You May Be Able to Get Collection Accounts Off Your Credit Report Sooner Than You Think

A collection account can drag down your credit score for several years — but not always.

While shopping for a home to buy, Ryan discovered through his credit monitoring service that a collection account had hit his credit reports. His credit score dropped, and he was worried it could jeopardize this ability to get a mortgage. “I had no idea what it was,” he says. He wanted it off his credit.

After doing some research online, Ryan (he asked his last name not be used to protect his privacy) connected with Michael Bovee of Consumer Recovery Network, who helped him negotiate with the collection agency to resolve the account.

Bovee had good news for Ryan: The collection agency that had the account, Midland Funding, had recently made changes to their credit reporting policy. Because the account had been delinquent more than two years prior, if he resolved it he could get it removed from his credit reports and continue looking for a home to buy.

Collection Accounts Can Damage Your Credit for Years

One of the most frustrating things about collection accounts is that once they are on your credit reports, the damage is done. You can resolve them — settle them or pay in full — but they still can remain on your credit reports for many years, affecting your credit scores and flagging you as a higher risk to lenders. (You can see how much collection accounts are harming your credit by reviewing two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com. The scores are updated every 14 days.)

It can be a long time before you completely put them behind you. By law, collection accounts may be reported for seven years, plus 180 days from the date you first fell behind with the original creditor. So if you stopped paying a department store card in January 2015, for example, and it later wound up in collections, that collection account could be reported until June 2022. Ouch!

While the newest credit scoring models — FICO 9 and the latest version of VantageScore — ignore collection accounts with a zero balance when calculating credit scores, most lenders are using older credit scoring models that treat all collection accounts as negative, whether they are paid or not. That means consumers trying to get a mortgage, car loan, credit card, or auto insurance may wind up paying more because of a collection account that perhaps was resolved some time ago.

Worse, most consumers seem to believe that paying a collection account will help improve their credit scores and are often shocked to learn after that fact that it doesn’t.

So when Encore Capital, which owns Midland Funding, Asset Acceptance and Atlantic Credit and Finance, quietly changed its credit reporting policy late last year, consumers who were the beneficiary of this new, more lenient policy may not have realized how fortunate they were to have these items removed from their credit reports, sometimes years before they would have been previously.

Specifically, these companies announced they would:

  • Stop reporting accounts that were more than two years old if the account was paid in full or paid for less than the full balance, and
  • Not report new accounts if payments are made within three months of the initial notice and are made on time thereafter until the account is paid in full or paid for less than the full balance.

According to one source familiar with this action, over 1 million of these derogatory accounts have already been removed from credit reports as a result of this change. There are at least 30 million Americans with accounts in collection, according to the FTC, but some estimates put that number as high as 77 million.

Changes on the Consumer’s Side

Bovee has been encouraging the industry to adopt new reporting policies for some time. “If the newer (credit scores) say paid collections don’t really matter, then keeping them on there is just punitive,” he says.

It’s not just consumers that can be hit by collection accounts. According to a National Federation of Independent Businesses survey in 2012, nearly half of small business owners use their personal credit in some way, shape or form to finance their company, so entrepreneurs with collections on their credit reports may struggle to get credit when their business needs it because of a mistake years prior. (You can check your business credit reports for collection accounts that may be hurting your business credit scores.)

Last year, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) proposed a bill that would have reduced the time negative information stays on credit reports to four years and required that paid and settled debts be removed from credit reports within 45 days. However, that legislation stalled in Congress. (You can read more here about how to repair credit report issues and possibly improve your credit.)

Credit reporting is a voluntary system and no lender is required to report. But generally credit reporting agencies (and even some regulators) frown on removing accurate information early, as it may increase risk to lenders who are unaware of the consumer’s full credit history. So far, the change in collection account reporting by these major debt collectors hasn’t been met with public opposition from the bureaus.

Ryan appreciates this change. He knows that not all collection accounts are removed so quickly. “It’s very good to find out this will come off completely,” he says, “and makes you feel as if paying it off is well worth it.”

Bovee believes that other collection agencies are likely to follow suit in the not-too-distant future. After all, they want to get paid, and if consumers know that resolving their collection accounts will help get them removed faster, they are more likely to try to strike a deal.

“The cat’s out of the bag, and it needs to stay that way,” he says.

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How to Handle Debt & Maintain Your Mental Health

It’s no secret that most people feel lousy when they’re in financial trouble, and one of the biggest financial stressors seems to be debt.

It’s no secret that most people feel lousy when they’re in financial trouble, and one of the biggest financial stressors seems to be debt. When you’re in debt, simple tasks like going to your mailbox, where you anticipate finding an avalanche of bills or overdue notices, can bring on stress. If you relate to this feeling, you aren’t alone. According to a Time article, there are a plethora of Americans in an excessive amount of debt. In fact, the Federal Reserve reported at the end of 2015 that, on average, an American between the ages of 18 and 64 has $4,717 in credit card debt.

So aside from being a burden on our wallets, what does this debt do to us?

“Financial issues are a common source of stress,” Dr. Jay Winner, director of the Stress Reduction Program for Sansum Clinic in Santa Barbara, California, said. “Additionally, when someone has extensive debt, there is a tendency to work excessive hours. This deviation from a healthy work-life balance leaves people less resilient to other stressors in their lives.”

How Debt Stress Impacts You

Chronic stress is linked to a wide variety of mental health ailments. Dr. Robert Williams, a psychiatrist in Phoenix, explained that long-term stress physically affects the brain through the well-known “fight or flight” mechanism, which occurs during times of perceived danger, such as those experienced when a threat to financial well-being occurs. Williams explained that when the deep limbic system, or primitive brain, is less active, there is generally a positive, more hopeful state of mind. When it is heated up, or overactive from too much stimulation in the form of perceived threats, negativity can take over.

In addition to an overactive limbic system, Williams said some people are born with a thin cerebral cortex. Emotional stability is a manifestation of the cerebral cortex, and studies suggest a relationship between depression and a thinning cerebral cortex. Dr. Williams said the combination of an overactive limbic system and a thinning cerebral cortex could lead to severe depression. Long-term stress from things like too much debt can cause anxiety, restlessness, lack of motivation or focus, feelings of being overwhelmed, irritability or anger, sadness or depression, even thoughts of suicide.

Coping With Debt Stress

If you are stressed because of a financial situation, here are some suggestions from Dr. Winner that may help you cope.

  • Be mindful. Focus on doing one thing at a time with your full attention.
  • Learn a relaxation exercise. Learning to relax for a specified period of time will help you learn to relax through the day and reduce stress.
  • Do not resist the stress. There are not much in the way of health risks from short-term stress; so if you’re too stressed now, don’t stress about being stressed. Just learn some strategies so the stress does not become excessive in the long term.
  • Learn patience. This is important because the emotion most strongly associated with heart disease is anger and hostility.
  • Decrease the frustration of failure. Instead of thinking you are worthless when things go wrong, realize progress comes from learning from our mistakes. Ask, “What can I learn from this?”
  • Keep things in perspective. One way to keep things in perspective is to think of your health, family, friends etc.
  • Take care of yourself. Eat nutritiously and mindfully, enjoying the taste and aroma of your food. Get regular exercise.
  • Have some technology-free time. If you can spend some of that time out in nature, that’s all the better.
  • Talk with someone. If you’re overwhelmed by stress and basic techniques are not helping, discuss this with a physician or mental health professional.

Paying Off Your Debts

Getting out of debt is one sure-fire way to help reduce your stress levels. Of course this is easier said than done, so consider taking small steps toward this larger goal. To start, gather all the information about your debts, including who you owe what amounts to and any interest rates or fees that are applicable to each of the debts. From there, consider what options you have. Can you consolidate your debts? Move the debt to a balance transfer credit card and eliminate interest charges for a while? You may even decide to seek the advice of a professional debt counselor to help you find the right path.

Whatever you do, take a deep breath and keep moving forward. Not only will paying off these debts help your stress, but it will help improve your credit scores. (You can see how paying down your debts are affecting your credit by checking out two of your free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

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1 in 4 Americans Feel Threatened When Contacted by a Debt Collector, Survey Says

A new survey found that more than a quarter of consumers who've interacted with debt collectors said they felt threatened by a debt collector.

More than a quarter (27%) of consumers who’ve interacted with debt collectors said they felt threatened by the most recent creditor or collector who contacted them, according to a new survey from the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB).

That may not sound surprising, given debt collectors don’t have a reputation for being friendly, but it’s a noteworthy discovery. It’s illegal for debt collectors to harass or verbally abuse consumers.

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a debt collector cannot “harass, oppress or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt.” That includes things like threatening to hurt or arrest you, using obscene or profane language or using repeated phone calls to annoy you. They’re also not allowed to lie to consumers. The CFPB’s survey results indicate those rules often aren’t being followed.

A bit more on that data: It’s based on survey responses from 2,132 consumers the bureau contacted between December 2014 and March 2015. Of those respondents, 32% (682 people) said they had been contacted by a creditor or debt collector about paying a debt within the last year. The results are weighed to represent “the broader population of consumers with credit records.”

It’s worth noting that consumers saying they felt threatened doesn’t mean the collector they talked to broke the law. Still, 27% is a high occurrence rate of potentially illegal behavior. Additionally, reports of threatening debt collectors wasn’t the only issue raised by survey respondents: About 40% of consumers who’d been contacted about debts in collection said they asked a collector or creditor to stop contacting them and, of those consumers, about 75% said the collector continued to contact them anyway. Legally, a debt collector must stop contacting a consumer if that consumer sent a written request to the collector to stop communicating with them, with a few exceptions.

If you ever find yourself dealing with a debt collector, it’s a good idea to take the time to familiarize yourself with your rights and the rules debt collectors have to follow when contacting you. You can report any issues you encounter to your state’s attorney general, the Federal Trade Commission or the CFPB, and you’ll want to keep an eye on your credit reports and scores to see how the collection account affects you. (You can get a free summary of your credit report, with updates every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

Image: Christopher Futcher

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Can a Debt Collector Call Me During the Holidays?

It's totally legal for a debt collector to try to recoup an outstanding bill, so you'll want to keep this in mind if they call on holidays.

Getting a call from a debt collector looking to recoup on an old debt you owe is never exactly pleasant, and it’s probably the last thing you want to deal with during the most wonderful time of the year. After all, who wants to excuse themselves from Christmas dinner just so they can sort out that cable bill they forgot to pay in college?

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), it’s totally legal for a debt collector to try to recoup an outstanding bill you actually owe, but there are restrictions about how and when they can go about doing so. For instance, debt collectors can’t call you at times they know are inconvenient, like too early in the morning (before 8 a.m.) or too late at night (after 9 p.m.). They can’t call you at work if you ask them to stop, and they can’t call repeatedly throughout the day. But are holidays like Chanukah, Christmas and New Year fair game?

The short answer: Maybe.

“There isn’t an actual holiday carve out,” Troy Doucet, a consumer attorney in Columbus, Ohio, said in an email. However, you could argue that a call on, say, Christmas Eve is, in fact, a violation of the FDCPA.

“It would probably fall under the prohibition against calling at times known to be inconvenient,” Doucet said.

How Can I Keep Debt Collectors From Ruining My Holiday?

Keep in mind, if you’re on a debt collector’s radar and you really don’t want to deal with the account during the holiday season, you can request that they stop calling you. Under the FDCPA, a debt collector must cease contact with you if you send a written request to do so. However, it’s important to note that this request doesn’t absolve you of the debt — or the ramifications of letting a long-overdue bill you legitimately owe go unpaid. That account could still wind up on your credit report and do big damage to your credit score. And the collector could elect to seek a judgment against you to recoup the debt, which could result in garnishment that further hurts your credit. (You can see how any collection accounts are affecting your credit by viewing your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

That’s why you may want to try to negotiate a payment plan with a collector. Doing so could preclude them from taking further adverse action against you. If you do work something out, be sure to ask the collector to put your agreement in writing. That’ll help ensure they stick to what was agreed.

Something else to note: If you have an unpaid bill that hasn’t gone to collections yet, like an old medical debt, you may want to touch base and see if you could work something out with the creditor. They may be more willing to waive some fees, lower an interest rate or take a large lump sum payment that’s less than what you actually owe just to get back some of the money you owe back. Many creditors or service providers wait at least 90 days before turning a debt over to collections. (There are more tips for negotiating with creditors and/or debt collectors here.)

Finally, if you truly don’t owe the debt or you think a debt collector has crossed a line, you can also consult a consumer attorney about whether you have a FDCPA claim and what your next steps should be. Remember, when it comes to debt collectors, it helps to know your rights. You can go here for a debt collections crash course.

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Help! A Payday Debt Collector Says I Owe them Money, But It’s Not On My Credit Report

payday-debt-collector

Yes, there’s such a thing as phantom debt collectors. And, yes, you can get contacted about a payday loan debt you simply don’t owe. Just ask intrepid consumer reporter Bob Sullivan, who received his very own debt collection note after simply reaching out to a payday loan company (and alleged phantom debt collector) for a story.

But if you have taken out a payday loan before and you’re genuinely confused about whether you completely addressed that debt, we have a bit of bad news: you can’t simply take the debt’s absence from your credit report as a sign you don’t have to pay.

For starters, payday lenders don’t typically report to major credit bureaus, like Experian, according to the bureau’s Director of Public Education, Rod Griffin.

In other words, there’s a chance the original loan never made it onto the traditional credit reports you can get for free each year via AnnualCreditReport.com. But that doesn’t mean you don’t owe the purported balance.

“Any debt you enter into contractually you are obligated to repay, even if it doesn’t appear in a credit report,” Griffin said, and ignoring a legitimate debt could have serious consequences.

“If you do not fulfill the terms of the contract, the payday lending company could send the unpaid amount to a collection agency, that could then report the debt to a credit reporting company,” he said. “Another possibility is that the payday lender could file a civil lawsuit to recover the debt. A judgment resulting from a civil lawsuit could also appear in a credit report.”

Something else to note: not all debt collectors report to the credit bureaus either. In fact, it’s not unheard of for some agencies to try to collect on the debt before taking that type of adverse action in an effort to get a debtor to pay. So, again, it’s totally possible for a legitimate debt collection account to simply not appear on your credit file as soon as you start getting calls.

So What’s a Confused Consumer to Do?

Whether you’re sure you owe or not, it’s important to ask whoever is contacting you for written verification of the debt they allege you owe. In fact, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) requires that collectors provide this notice listing the amount of money and the name of the original creditor within five days of contact. Tip-offs that you are dealing with a debt collection scammer include their refusal to provide this type or verification, threats of arrest and a request for payment via less traceable methods, like a wire transfer or prepaid card.

If you discover the debt is legitimate, it still pays to know your rights. Yes, collectors can try to get you to pay money you do owe, but there are restrictions on how they can go about this. For instance, they can’t call too early, too late, use abusive language or make dire threats. (You can learn more about your debt collection rights here.) You can always contact a consumer attorney if you think a debt collector may be stepping over the line.

Settling Debts

Remember, if you do, in fact, owe what they say, it may be a good idea to try to work out a payment plan before the collector pursues further action, like a lawsuit. 

Collection accounts that do appear on your credit report will affect your credit — and unpaid collections can do more damage than paid ones. (You can see how collection accounts may be affecting your credit by viewing your free credit scores, updated each month, on Credit.com.) Tips for negotiating with collectors or creditors include explaining clearly what you can afford, taking written notes whenever you talk to a collector and getting written confirmation once you agree to a plan.

If a collection account that you don’t owe makes its way onto your credit report, you can dispute its appearance with the major reporting agencies. (Here’s a guide on how to do so.)

Image: Jacob Ammentorp Lund

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The Simple Reason You Didn’t Know a Debt Collector Was After You

debt-collector-mail

There are times when you miss a debt collector’s letter because it looks vague and impersonal and you you mistook it for a marketing solicitation. Then there are times when you miss their correspondence altogether because it never arrived at your address.

Here, we’ll discuss how to avoid the latter in one easy step.

What’s in the Mail?

If you’ve let a bill slide for a while, odds are good a debt collector is trying to reach you. (Remember, just because you haven’t received a debt collection notice or a phone call doesn’t mean that they aren’t — or that you’re off the hook for the payment.) But if you don’t check your mail that often, or worse, never check it all, now’s as good a time as any to get in the habit. That’s because debt collectors could be sending time-sensitive, critical information that you, the consumer, need to know. Like your payment history, debts in collection affect your credit score and can lead to all sorts of headaches.

Don’t Miss a Thing 

Moved recently? If you forgot to forward your mail, that’s could be why you missed the message. Fortunately there’s an easy way to fix the problem: Sign up for Regular Forward mail on USPS.com. As the site notes, it costs $1.05, (charged to a credit card, to verify your identity, the U.S. Postal Service says) and you can use the service for as short as 15 days or as long as 1 year. After the first 6 months, you can opt to extend the service for another 6 months. The Postal Service will hand-deliver each item to your mailbox so you’re sure not to miss a thing.

If you do wind up getting a debt collection notice, you’ll need to determine whether you owe money or, even, if the debt is too old to be collected. You should also ask the collector for a written verification to ensure that it isn’t a scam. If you’re not convinced the collection is legitimate, you can call your state attorney general’s office to find out if the collector is licensed. As you deal with the account, you can use Credit.com’s free credit report card tool, updated each month, to see how it may be affecting your credit score. You can learn more about your debt collection rights here.

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How to Get a Debt Collector to Stop Calling

get-a-debt-collector-to-stop-calling

If money is tight right now and you’ve fallen behind on your bills, you’re likely feeling a lot of stress. And if you’re getting frequent phone calls from a persistent debt collector on top of it all, your stress may be amplified.

There are a few things you can do to get the debt collector to stop calling you, however, just make sure you keep in mind that stopping a debt collector from contacting you doesn’t absolve you from your debt.

Attempt to Resolve the Problem

Attorney Colin Hector recommends trying to settle the matter the collector is calling you about.

“See if you can resolve it – even if you don’t think you owe the debt, can’t repay it immediately, or think that the collector is contacting you by mistake,” according to an article Hector wrote for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) earlier this year.

Request They Stop Calling

Once you’ve spoken with your collector and established what they are calling about, you may decide you don’t want them to contact you again. If this is the case, you need to let them know, which you should do in writing.

“The law requires a written letter asking for the communication to stop,” Troy Doucet, a consumer law attorney in Dublin, Ohio, said in an email. “A verbal request is not enough, unless it is to inform the debt collector that counsel has been retained. If a lawyer has been retained, then the debt collector must stop calling.”

You want to send the original letter to the collector, but it’s a good idea to make a copy for your files as well. You may also want to consider sending the letter by certified mail and get a return receipt so you can have documentation that they received your request.

It is illegal for a collector to contact you again after receiving your request, unless they are letting you know they won’t be contacting you again or that they are taking a different kind of action (like filing a lawsuit, for example).

Again, just because the calls stop, doesn’t mean you are cleared of your debts.

Understand Your Rights

As a consumer, you have rights that protect you from being hassled by a debt collector. Even if the calls are coming from a legitimate collection company, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is in place to protect you from letting these calls disrupt your life.

“A debt collector cannot lie, cheat or force a consumer to pay their debts,” Doucet said. “Doing any of those things, even if the violation is technical, can lead to a violation of federal law governing debt collectors.”

For example, the FDCPA bans repeated or continuous phone calls from debt collectors and they aren’t allowed to call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., which are seen as times that are typically inconvenient. If a collector is calling your friends, family, employers or any other third party to discuss your debt, they are also in violation of the FDCPA. And threats or verbal abuse are a definite no-no. (There are even times when you can sue a debt collector, which you can read about in this guide.)

How Debt Affects Your Credit

Collection accounts can have a major impact on your credit scores. If you’re concerned about how your debt could be affecting your credit, you can request a free copy of your credit reports once each year by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. (You can also see two of your credit scores for free, updated each month, on Credit.com if you want to monitor your credit more frequently.)

Even after your debts are paid back, it’s a good idea to review your reports for any problems or errors, as these could also be impacting your credit scores. If you do discover something that doesn’t look right, whether a misspelling or an account you don’t recognize, you can dispute these problems with the credit bureaus.

[Offer: If you need help fixing errors on your credit report, Lexington Law could help you meet your goals. Learn more about them here or call them at (844) 346-3296 for a free consultation.]

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The Guy I Sold My Car To Has $1,600 in Parking Tickets & Now Debt Collectors Are After Me

parking-tickets

You’re walking to your car and see something that makes your heart sink. It’s a piece of paper underneath your windshield wiper, and at first you’re hoping it’s just a flyer, but nope — it’s a parking ticket. Just like that, your day is ruined.

What a lot of people don’t know is that parking tickets can mess up a lot more than a good day. Unpaid tickets can end up on your credit report as collection accounts, and that can seriously damage your credit score.

One of our readers found himself in a particularly unfortunate situation with parking tickets: They didn’t belong to him, but they were affecting his credit anyway.

“I just got contacted by a collection law firm for some 21 parking tickets totaling $1,600 from 2009 that were from a guy I gave a car to, and he kept using my old plates, even though he told me he changed them. Do I have any defense?” — Todd B

This is a complicated predicament, Troy Doucet, a consumer law attorney in Dublin, Ohio, said.

“I think the issue is ultimately going to come down to [if] the state law requires that someone take specific action to cancel out plates upon a sale and whether or not the failure to do so imputes any further tickets or problems with those plates back to him,” Doucet said.

That would influence whether or not the debt collector has the right to try and collect with the previous vehicle owner. It’s important to know that consumers have some control over the way debt collectors interact with them (assuming the debt collector follows the rules).

What Are His Options

One thing Todd could do is request the debt collector not contact him by phone, which he’s entitled to do under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, John C. Heath, a credit expert and attorney with Lexington Law, a Credit.com partner said. Debt collectors must also comply with a written request for verification of the debt, so that letter could help Todd figure out if the tickets are his responsibility.

“It would really be a legal issue if he was responsible for the tickets,” Doucet said. “That’s a complex analysis under the state law, and it would require a ton of research. So the easiest way would be to validate the debt.”

The debt validation should provide information on where the tickets originated, which Todd could use to contest the tickets with the authority that issued them. If appealing the tickets doesn’t work, Todd may need to consult a consumer attorney in his jurisdiction to determine the best course of action.

If Todd successfully appeals the tickets, that should take care of the debt collectors and any related credit damage. If the collection accounts continue to show up on his credit report, he can dispute them on grounds that they are inaccurate, Heath said. Consumers also have the right to challenge items on their credit reports they find unfair.

“During the dispute or challenging process, show supporting documentation that it shouldn’t be on the report, and it should come off,” Heath said. Supporting documentation could include a title transfer and any sales paperwork.

You can do all these things on your own, but if you’re having trouble dealing with debt collectors or fixing errors on your credit report, you could hire someone to do the hard work. You can learn more about how credit repair works here. In the meantime, while you’re challenging a statement on your credit reports, you can see how it’s affecting your credit by getting a free credit report summary on Credit.com.

[Offer: If you need help fixing errors on your credit report, Lexington Law could help you meet your goals. Learn more about them here or call them at (844) 346-3296 for a free consultation.]

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Texas Man Pays $212 Speeding Ticket in Pennies

penny_protest

For many years, there have been efforts to get rid of the penny. The Penny Debate has its own Wikipedia page. The argument was a sub-plot in an episode of “The West Wing,” and there’s even an organization, Citizens to Retire the U.S. Penny, dedicated to eliminating the one-cent coin from our currency. Among its arguments: “The penny has outlived its usefulness.”

That, however, simply is not true. The penny is incredibly useful, in a way no other coin can claim to be: It allows you to meet a financial obligation while simultaneously insulting the person you’re paying. The penny is the middle finger of American currency.

Brett Sanders effectively waved that middle finger in the face of Frisco, Texas when he paid a $212 speeding ticket by dumping two buckets of pennies on a city worker’s desk. He filmed the whole production and posted it to YouTube, where it has been viewed nearly 2 million times since May 22.

The whole thing started when the police issued Sanders a ticket for driving 39 mph in a 30 mph zone, according to the video. He appealed the ticket and lost, resulting in the $212 bill (including the original ticket and court fees), CNN reported. It took city staffers about 3 hours to count the pennies using two coin-counting machines, after which they determined Sanders overpaid by $7.81, a city spokeswoman told CNN.

You can see the video below.

Sanders isn’t the only one who has used thousands of little copper Lincolns to prove a point. Early last month, a Miami-area mayor paid a $4,000 ethics fine in pennies and nickels (though he was ordered to count the change himself), the Miami-Herald reported. And in 2011, police charged a Utah man with disorderly conduct after he attempted to pay a disputed medical bill of $25 entirely in pennies, Yahoo! News reported.

They may be annoying, but bills like a speeding ticket, fines for overdue library books or an unexpected medical expense can have a serious impact on your finances. If the bill is sent to a debt collector, it can damage your credit score for years (though some credit scoring models ignore medical bills sent to collections or paid collection accounts). That, in turn, can lead to paying higher interest rates on your credit accounts, which can add up to a lot on something like an auto loan or mortgage. (To see how your payment history is impacting your credit, you can check your two free credit scores, updated every month, on Credit.com.)

You can avoid negative consequences like that by promptly paying debts. But as Sanders and others have shown, you don’t have to be happy about it. And there’s no better way to show your frustration than giving someone buckets of pennies, though there’s no federal law that stipulates a private business, person or organization must accept your method of payment. Rage on at your own risk, Americans.

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