If you have a debt that gets sent to collections, you may be confused about who you owe. To find out which collection agency you owe, you can contact the original creditor or check your credit report. If a collection agency has been in contact with you, ask them to verify the debt. Compare this information with the information on your credit report and your personal financial records so you don’t pay more than you owe or get scammed.
Written by Jonathan Petts.
Updated August 9, 2023
How Do You Figure Out Which Collection Agency Has Your Debt?
If you don’t pay your credit cards, medical bills, or other debt, the original creditor may charge off the debt and send it to a collections agency. Sometimes this debt can change hands several times after it leaves the original creditor. This can make it hard to know who you’re supposed to pay.
There are two main ways you can find out which collection agency you owe:
Contact the original creditor to ask which collection agency now owns the debt
Check your credit report
You can cross-reference this information with your own financial records and with any collections calls or correspondence you receive. It’s always a good idea to verify the debt collector and the debt before you make any payment on the debt.
Contact the Original Creditor To Ask Which Collection Agency You Owe
Sometimes, you know that a debt has gone to collections, but that’s all you know.
Maybe you contacted the creditor and they said that the debt was no longer being held by their office. Maybe you got a letter from a collection agency months ago but threw it away or lost it. Whatever the situation, the original creditor can be a quick and easy source of information.
The original creditor likely won’t be able to discuss your debt with you after it’s been sent to collections, but they can give you the name and contact information of the debt collector.
You can use this information in two important ways: to get in touch with the collection company and to sort out legitimate debt collection calls from scams.
Check Your Credit Report To See Which Collection Agency You Owe
Your credit report lists information about your credit accounts, including credit cards, student loans, personal loans, car loans, and more. The information in your credit report is used to calculate your credit score.
Credit reporting agencies collect information from lenders, debt collectors, and public records. If a debt is sent to collections, the collections account should appear on your credit report along with the name of the company that owns it.
Since there are three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion — you actually have more than one credit report. Each of these credit bureaus keeps its own credit history. Some lenders and creditors report to all three credit bureaus, but others do not. So while your credit report is a good way to figure out which collection agency you owe, you may need to run reports from each of the three credit bureaus.
Luckily, you can get a free credit report from each agency at least once a year. You can request this report for all three bureaus from AnnualCreditReport.com.
How To Dispute Errors on Your Credit Report
When you get your free credit report, compare the information on it with the information you receive from the collection agency claiming you owe them. Be aware that credit reporting agencies do sometimes make mistakes. So can the creditors and debt collectors that report to them.
If something doesn’t look right, you can dispute it. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) is the federal law that protects you from credit reporting errors and allows you to dispute an entry on your credit report. If you do submit a dispute, the agency is required to investigate.
Cross-Reference Information With Your Personal Records
If you can’t find information about a debt on your credit report or the entry on your credit report seems wrong, check your personal records, including your credit card and bank account statements and any mail you’ve received related to the debt.
Make a list of the information you gather from your personal records. Compare it to the information you found on your credit report and the information you got from the collection agency. Double-check your payment history to make sure these are reflected in your credit report and the debt collector’s information.
How To Verify a Debt From a Debt Collection Agency
Debts are often passed from the original creditor to third-party collection agencies or sold to debt buyers. Over time, the debt may be sold more than once or there may be more than one collection agency involved. This can understandably cause confusion for you, so it’s a good idea to verify every debt a debt collector claims you owe.
Before you give any information or payment to a debt collector or debt buyer, send them a debt verification letter. Use this letter to ask for more information about the debt to make sure that you owe it and they own it.
Under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), collection agencies are required, at a minimum, to tell you:
Who they are
How much you allegedly owe
The contact information for the original creditor
What to do if you want to dispute the debt
The FDCPA also requires a third-party debt collector to verify the debt if you request it. If you make the request within 30 days of the debt collector contacting you for the first time, they can’t take any more collection action until they’ve verified the debt. Outside the 30-day period, you can still request verification, but the collector can keep trying to collect. They can also report the debt to credit reporting agencies.
If the debt collector can’t verify the debt, it can’t try to collect from you.
How To Dispute a Debt
If you’re being contacted about a debt or debts that you don’t believe you owe, you can dispute the debt. If the debt appears on your credit report, you’ll want to dispute the debt with the collection agency and the credit bureau reporting it.
Thanks to a rule by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), debt collectors are required to include a tear-off dispute form with their debt validation notice. You can use this form to dispute the debt, but you’ll also want to send documentation to prove you don’t owe the debt (or don’t owe the amount the collection agency says you owe).
For instance, if you already paid the debt, send copies of your receipts or statements from the creditor showing your payments. If you didn’t take out the loan, you may be a victim of identity theft or your credit file may have gotten mixed with someone else’s.
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Should You Pay the Debt Collection Agency?
If you’ve done your due diligence and the debt is within the statute of limitations (see more on this below) and it’s valid, paying it is the best way to get the collection agency off your back. If you don’t pay the debt, you risk more than just annoying phone calls. The debt collector can sue you and get a court order to garnish your wages or bank account.
That said, you may not have to pay the full amount.
Often, collection agencies have some flexibility to agree to a debt settlement. This means you pay less than the full amount you owe. (Learn more about how to make a debt settlement offer in our article on debt settlement basics.)
The collector may be willing to accept a lump-sum partial payment and write off the rest of the debt. Or they may make a payment arrangement that allows you to pay a little at a time.
Get Help From a Nonprofit Credit Counselor
If this feels daunting, reach out for help from a credit counselor. Most offer a free consultation. Credit counseling is a great way to figure out your best debt relief option. This could be debt settlement, a debt management plan, debt consolidation, or bankruptcy.
Credit counselors generally help with consumer debts like credit card debt and medical bills.
Can Collection Agencies Try To Collect Old Debt?
Technically, yes. Collection agencies can try to collect old debt. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to pay it. Know your rights under the FDCPA, and if you get contacted about an old debt, proceed with caution.
What’s considered an old debt? That will depend on your state’s statute of limitations. The statute of limitations defines the amount of time a debt collector or creditor has to sue you to collect on a debt. Statutes vary by state and by the type of debt. Most statutes of limitations are between three and 10 years.
If your debt is outside the statute of limitations, the debt collector is allowed to call you and ask you to pay, but they can’t sue you or even threaten you with a lawsuit. If you get contacted about an old debt, send the debt collection agency a letter and tell them to stop contacting you. With a few exceptions, they can’t contact you if you tell them to stop.
Be very careful when interacting with a collection agency about a debt that is outside the statute of limitations or close to the statute of limitations. If you make a payment on the debt, no matter how small, it can restart the statute of limitations, depending on your state’s laws.
How To Deal With Debt Collectors That Break the Law
The FDCPA offers significant protections to consumers dealing with debt collection agencies and debt buyers. It’s a good idea to learn more about your legal rights, especially if you are having problems with a debt collector.
If a debt collector violates your rights, you can report them to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or the CFPB. These agencies don’t represent individual consumers, but they enforce regulations and may take action against debt collectors with a pattern of breaking the rules. You can also report violations to your state’s attorney general.
You can also take legal action against debt collectors that break the law. Some lawyers offer free legal advice or will represent you on contingency (meaning you don’t pay them upfront but they get a portion of what you win in the lawsuit).
To figure out which collection agency you owe, ask the original creditor and look at your credit reports. Once you verify that the debt collection agency is legit, ask them to verify the debt to make sure it’s legit, too.
If the debt isn’t yours, is outside the statute of limitations, or you have other defenses, assert your rights. If you owe the debt but you can’t afford to repay it, talk with a credit counselor. They can help you figure out how to proceed.