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Paying the debt is also no guarantee that the nightmare will stop. The collector may decide that if you’re willing to pay at all, you could be made to pay more. Settling a debt for a smaller amount than the collectors says you owe could result in another agency trying to collect the unpaid portion. Or the collector might inform the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that you’ve received “income” in the form of forgiven debt.

Even if you manage to wrangle written promises from the collector that none of the above will happen, you would have to be willing to go to court if the agency reneged -- and possibly face an unsympathetic judge or one who doesn’t know much about collections law.

If you’re being contacted about an old debt, here’s what consumer attorneys advise:

Know the statute of limitations. If you racked up a debt in another state, you might want to check the statute of limitations there as well. But generally, it’s the statute of your current state that applies. If the statute has expired, the collection agencies’ legal remedies are limited.

Know your rights. Credit and debt collections can be an extremely complicated area of the law.

Consider ignoring the call. If the statute of limitations have expired put the phone down and walk away. There’s little to gain and a lot to lose if you keep talking. You could inadvertently extend the statute of limitations or find yourself roped into a repayment agreement that might not be in your best interest. “The debt collector is a lot smarter than (consumers) are", and “They don’t have any obligation to tell you your rights.”

Write them. If ignoring them isn’t working, consider writing a letter demanding the agency stop contacting you. Send it certified mail, return receipt requested. Federal law requires them to comply with your request. Make sure in the letter you specifically say that you aren’t acknowledging you owe the debt.

Keep an eye on your credit report. If a collection agency tries to re-post an old debt or lie about the date it went delinquent, you’ll need to fight back vigorously. Dispute the entry with the credit bureaus and with the collection agency.

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