Can an Old, Unpaid Bill Keep Me From Getting an Apartment?

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Searching for a good place to live is tricky enough to make anyone, even a person without past financial problems, hate the process. So to find an apartment that’s affordable, has the features that meet your needs and is in a decent location, only to have the landlord hold up your application because of an old item on your credit report — well, it’s frustrating, to say the least. A Credit.com reader recently found themselves in this situation:

I have a PG&E bill from 2010 that is on my credit report, but PG&E show it as a discharge and are not asking for payment. I need to clear this up before my new landlord will allow me to move into a new place. If I secure a settlement for this can I request them to remove this from my credit report?

We put the question to John C. Heath, a credit expert and consumer attorney for Lexington Law, a Credit.com partner. Here’s what he said.

“I don’t know if I would attempt to secure a settlement. The amount has been written off,” Heath wrote in an email to Credit.com. The reader may want to check the statute of limitations in their state, because the debt may no longer be enforceable, Heath added.

This may take some explaining to your landlord. “I would speak with the landlord and see if they would be willing to overlook a [six-year-old] debt. A lot can change in a six year period,” Heath wrote.

Negative information on credit reports (like a charged-off debt) generally remains there for seven years. It’s important to remember that this goes for paid, unpaid and settled debts alike — so paying off an old debt doesn’t remove the negative history from the record. However, if you feel information on your credit report is inaccurate or unfair, you can challenge it with the credit bureaus and data furnishers reporting it to them. You can do this on your own (you can go here to learn more about disputing errors on your credit report), or you could consider hiring a reputable credit repair professional to help you. To keep tabs on your credit and any negative items affecting it, you can get two free credit scores with regular updates from Credit.com.

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U.S. Marshals Arrest Man Over Decades-Old Student Loan Debt of $1,500

old student loan debt

The student loan debt problem in the U.S. has gone to a whole new level of scary. Last week, armed U.S. Marshals showed up at a Houston man’s home, arrested him and escorted him to federal court, where he signed a repayment plan for a decades-old overdue student loan, reports FOX 26 in Houston.

The Marshals reportedly showed up to Paul Aker’s home (with guns) to collect a past-due $1,500 federal student loan he borrowed in 1987. The report did not say how much Aker owes after fees and interest. The U.S. Marshal Service in Houston did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Credit.com, but FOX 26 cites an unnamed source saying Aker was not the first and won’t be the last to have been arrested over unpaid federal student loans. The service reportedly has to serve from 1,200 to 1,500 arrest warrants for people who haven’t paid their federal student loans.

Failing to pay a federal student loan is already a miserable experience, before you add in the threat of armed government officials knocking on your door. In addition to having a loan balance that grows with late fees, debt collection fees and interest, people who default on federal student loans face wage garnishment, seizure of tax refunds and reduction in other government benefits. Then there are the credit consequences: Defaulting on a loan seriously damages your credit score, and because student loans are rarely discharged in bankruptcy, the debt can beat down on you for decades. (You can see how your student loans are impacting your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

There are some options for people who are behind on federal student loan payments to get back on track. To get out of default, you can combine eligible loans with a federal Direct Consolidation Loan, or you can go through the government’s default rehabilitation program. If you make nine consecutive on-time payments (and the payments can be extremely low), your account goes back into good standing, and the default is removed from your credit report.

Or you could just wait for the U.S. Marshals to show up and make you enter a repayment plan. Up to you.

More on Student Loans:

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Debt Collectors Went After a Student Loan Debt… 50 Years Later

Young people aren’t the only ones plagued with student loan debt problems. Recently, an Arizona man found a debt collection notice in his mailbox, which said he owed more than $1,900 on student loans he took out in the 1960s, reports 3TV in Phoenix.

About 50 years ago, after serving in the Navy, Ralph Caswell borrowed three loans totaling about $2,500. Caswell told 3TV he repaid the student loans decades ago, and while the collection agency shows his principal balance as zero, it claims Caswell owes about $1,400 in interest, $87 for a penalty and $362 in fees. Caswell said the agency asked him to provide proof he paid off the loans, but he doesn’t have those records. That’s not too surprising, considering how long ago he said he paid off the debt.

This situation suggests you should keep that type of documentation forever: alongside your birth certificate, Social Security card and passport, there’s your student loan statement. While that may sound a little overboard, it’s important to note that student loan debt is treated differently than other debts in many respects. These loans can generally not be written off in bankruptcy, and the consequences of failing to repay student loan debt can follow you for years. If you don’t repay federal student loans, the government can take some of your wages, seize your tax refunds or garnish Social Security payments.

There are lots of rules governing debt collectors’ actions and the timeframe of debt collection, and it’s important that consumers generally understand their rights when trying to resolve new (and old) issues.

Caswell will now have to work out whether he owes the debt with the collector — and, possibly, a consumer attorney. He found out about the claim when he got a notice in the mail, but it will probably show up on his credit report, if it hasn’t already. (Caswell told 3TV he currently has good credit.) Regularly reviewing your credit reports can help you spot surprises like this and potentially resolve them more quickly. You can get your credit reports for free each year on AnnualCreditReport.com and view your credit scores for free each month on Credit.com. If you think items on your reports are incorrect, here’s a guide to credit reporting errors and how they happen.

More on Managing Debt:

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