Pay a debt agency, or not (for an ambulance bill)

I have a debt agency calling me telling me that they will offer a settlement for half the price of what is an ambulance bill (about 1000 dollars). I talked to my dad and he says that I may have had insurance back when this happened, which may be covered. If so, what should I do?

Under no circumstances, admit to even owing on the debt. Doing that may make you legally liable for something (depending on where you live), may ‘restart a clock’ on a statute of limitations, and will probably get your name and number sold to dozens of other debt collection agencies.

Seriously, ask this company for what they propose in writing, then evaluate even if this is a valid debt, and what to do about it.

Skeezy companies can buy a few dollars of debt, and trump up fees to make their profit. I’m just saying you should be extremely skeptical about this phone call, and demand as much info as you can in writing without giving any info away.

Time is on your side. Use it, and make an informed decision.

There’s a lot of vagueness in this, which you should clarify before you make your decision. Do you actually owe the amount which that agency offers you a deal about? If yes, why was the collection of this debt delayed until now, and what difficulties arose (from the creditors perspective) in collecting that debt that could make them settle for less than what you owe? Did you have insurance covering this? You should clarify this (from the agency that made you the offer, and from other parties (such as the ambulance service) without making any sort of acknowledgment until you know what you need to know.

That’s a good point. I had a friend that worked in collections that used to do something like that. If she had a debt that was getting in to the five or six year range with no activity she would call, and in her nicest, sweetest voice, would say “Hi, it’s me again, look, I have to get something on the books after all these years, I tell you what, just send me five dollars or even one dollar and I’ll get this closed out, but I have to show that I collected something after all this time” and boom, she has another 7 years to work on it.

Also, how long ago was it from? If your getting near the 7 year limit, you might just ride it out and then go from there.

Another thing to do would be to call your insurance company and ask them. Maybe you had insurance then, but maybe your insurance didn’t cover the ambulance (for any number of reasons) and that bill got lost in the shuffle. If you do actually owe the bill, I’d start by calling the ambulance company, telling them you never received the bill (assuming you didn’t) or any statements, maybe asking them why, and having them pull the debt out of collections so you can pay them. If the collections company is going to let you pay $500 on a $1000 bill, they probably bought it for $250 or so. Personally, I’d rather pay the full thousand to the ambulance company to be able to say I’ve never been in collections. They’ll probably be willing to accept a few payments over the next few months if you can’t pay it all at once.

One thing to be aware of is that insurance companies have a statute of limitations (called “timely filing”) for submitting or making corrections to claims. The company I work for it is 6 months from the date of service- it used to be a lot longer but with the move to electronic claims there is less reason for delays in submitting claims and less errors being made. We actually delete claims off our production system after a few years. So even if you had insurance if it’s been a long time it may not be covered at this point.

If it turns out you had insurance and they didn’t pay the bill, ask them why. I once got a lab bill years later. I called the insurance company I had at the time, and found out that they didn’t cover the bill because the lab hadn’t submitted the bill within the six months or so that the contract required. And the contract also prohibited the lab from charging me in that circumstance.

I had that happen once years ago. Got a doctors bill in the mail for $0. One line said that it was rejected by the insurance company because it was sent to them after the time limit, the next line said it was written off by the office. I don’t remember if I had a copay or deductible at the time, but when I saw the first line that said if was rejected by the insurance company I was all ready to call the doctor’s office to say “Hey, not by problem bub”, so I was happy to see that they took care of it.
I’m also in the middle of a another mess. At the beginning of this year, I racked up a few grand in medical bills from one medical group. I called them up, they offered to let me pay $500 a month. This month, the bill was less then it should have been. I got it on a Friday so I couldn’t call about it. Then on Saturday, I got a bill in the mail for one of the doctors I had seen months ago for $60. Strange. I also got a bill from a collections agency for about $104.00. Then it was clear. The $104 plus the $60 is the amount that was missing from the bill I had been chipping away at for the last 8 months. For some reason, and I don’t know why the took the the services belonging to one doctor out of that combined bill, sent a portion to me and a portion to a collections agency. I never called the collections agency, I called the billing dept at the medical group and they tell me the pulled it out of collections and I should get a new bill soon that should be back to normal.

Hopefully it all works out and I can get it paid off. Unsurprisingly, it’s the doctor’s office who’s staff I’ve had a lot of issues with.

Further info:
-I remember some kind of debt from awhile back, so there seems to be a real debt that I have.
-They are (were) offering a settlement for half the price (about 500 dollars).
The offer expires today and they are closed, so I can’t talk to anyone about splitting the debt up between two months which is what we were discussing a few days ago.
-Also, I believe that the ambulance bill possibly was covered by insurance at the time, I am not sure though.

I see, thanks for sharing

I remember a bill at some point (within the last year?) but I remember the debt collection agency saying it was since 2009, so around 5 years ago. Not sure what the deal is.

I was discussing with them on the phone already about me paying it. I think I mentioned that I remember owing something. My name and number can be sold?
They sent a letter too before. I called them after receiving it, to see what was up.

Absolutely can your name and number be sold. Telemarketers, magazine subscriptions, advertisers, etc. all sell names, addresses, and phone numbers to each other to generate money, and generate sales. Once you pop up on a list, your ‘fresh’ info is sold, and you get a flood of advertisements, ‘offers’, or telemarketers. If you have stated that you owe money on a loan, you’ve become a “mark,” and every random shill will come to you for a dole out. This is an extreme example, of course, but there are unscrupulous ‘debt collectors’ out there that will get your name, number, and a remote hint of an activity you did years ago, and will try to scare you into paying into a false claim.

“Hello, I’m Barry from Achievement Debt Collections. I have an outstanding dry cleaning charge from 2000 that wasn’t paid by yor credit card company, and with late fees, and interest, the total comes to $450. In order to resolve this debt, and spare the negative impact to your credit rating, we’d be willing to setgle this for $350.” I could smell the bullshit, and told him in no uncertain terms that I believed him, I recognized or even acknowledged the debt, and wanted to know details on the origins of the debt. He gave me the wrong state I was located in at that time, and couldn’t verify the spelling of the place when I asked him twice. He was obviously fishing for me to bite on something, and I knew it. I told him to send me a letter stating the claim. When he asked for me to ‘confirm’ my address he couldn’t even provide one he had on file. The bullshit meter pegged, and I ended the call. I never heard from him again, and this was in 2005. But after that, because I proved an existing, breathing, potential “mark,” I got a few more phone calls from other ‘agencies’ (according to my called ID), but I never answered them. I never owed money to any dry cleaner.

I’m not saying you don’t owe, but I am saying I would not acknowledge anything until you do your research. These people may just be pumping you for money as a last, desperate act.

Give nobody nuthin, unless they prove it to you.

I dealt with this same scenario a little over a month ago. It was for an ambulance bill from 2009 that I had no real knowledge of and I also had health insurance for the time period in question.

I called the collection agency first which was probably a waste of time. Of course they want to talk you into paying something so they offered to settle for half the amount on the spot. I refused and maintained that I didn’t know anything about the bill.

My next step was to file a dispute with the credit bureau it was reported to (in this case, Transunion). You can do it online and it takes about 5 minutes if you already have an online account or a little longer if you don’t. Less than 24 hours later, I got back the results of their investigation. The whole thing was wiped from my credit report forever and the collection agency cannot ever contact me about it again by law. That is what you call a success.

I have filed a few disputes over the years and they have always come back that same way. There are laws that protect you from collection agencies if you know how to play your cards but they depend on people not knowing how to do that or falling for their guilt trip. Don’t be one of those people. Just file the dispute, maintain that you have ‘no knowledge’ of the bill and make them prove that you do. The burden of proof is on them and they will rarely go through the time and effort to prove it even if you really do owe it especially for such a relatively small amount that is several years old. Once you win the dispute, that is the end of it for good.

Once, years ago, when cellular internet was new, I wanted to try it. I suspected it might suck, so I bought my own little doohickey to stick in my laptop - so I wouldn’t be stuck with a contract - and signed up for service from TrueMobile for 30 days. It did indeed suck, and at the end of the 30 days, I cancelled.

Sometime later, they started calling me about a cancellation fee. I told them there was no cancellation fee, because there was no contract. They said there was a contract, and I asked if I could see it. They said it happened “automatically” when I got the free doohickey. I said I didn’t get a free doohickey. They said it didn’t matter, there was still a contract. (An invisible one, apparently.)

We went round and round until I told them I wasn’t going to pay them, and not to call me again.

They sold the “debt” to a collection agency, it went on my credit report, and I got calls and letters offering offering to " settle" for 50%.

The thing is, if it’s a legit debt, then I’d settle with whoever I owed the money to. But I wouldn’t talk to a collections person, ever. There’s no benefit to it. The money goes to the debt collector, not the original party, and it does nothing to help your credit score.

If you pay a debt collector, you’re just supporting a racket.

I agree. That is a good point about the money not going to the original party. It generally doesn’t - none of it. They already sold the debt to a collection agency for pennies on the dollar and that is all they are going to get whether you eventually pay or not.

Collections agencies are a shady business in general but you do have strong, legally protected rights. Always, and I mean always, deny any specific knowledge of the debt to them and maintain your stance. Use the specific phrase ‘no knowledge of this debt’ in any written or verbal correspondence to any inquiries about it.

My preferred strategy is to not deal with collection agencies at all. Just tell them at most that you have ‘no knowledge’ of the debt if you choose to talk to them and make them put their evidence in writing (they have to by law). Turn around at the same time and dispute it with the relevant credit reporting agency immediately. They have to do an investigation and the odds of it being dismissed quickly and forever are outstanding for older, minor debts.

If, for some reason, you you feel you do owe the debt and still want to pay the collection agency (remember, not the original party), you can still negotiate whatever you want including paying all or part of it and still have it taken off of your credit report permanently. You just have to tell them that up front before you negotiate any amount and have them also put that in writing. Once you get that letter, you can choose to pay it or not but all of the credit reporting agencies have a standard removal process for any such negotiated delinquencies and your letter from the collection agency that shows they agreed to that will also force them to remove it if it isn’t done automatically.

In my experience, these types of things are ridiculously easy to beat once you know the right procedure. I have had a number of things appear on my credit report over the years as negatives: some were true mistakes and some probably were mine at some point but they didn’t try to collect in an appropriate period of time so I fought them. It always ended up the same way - one phone call or online dispute to the credit reporting agency and it was gone forever within 24 hours.

If you are interested in keeping a high credit score, I highly suggest - It is the real deal and will give you a close approximation of several types of your credit scores updated weekly completely for free. If you check it regularly, it will also show you instantly any time somebody like this throws some garbage on your credit reports plus lots of tools for keeping a stellar one. Also, remember that you have the legal right to each of your three major credit reporting agency reports once a year through - It is also free and you can get a new one every four months for free if you stagger your requests throughout the year.

Former debt collector support person here (skip tracer for those in the biz).
Firstly, don’t worry about ‘offers expiring’; they’re not real, they’re tactics by debt buyers who paid a penny or three per dollar for your debt and will be thrilled beyond words to collect 20 cents of each dollar of your debt. You can even negotiate w/ them if you choose to pay this debt. Haggle like you’re in the middle of a bazaar if you want, they’re hourly employees who get paid bonuses and really, they have nothing better to do.
Call them from a block/burner/Google phone # unless you want to be hounded on the phone by them. Once they have your account information pulled up, get the account # and their mailing address and then hang the hell up. DO NOT GIVE THEM ONE BIT OF INFORMATION. Let them ask you to verify a phone # or amount or the account # they assigned your debt or the last 4 of your SSN.
Send them a letter as described here. While you wait for their response, pull one of your three free annual credit reports. Is the debt on there?
Google your state and “statute of limitations” “medical bills”. Is the debt within the statute?
Acquaint yourself w/ the FDCPA; if they violate it you could wind up w/ money (up to $5K) in your pocket and they know it.
Did they send you a letter that misrepresented any info from their end? Violation. Did the envelope have any information on the outside showing they’re debt collectors? Violation.
Have they discussed w/ anyone not party to your debt information about your debt? Violation.
If you decide to let them call you, record the call (depending on the legality of said recording in your state). Catch them in a yes/no lie, it’s not hard once you have them breathlessly thinking you’re going to make a promise to pay. Easy trip up questions can be, “Is this debt on my credit report? Is this debt within the statute of limitations of (your state)? Is the name you gave me your real name or an alias? (They may only use one alias consistently.) Will this debt prevent me from voting or getting a driver/professional license? Are you going to sue me if I don’t pay this debt?”
Medical debt makes me angry and I think it should be exempt from being sold by law. Buying a Mustang on a stupid whim is avoidable; many medical debts are not.

the minute you a pay a cent of that or sign a paper… you owe that debt …

they will try to pressure you in paying bill ( at which they get a percentage ), and trust me, they will call, call and call

if they threatening you to bring you to court, tell them fine bring me to court …

they dont have all the records, of a binding contract w/ you …

Since the OP is asking for legal advice, this is best suited to IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

Sounds like a nice idea, but I don’t think it will work, even if you try. Once the debt has been purchased, the collections agency owns it, and you are no longer in debt to the ambulance company. I think that if you would send any money to the ambulance company, they would just have to forward it to the collections agency. You’re trying to be honest and give the money to the people who did you the service, but you’re really not doing them any favors - you’re just making more work for them. It’s possible that an unscrupulous ambulance company might thank you and keep the money, but then you’re really in trouble, because you are still legally in debt to the collections agency.

I see that we have some professionals on this thread. Can someone confirm or deny what I’ve written? Or might it depend on the jurisdiction?

Quite right; the debt is sold entirely. Send a check to the original creditor and they’ll send it back. Someone upthread essentially said they’d only pay the original creditor; ‘honorable’ in theory but legally the debt is owned by someone else now.

I too would like to echo that you pull your credit report from the 3 agencies and just automatically fight any and all negative information on your files. Even if you have a feeling that they might be legitimate, fight it anyway. There is absolutely no downside to filing a dispute only to find out that the negative info is legitimate. It can only help you.

I recently cleared an old debt collection against me from 2007 that actually belonged to my mom. The debt collection company actually had their facts wrong.

I also cleared a number of late payments just by disputing them. I couldn’t remember if they were legitimate or not at this point (they probably were), but I disputed them anyway. And guess what? Lots of times the companies don’t keep verifiable records past a few years so they can’t prove you actually were late by 10 days in 2009 on your credit card bill or your student loan. Voila! It’s now off of your credit report and your score jumps a few points.

Managing your credit score is a game. And there are a lot of laws and rules that are on your side. Disputing ALL negative information, whether you believe it is legitimate or not, is one of the very powerful tools you have in your arsenal.

Never ever EVER admit to owing any debts in collection. EVER. Fight it tooth and nail. If you have to, just wait it out. And dispute dispute dispute every year or two.

If you already did admit to owing a debt or you mentioned that you think you remember the debt, what happens? Should I afterwords admit to not owing a debt?

If you admitted it verbally and there is no recording of you saying so, then you’re probably in the clear. If you paid even a small amount on a debt in collections, or for some reason wrote correspondence admitting that you want to make things right but just can’t afford to pay right now, you effectively reset the 7-year clock and need to wait (actual clock time may vary depending on local laws but for many debts it is 7 years).

Debt collection companies are scum, doubly-so the ones who buy student loan debt and medical debt. I agree that debt collecting on a Mustang isn’t so sleazy, but it’s just a notch above “we are from Microsoft and your computer is sending out viruses” level of scam.