Dealing with debts in collection is already stressful, so it’s understandable if seeing an old debt reappear on your credit report under a new date sends you into a panic. This is exactly what some debt collection agencies hope to achieve by illegally re-aging old debts.
To protect your rights and your credit, you need to understand what debt re-aging is, why it’s illegal, and what you can do to fight back when debt collectors violate your rights by reporting an old debt as new.
Table of Contents
What is illegal re-aging of debt?
Debt re-aging occurs when a debt collection agency changes the delinquency date on your debt so that it appears newer than it really is. Debt collection agencies sometimes do this to pressure debtors into paying. However, this practice is illegal. 1
Unfortunately, many consumers have watched their credit scores suffer as a result of debt collectors reporting old debts as new without realizing that they have the power to fight back and hold these collectors accountable for violating their rights.
How old debts are reported on your credit report
To know whether a debt collection agency is illegally re-aging your debt, you need to understand how long debts are supposed to stay on your credit report in the first place.
There are three key dates associated with credit accounts on your report:
- Account open date: This is the date that your creditor first opened a credit account in your name.
- Date of first delinquency: The date that your debt first became delinquent (i.e., the date of your first missed payment). This is also known as the date of initial delinquency or account purge date. 2 This marks the start of the “countdown” before the delinquent account (and the associated negative marks) must be removed from your credit report.
- Date of last activity: The most recent date that the account details were updated. This marks the start of the period that accounts in good standing (that are fully paid up) can remain on your credit report. 3
How long can a collection agency report a debt?
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), debt collection agencies can report debts in collections for up to 7 years plus 180 days after the date of first delinquency. None of the other dates are relevant to this timeline. 4
Debt collection agencies can report your debt to the credit bureaus for less time, like if you succeed in getting collections removed from your credit report by making a pay-for-delete agreement.
However, debt collectors generally can’t legally report your debt for longer than this period. A rare exception is certain types of federal student loan collections like Perkins Loans, which can stay on your credit reports as long as they’re unpaid—potentially indefinitely. 5
Why debt collectors can’t re-age debt
Debt collection agencies can update your credit file when you make a payment toward a debt, but they aren’t allowed to change the date of first delinquency. This means they can’t legally change how long a collection account can stay in your credit history.
With that said, each time your debt is transferred to another debt collection agency, the company will report a new account open date. However, the new open date won’t have any bearing on how long the account stays on your credit report.
Can an old debt ever legitimately reappear on your credit report?
Yes, an old debt can disappear and then reappear on your credit report. However, this can only happen when it was removed early—an account that was removed from your credit report once it hit the 7.5 year deadline can’t legally be reinserted for any reason.
There are a few possible reasons a previously removed debt might show up again:
- You filed a credit dispute: If you sent a credit dispute letter to the credit bureaus about your collection account but the debt collection agency didn’t provide proof of your debt within 30–45 days, then the credit bureaus would have been required to delete the account. 6 However, they might have reinserted it if the debt was later proven to be valid.
- Your debt collector went out of business: If the debt collection agency handling your debt went out of business, then they may have stopped reporting your account information. However, if they sold or transferred your debt to another debt buyer or debt collector, they might have begun reporting the account again.
Again, these explanations only apply to debts that were removed from your credit report early. If an old debt naturally fell off your credit report after 7.5 years but later reappeared, it’s either a mistake or a sign that the debt collection agency is trying to report your old debt as new by changing the delinquency date.
In either case, you should dispute the account immediately to stop it from damaging your credit.
How to dispute re-aged debt on your credit report
If you suspect that a debt collection agency is illegally reporting an old debt as new, then file a credit dispute to delete the negative mark from your credit report. To do so, send a dispute letter to each credit reporting agency that’s publishing the old debt (the three credit bureaus are Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian).
Also send evidence of your debt’s original date of delinquency, such as account statements from your original creditor. It doesn’t hurt to also send the debt collection agency a copy of the letter you mail to the credit bureaus.
Where to Send Your Dispute Letter
|Where to send your dispute letter||Experian|
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
|TransUnion Consumer Solutions
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016-2000
|What you’ll need to send|
|Dispute online||Experian's online dispute form||Equifax’s online dispute form||TransUnion’s online dispute form|
Does paying a collection account restart the credit reporting timeline?
Making a payment to a debt collection agency won’t restart the clock on the time that a collection account can stay on your credit report. Some sources claim that it does, but this is a credit reporting myth.
However, making payments (or even saying that you’ll make payments) can restart the amount of time that debt collectors can sue you over the debt.
To avoid confusion, bear in mind that two different time limits apply to debts in collections:
- Credit-reporting limit: This is the limit we’ve been talking about. It applies to how long collections can stay on your credit report. Again, in accordance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act, this is always 7 years plus 180 days from the delinquency date.
- Statute of limitations: This determines how long debt collectors can take you to court and receive a judgment forcing you to pay a debt. This limit varies according to state law and the type of debt, but it’s usually in the range of 3–6 years. 7
It’s easy to confuse these two limits, but they have nothing to do with each other. You should still avoid restarting the statute of limitations on your debt, but if you do, it won’t affect your credit-reporting limit, and debt collectors can’t legally claim that it will.
Does disputing a debt restart the statute of limitations or credit-reporting limit?
No, disputing a debt won’t restart the clock on how long debt collectors can pursue payment for a debt through legal means. It also won’t restart your credit-reporting limit.
In fact, there aren’t really any downsides to submitting a credit dispute with the credit bureaus or disputing debts with debt collectors.
In the worst case, your dispute will be unsuccessful and you’ll need to try again with more evidence. In the best case, your account information will be updated and you won’t need to do anything else.