Dealing With a Collection Agency (Again)

Dealing With a Collection Agency

It’s been awhile, but we’ve once again found ourselves in the crosshairs of a collection agency. Long-time readers might recall that we were contacted by a collection agency a few years ago in relation to a medical debt that wasn’t actually overdue. In fact, that collection notice arrived less than 30 days after the first bill was sent, and it crossed in the mail with our check to the payee.

This time around, we’ve found ourselves in trouble with a local medical facility, albeit a different one. Our oldest son visited the emergency room at the end of April and that visit cleared insurance in early May. The bill was supposedly in the mail shortly thereafter, but we never received it.

Around here, it’s standard practice to send a bill with a due date 30 days in the future, and then to send at least one, if not two (or even three) followup notices before sending a medical bill to collections. That would mean that we should have received a second bill in July (marked 0-30 days overdue) and another in August (marked 30-60 days overdue).

Instead, it appears that they sent us to collections in mid-July, about two weeks after the initial due date. That was it. No second notice or followup of any kind. Gee, thanks… A possible ding on the good old credit report thanks to a slightly late $20 charge that we never received.

Given that we hadn’t received any sort of documentation, I had to do some digging to figure out what this bill was related to. Fortunately, our health insurer has all of that information on line so I was able to look it and figure it out. From there, it was a matter of contacting the billing office.

Sure enough, she confirmed that they sent a single bill, and then turned us over to collections shortly after it was due. Great policy, huh? The good news is that she said we have 30 days to pay before it would be reported to the credit bureaus. I had the choice of paying them directly or going through the collection agency, and I opted to pay on the spot.

I’m now in the process of drafting a letter to the collection agency challenging the validity of the debt. This may be overkill, as it sounds like the billing office and collection agency are in fairly close contact, but now that the bill has been paid, I don’t want the collection agency hassling us or mistakenly trashing our credit.

As before, I’m keeping it short and sweet, simply stating that I’m writing to dispute the validity of this debt, and letting them know that it’s been paid and that we can provide proof of payment. As per the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, they can’t contact us, attempt to collect, or report anything to the credit bureaus if they can’t validate the debt. And they won’t be able to because we’ve already paid it.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, be sure to follow up in a timely manner – within 30 days of the date on the collection notice at the very latest. And be sure to communicate in writing, via certified mail if at all possible. That way they can’t deny having heard from you.

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7 Responses to “Dealing With a Collection Agency (Again)”

  1. Anonymous

    If I remember correctly it violates fair credit reporting law to send an individual to collections before 180 days has passed. Civil penalties are $3,500 and as much as $10,000 per incident against the hospital that sent you to collections. Your more than entitled to validate the debt because you just may MAKE money.

  2. Anonymous

    That is surprising that you only received one bill. What a tough policy. I guess the return on subsequent bills is very low so they send to collections right away.

  3. Anonymous

    Love your website!

    I had a similar situation with a medical biller but a little more complex. DOS May 2010, insurance EOB said there were writeoffs but the billing office said it doesn’t accept those writeoffs and billed me the full amount. Can they do that? I told biller I had the EOB that said, Yes You Do Accept Writeoffs, and made partial payments but refused to pay the remainder until Biller and Insurance discussed the situation, which wasn’t until Feb 2011. Biller never revised their bill and instead sent to collections. Granted it was a year later, but the situation was not fixed and there were updates throughout the year, so I didn’t understand why they couldn’t wait until a final decision was made.

    But the “one bill and wait two weeks and then BAM -Collections!” situation is VERY scary. What an unnecessary waste of everyone’s time, for a bill that could get lost in the mail!

    I ended up paying the collection office (within the 30 days, VERY important) because I knew they would take a fee out of the Biller’s portion and that made me feel better.

    My family no longer visits that emergency room and have made a different choice. The public is no longer allowed to be loyal to physicans or clinics, we must go where the insurance companies have dictated. So I am making my choice, I am no longer loyal.

  4. Anonymous

    I had acquaintances that were employed at collection agency call center in the early ’90’s (love the distance I’ve placed, while probably quite correct, if in another context, I might use the word friends). I’ve also had a quite a bit of dealings from work (utility companies turn over small dollar amount property damage claims to collection agencies, which when I am disputing seems to unnerve them as it’s outside the “deadbeat” box they are comfortable in).

    The half bill is actually quite standard. The fees are set higher than the bill (often three times depending on the issue) and the agency gets the bill at a discount. So usually any call center person actually is authorized to accept half payment.

    If in writing you ALWAYS want to be polite and to the point. Yes, anything gained could find its way into a court room, but mostly you are not ever arguing with a person, you are engaged with a computer. So if the debt is disputed and they are not going away, there will be several attempts, basically sending the same form letter, usually without any reference to any other correspondence, very important to not let a computer program get your emotions up. After a few tries on a they will usually drop the issue if it’s not a clear-cut nonpayment of a legit debt.

    In this case, I think Nickel did right paying the whole plus $20 — “Off-the-clock,” I’d do the same, it would be a monetary value of how much I covet my time. At work, I probably would have paid the vendor I’d pay the original amount but refused any additional because of the overly-aggressive business practice, no proof that they actually sent a bill (certified mail) and quite prepared to defend this matter — but that’s business for you.

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