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Ask The Experts: When Debt Is Too Old To Be Collected

Q. I receive collection notices periodically from a collection account from 1991. I don't use credit, and haven't since I went thru that bad period in my life nearly 20 years ago. HOW LONG can they send these notices? It's been going on for the last few years although I've never talked to them. I don't buy anything, and have no credit cards now, nor have I run a credit score because it seems futile to try to fix anything that old. Nearly 20 years. -J.D.

A. JD - Start documenting everything because you may have an FDCPA claim on your hands.

The FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act) defines how these collectors must conduct themselves when attempting to collect a debt. Be sure to check your credit reports to make sure that they have not done a nasty little act called "re-aging", which is the practice of changing the dates to make the collection look more recent and still a reportable event on your credit reports.

The debt is too old for them to do anything more than send you irritating letters. It's what's referred to as a "paper tiger" debt, which means they can't take any real actions against you any longer.

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John Ulzheimer is a nationally recognized credit expert, president of Consumer Education for Credit.com and contributor to On The Money. Learn more about him at CreditExpertWitness.com.