Monday, August 18, 2014

Can My Credit Report Have More Than One Collection for the Same Debt?

Which collector should you pay?
Here's a horror story for you: You let a debt fall delinquent and the creditor sells it to a collection agency. Two years later you pull your credit report and discover not one, not two, but three collection accounts on your credit report for the same debt. Needless to say, your credit scores are in the toilet. This may sound farfetched, but multiple collections are a relatively common result of sheer carelessness.

Just as original creditors eventually sell unpaid debt to debt collectors, collection agencies also sell "uncollectable" debts to other debt collectors. The problem debtors often run into is this: debt collectors, like original creditors, often report their company's accounts to the credit bureaus. This results in a collection tradeline appearing on your credit report.

When the collection agency sells the debt, the new collection agency may also report the debt to the credit bureaus. If the previous debt collector doesn't bother to delete its tradeline from your credit report when it sells the account, your credit report will eventually contain several different collections for the same debt.

Multiple Credit Report Entries for the Same Debt Are Against the Law

It's perfectly normal to have two entries on your credit report for the same debt if those entries are the original creditor's account and the resulting collection account. Any further entries for the same debt are prohibited--even if each tradeline contains different account numbers (which they almost inevitably will). This isn't in the interest of protecting you, but rather in the interest of protecting future creditors.

Your credit scores are based on the most accurate portrayal possible of your past financial history. Multiple collections for the same account deal a devastating blow to your credit scores--making you appear to be a much higher lending risk than you actually are. By ensuring that multiple collection accounts can't appear on your credit report for the same debt, federal regulations protect lenders from making judgment errors that could ultimately affect their profit margins.

Prohibiting multiple collection accounts also protects the collection agency's interests. If you see a plethora of collection accounts on your credit report, you'll probably be confused about whom you should pay. This could lead to you paying off an account with a collection agency that no longer owns the debt. Unfortunately, that payment can "vanish" into thin air. The collection agency that actually owns the debt will continue to demand payment and the collector that actually received the payment may conveniently have no record of receiving it. This cheats both the debt's actual owner and the consumer.

How Long Can These Multiple Collections Stay on Your Credit Report?

Federal law restricts collections to only seven years on your credit report. This seven-year clock begins on the date the debt first falls 180 days' delinquent. This generally coincides with the date that the original creditor charges off the debt and sells it to a collection agency.

All the collection accounts that appear on your credit report for the same debt must fall off when the original creditor's tradeline falls off. This means that some collection accounts may only remain on
After 7 years, all collections must come off.
your credit report for a few years---if that. For example, if a debt collector reports a debt six months before the credit reporting period expires, its tradeline won't stick around for a full seven years. In order to comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the company must delete the tradeline in six months.

Is There Any Way to Remove Multiple Collections for the Same Debt?

I plan on making a more in-depth post about this soon and providing a step-by-step guide to help you get rid of any clone collections. For now, however, just know that you aren't stuck with these tradelines forever. The Fair Credit Reporting Act, which governs credit reporting practices in the U.S., provides you with a dispute process.

You aren't limited to only disputing incorrect information. You can also dispute information that is obsolete, such as multiple collections or accounts that appear on your credit report for longer than the credit reporting period allows. You can dispute via mail, over the phone, or even online. Just be sure that you dispute multiple collections as multiples. If your dispute goes into the system as an accuracy complaint, the collection agencies in question are a lot more likely to validate the accounts and they won't get removed.

Long story short, you aren't alone. It's very common for consumers who've had financial difficulty and ended up with several delinquent debts to discover that their credit reports reflect more than one collection account for the same debt. As tempting as it may be to ignore the hassle, removing any additional collections will help you maintain the best credit scores possible until the credit reporting period expires.

Related Posts:

How Much Do Medical Collections Affect Your Credit Score?

Improving Credit Scores After Collections

Removing Re-Aged Collection Accounts From Your Credit Report

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