What is a zombie debt collector?

Zombie debt collectors are not supernatural, but they can still give you a nightmare. These debt collectors specialize in buying the cheapest, most outdated debt on the market. They then use scare tactics to pressure you to repay the debt.
Often times they will threaten to sue you even though the debt has expired. They may state that they will renew the debt to keep it on your credit report. They may even threaten to contact friends, family or employers to embarrass you. All are illegal.

Indeed, what most consumers do not realize is that there are two key dates that dictate whether or not they need to worry about dealing with old debts. The first date that a debtor needs to understand is when the debt will expire.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations prevents debt collectors from suing you over an old debt. All you would have to do is show up and prove that the statute of limitations has already expired to get the case for judgment dismissed.

How long is the statute of limitations for old debts? It varies by state and by type of account (open vs. written contract), so it is best to obtain legal counsel to confirm whether or not you are protected by the statute of limitations for an old debt. The statute of limitations can range from 2 to 15 years.

Credit Reporting Limitations

Credit bureaus delete most types of debt that have been inactive longer than 7 years. This can be calculated as 7 years from the default date, or roughly 7 1/2 years from the date of first delinquency. Therefore, the only way that these debts may remain longer is if one of three events occur:

  • In some states, simply acknowledging that you owe a debt can restart the entire process. It is best to avoid stating that you owe it even if you are trying to resolve it.
  • Making any type of payment on a debt will keep it on your credit report for an additional 7 years beyond that payment date. Payment plans may help prevent judgments, but they generally should be avoided on expired debts.
  • If a creditor takes you to court and obtains a judgment prior to the statute of limitations expiring, the debt will remain on your credit report for an additional 10 years. It will also be listed as a public record.

How to Handle Zombie Debt Collectors

If you can afford to repay an old debt, then you should consider doing so. After all, the most ethical option is to repay debts that you promised to pay and are now able.

That being said, never cave in to illegal threats made by a zombie debt collector. They may threaten to keep you from buying your next home or getting that new job, but they cannot legally do so.

If you are being harassed by a zombie debt collector, protect your rights. If you know for a fact that the statute of limitations on the debt has expired, tell them to cease and desist all contact for this expired debt. Any violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act may be referred to the FTC complaint assistant as well as punished through legal action of your own.

Kenneth Long
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Kenneth Long

President at Debtors Unite
Kenneth Long is President of Debtors Unite, Inc. as well as President and Vice Chairman for Vision Credit Education, Inc. He served as a regional coordinator for the North Carolina Saves campaign. Long co-founded the Wake EITC Coalition along with Family Resource Center of Raleigh.

Long is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a B.A. in Industrial Relations. He subsequently received his Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Duke University. His Certificate in Financial Planning was issued by Florida State University.

Long has achieved the Accredited Credit Counselor and Accredited Financial Counselor certifications through the Association for Financial Counseling, Planning and Education. Long originally achieved the Certified Credit Counselor designation through the National Institute for Financial Education.

In addition to years of nonprofit leadership, Long has been an innovator in the field of volunteer tax return preparation programs. He assists volunteer associations and nonprofit organizations who seek to integrate credit counseling and asset-building programs with free personal income tax preparation. His approach to using free credit reports as both an incentive and a screening tool for placement into asset-building programs has been shared with members of the National Community Tax Coalition, the EITC-Carolinas Initiative of MDC, Inc. and nonprofit groups across the Carolinas.

Long assists members of our armed forces in the Carolinas, Iowa, Rhode Island, Georgia and Germany with financial readiness. Please support our Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Sailors!

Favorite quote:

"The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not."

Thomas Jefferson
Kenneth Long
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