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Sent to Collections Without Notice? Here’s What To Do Next.

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In a Nutshell

If you discover that a creditor has sent one or more of your current debts to a collection agency, it’s best to take action immediately to fix the situation. Having a debt sent to collections is a blemish on your credit report, and your credit score will suffer as well. Debt collectors have 30 days to report that your account was sent to collections, so you may not discover this until you get your next monthly statement. This can be frustrating, but what you do once you find out about it is what matters. You can take the following steps to minimize the financial impact of your delinquent account.

Written by the Upsolve Team.  Reviewed by Attorney Andrea Wimmer
Updated September 18, 2021


If you discover that a creditor has sent one or more of your current debts to a collection agency, it’s best to take action immediately to fix the situation. Having a debt sent to collections is a blemish on your credit report, and your credit score will suffer as well. Debt collectors have 30 days to report that your account was sent to collections, so you may not discover this until you get your next monthly statement. This can be frustrating, but what you do once you find out about it is what matters. You can take the following steps to minimize the financial impact of your delinquent account. 

Check your credit reports.

If debt collectors are calling you about a debt that you thought you were current with, you need to check your credit reports to see if the debt has been reported to the credit bureaus. If it hasn’t, you may be able to address the situation before it reaches them. 

You can check your credit report with each of the three major credit bureaus for free once a year at annualcreditreport.com. This website is sponsored by the federal government. It’s the only one that gives you free credit reports once a year from all three bureaus. You can also get your credit scores from all three bureaus for a fee. Equifax will also give you up to six free credit reports each year. This is a handy way to pull another copy of your credit report after paying your bill to ensure that the delinquent payment was removed. 

If your account goes to debt collections and shows up on one or more of your credit reports, your credit score will drop. This makes it harder to rent an apartment, get a job, or buy a car, house, or other big-ticket items. Late payments and collections notices will have a bad effect on your credit report, so avoid these at all costs. If your account has gone to collections but hasn’t shown up on your credit report yet, there may still be time to pay the debt and prevent this from happening. 

Understand the rules.

It’s always rotten to learn that a creditor sent your account to collections after the fact, but this is legal under federal law. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) mandates that any financial institution that extends credit to consumers must report its actions to the consumer whenever it reports negative information to the credit bureaus. But this law doesn't apply to cell phone carriers, utility companies, hospitals, and many other entities that report to the credit bureaus. Also, financial institutions have up to 30 days after they send negative information to the credit bureaus to tell you they’ve done so. This makes it difficult to take action before the blemish hits your report.

If you are being hounded by debt collectors with correspondence and/or phone calls, then you need to know what your rights are under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Debt collectors cannot belittle you, threaten you, or use obscene language. They also can’t tell you that they are going to seize your property if you don’t pay up or call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. local time. You have the right to tell them not to call you at work, and in some cases, you can ask for a cease-and-desist order. But the FDCPA will not protect you from having a bill go to debt collection without prior notification. 

Dispute incorrect bills.

If a bill that’s reported to debt collection never came to you first, you can file a dispute with the credit bureaus. In your dispute, say that you were never notified of the debt. The credit bureaus will then have to remove the negative mark on your report until they can either verify the debt or determine that you don’t actually owe the amount in question. You can dispute incorrect information either with a letter or online. If you choose to send a written notice, you’ll need to include the following information:

  • Your contact information, including your name, address, and phone number

  • The report confirmation number on your credit report if there is one

  • A clear, concise listing of the erroneous information and a complete explanation of why it is incorrect

  • The name and contact information of the creditor and the account number you have with them

  • A copy of the page of your credit report that contains the erroneous entry; highlight the entry

Make sure to send your letter to the right address and department, and always send your letter via certified mail so you can verify that it was received. If you file your dispute online, you’ll just need to provide the information about the error because they will already have your other information on file. Be sure to provide your correct email address and check your junk or spam folder until you receive a response. 

When you file a dispute over an item on your credit report, the item in question cannot be applied to your report until it has been verified by the credit bureau. This means that the disputed item won’t impact your credit score until the investigation is complete and the agency determines it’s valid. 

If you file a dispute on an account that has gone to collections, the credit bureau has 30 days to investigate. They will look at the documentation you provide with the dispute. In some cases, this is enough information for the bureau to remove the disputed information from your credit report and close the matter. But in many cases, the credit bureau will need to contact the creditor for more information. If you supply additional documentation during this period, then the deadline is extended 15 more days. Once the investigation is complete, the credit bureau has five days to notify you of its findings. If they correct the error, they’ll issue you a free updated credit report. 

If a medical bill that you don’t agree with hits your credit report, you should first ask the medical provider for an itemized bill to see how they arrived at the item in question. If everything appears to be correct, then your insurer might be able to help. If not, you can request a meeting with your medical provider’s ombudsman to negotiate the bill. Some state and local governments also have an ombudsman that you can contact to help in the negotiation. Also, remember that many hospitals and medical providers may not send you a bill until months after the service was provided, so be prepared for this. 

Pay your debt.

When it comes to debts you truly owe, paying in full is always your best option if you’re able to. If you don’t pay off the debt before it goes to collections, it can negatively affect your credit score. If you pay a debt while it’s in collections, it will be labeled as settled or paid in full on your credit history, and you may or may not be able to have it deleted. 

Some creditors will offer to remove or delete negative information on a borrower’s credit report if they pay off their outstanding debts. This is called pay for delete, but it doesn’t always help your credit score. It depends on which credit-scoring model is used. With older models, paid-off collection accounts are scored negatively, but this isn’t true with newer models. So even if you pay off a debt that’s gone to collection, negative information may still appear on your credit history, and your FICO score may suffer as a result. But if your creditor uses one of the newer models, then your payment in full may not show up as a result. 

Can’t Afford To Pay the Bill?

If the bill that’s sent to a debt collection agency is legitimate and you can’t afford to pay it, you may be able to negotiate with your lender. Most credit card companies will work with delinquent customers because they don’t want to have to write off their debt as uncollectible. If you negotiate with your lender, get the agreement in writing so that you have proof of your communication with them. 

Many other creditors will also accept a revised payment plan to settle your debt. For example, hospitals and healthcare providers offer hardship programs or will negotiate bills for those who can’t afford to pay. Many other creditors also have hardship payment plans or will settle with borrowers for a lesser amount. If you have a lot of unsecured debt you can’t pay, then bankruptcy may be your best option. Upsolve can help you to file bankruptcy for free. 

How To File a Complaint Against Your Debt Collector

If you believe that a debt collector has acted unethically or illegally, don’t hesitate to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPD). Once you have submitted your complaint, they will review it, then route it to the company in question. Once the company responds, the CFPB will publish your complaint on its database. If the CFPB is unable to resolve your complaint, then you file a complaint with either the Federal Trade Commission or your state’s attorney general. 

Let’s Summarize...

Having a bill go to a collection agency can be a nasty surprise. It’s not illegal for creditors to do this, but you do have options, especially if your account was sent to a collection agency in error. Be sure to check your credit report both before and after you deal with the disputed account to see whether it has been reported and/or updated correctly. Don’t hesitate to dispute any error you find on your credit report or file a complaint with the CFPB, the FTC, or your state attorney general. You can also seek legal advice and take legal action against your debt collector.



Written By:

The Upsolve Team

Upsolve is fortunate to have a remarkable team of bankruptcy attorneys, as well as finance and consumer rights professionals, as contributing writers to help us keep our content up to date, informative, and helpful to everyone.

Attorney Andrea Wimmer

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Andrea practiced exclusively as a bankruptcy attorney in consumer Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 cases for more than 10 years before joining Upsolve, first as a contributing writer and editor and ultimately joining the team as Managing Editor. While in private practice, Andrea handled... read more about Attorney Andrea Wimmer

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