Can Collectors Call About Debts Not On Your Credit Report?

Close-up of letter with urgent stamp and label
••• hayesphotography / Getty Images

After a call from a debt collector, you may check your credit report to see if the collector has reported your account to the credit bureau. It may also be an opportunity to confirm whether the original debt actually exists. If you don't find an original account on your credit report, it raises some questions as to whether the debt collector can legally collect from you or if the debt is even yours.

Why Some Collection Accounts Don't Show On Your Credit Report

Just because a debt isn't on your credit report doesn't mean it's not legitimate. A debt may not show up on your credit report for any of these reasons.

The credit reporting time limit has passed.

Most debts can be listed on your credit report for seven years. After that, credit bureaus remove these old debts from your credit report. In some cases, collectors can still attempt to collect old debts that have dropped off your credit report.

The statute of limitations has passed.

Don’t confuse the credit reporting time limit with the statute of limitations on debt, which is the period of time that a debt is legally enforceable. The two aren’t related, except with court judgments in states where the statute of limitations for a judgment is longer than the credit reporting time limit.

The debt collector hasn’t reported the debt yet.

It’s possible that the debt collector intends to list the account on your credit report, but is perhaps giving you a chance to pay the debt first. Some accounts go to “pre-collections” when they’re only one or two months past due. During this period, you may get calls or letters about the debt even though it’s not on your credit report yet.

The debt is on another credit report.

You have credit reports with three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If you’ve only checked for the debt on one of your credit reports, it’s possible that the debt appears on another.

The debt collector doesn’t report to credit bureaus.

Another possibility is that the debt collector doesn’t subscribe to any of the credit bureau services. Debt collectors are required to report debts accurately when they decide to report to credit bureaus, but credit reporting is voluntary.

The debt doesn't belong to you.

Some “debt collectors” run a scam convincing consumers to pay for debts that don’t belong to them or that don’t exist. The scammers are hoping you’ll pay without truly questioning the legitimacy of the debt.

How to Get Proof of a Debt Collection

Before paying any collection, you should make sure the debt is yours. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act allows you to request validation of a collection account within the first 30 days of the debt collector's initial contact.

After receiving your request, the debt collector has to send you proof of the debt. The collector also cannot continue collection efforts on the debt, including reporting the account to a credit bureau, until it has sent you proof of the debt.

If the collector sends you satisfactory proof that the debt actually does belong to you, you can decide whether you want to pay. For debts that appear on just one credit report, you may offer payment in exchange for removing the debt from that credit report. Or, if the account is in pre-collections, paying the debt will keep it from appearing on your credit report.

Paying a debt that’s beyond the credit reporting time limit doesn’t benefit your credit rating, but it does get the debt collectors off your back.

What Happens If You Don't Pay

If you choose not to pay the debt, be aware that the collector can continue to pursue you for the debt indefinitely – that means calling, sending letters, or suing you for debts still in the statute of limitations – even if it’s not on your credit report.

You can stop debt collector calls by sending a written cease and desist letter asking them to stop calling you.The cease and desist letter only applies to a single collection agency. Any new collection agency who takes over the account can resume calls until you also send that agency a request to stop calling.