Sunday, July 31, 2011

Charged Off, Zombie Debts and Bankruptcy

Someone recently wrote me and asked whether he had to pay a debt that was charged off years ago and sold to a debt collector. Of course, the answer is it depends, but this is what it depends on. The key points:
1. The tough news is that after a debt is charged off, you still owe it. Charging off a debt is an accounting practice meant to give a fair picture of the value of a business (by taking bad debt off its books). Charging off an account does not affect the legal obligation to pay it, and the business must account for money they earn once they sell the debt to a debt buyer to collect the defaulted debt. Often there will be a gap between when the debt is charged off and when a debt buyer emerges to contact you for payment. This is where the "zombie debt" term comes in, i.e. you think the debt is dead, but then it resurrects and attacks you.
2. The (possible) good news is that the gap is sometimes too long, and the debt too old, to make it collectible in court. Just because a debt is sold to a zombie debt buyer, it doesn't mean that the statute of limitations is revived if it already has lapsed. Generally, the statute if limitations in Massachusetts for debt collection is six years from the date of the original default. If you make any partial payments later, this will usually re-start the clock, but if you don't the six-year rule usually applies.
3. If the debt is still good once it's in the hands of a debt buyer, you must pay it, settle it, or file bankruptcy. We specialize in affordably accomplishing the last two options for Massachusetts consumers and small to medium-sized businesses. Give us a call or send us an email if you would like our help with your debt problem.