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Credit card company tries to collect on old debts

For people struggling with debt, receiving letters demanding payment is a frequent occurrence. But for individuals who believed their debt was "charged-off," receiving such a letter can be a shock, especially if the creditor is now demanding payment of many years of interest.

This is the situation one couple found themselves in recently. After working hard to pay off outstanding debt, the couple thought they were positioning themselves to rebuild their credit score. Then they received a letter from Capital One requesting payment for a $2,000 credit card debt from ten years ago. The company also added interest for the past decade, and they are claiming the couple now owes more than $5,000 for that debt.

The couple has not received bills or requests for payment since 2000, and their financial counselor did not see any outstanding debt with Capital One. The couple reasonably believed that the company had written the debt off, and they no longer owed anything.

In fact, that's true. The outstanding $2,000 plus interest is not collectible. The state in which the couple lives has a statute of limitations for collecting debts, so Capital One cannot sue the couple over this debt. But the letter demanding payment nearly tricked them into paying money they do not technically owe anymore.

According to Capital One, the company sent out this kind of demand letter to comply with a new federal regulation. Technically, creditors must send out notifications if they are still charging interest on old debts. However, the company is likely using this as an opportunity to try to convince debtors to pay back money that they no longer owe.

It is important for individuals who have received similar letters to know that they are not in danger of facing a lawsuit to collect that payment. The company can send demand letters, but they cannot legally take any action other than asking for payment.

Source: LA Times, "Capital One dredges up decade-old, charged-off debt," David Lazarus, 1 Feb 2011

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