the charge card payments and whether they are timely made. The report, plus your credit score (also assigned by Equifax, Experian and TransUnion), determine whether you can get new credit at favorable terms.
Good financial behavior (like paying your bills on time) enhances your credit report and raises your credit score. Bad financial behavior (like paying your bills late or not paying them at all) creates credit problems for you and drops your credit score. If your debts are sent to a debt collection agency by the lender when payment is well overdue, that signals bad financial behavior and lowers your credit score.
How long can debt collections activity stay on your credit report? It will likely be listed there for seven years from the time you first missed a payment for a debt that ends up in collections.
Can a Debt Collector Sue Me?
It depends. When you don't pay, and continue not paying a debt for a certain length of time, the creditor may turn the debt over to a collection agency to collect it. Alternatively, the creditor may sell the debt to the collection agency.
The creditor may continue to own the debt but turn it over to a debt collection agency with a contract to collect (this is assigned debt). Or, the creditor may sell the debt outright to a collection agency (this is purchased debt). In both cases, it is possible for the debt collection agency to sue you for the money, but, if the creditor continues to own debt, it must give its approval before the agency can sue.
Read More: Collection Policies & Procedures
Can I Ignore a Collection Agency?
It's usually not a good idea to ignore attempts at collecting a debt. If you have any income or assets that could be seized, the collection agency will know how to do it. If you are totally without assets or income, you really have nothing to lose.
Collection accounts generally remain on a credit report for seven years from the date the account first became past due.
- Credit Info Center: How Long Do Negative Items Stay on a Credit Report?
- Equifax: FAQ: How Long Does Information Stay on My Credit Report?
- Credit.com: How Long Do Things Stay On Your Credit Report?
- Experian: How Long Can Negative Items Stay on Your Credit report?
- Experian: How Long Does Something Stay on My Credit Report?
Teo Spengler earned a J.D. from U.C. Berkeley's Boalt Hall. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an M.A. and an M.F.A in creative writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.