No. of Recommendations: 10

Wednesday night I pulled my Transunion report (I'm thinking about refinancing again). To my utter shock and amazement, my report includes a big black mark in the form of a collection for $83. I'm a little surprised to find that I still have a TU score of 734, so I'm still fairly creditworthy. However, collection records just burn my b...s.

Anyway, I called TU and got the contact info for the collection agency. (CR SYST INTR aka Credit Systems Integrated -- some small-time agency in Ft. Worth, TX.) This was the initial call, so I began what I hope was my most positive, yet assertive voice...

Let me tell you, these people really try my patience. Do they really think I'm going to give them information to contact me at my employer? Man. What really burns my shorts is that the debt isn't even mine! This isn't the first time this has happened; but at least I know where this one is coming from. More on that in a moment.

First you need some history. My XSO and I are only separated, not divorced. We've been separated for 3.5 years. I still provide her insurance because, well, her employer(s) suck. And besides, she changes jobs every couple of years and it doesn't cost me anything more to cover her, since I have to cover the kids anyway. So back to the present... Or actually October of last year.

Apparently on 10/09/02, my XSO went to some doctor. What doctor only charges $83 anyway? Well, apparently the doctor's office didn't get any updated information and they apparently tried to collect on who knows what insurance. Certainly there are no records of a claim for that date on my carrier's website. Anyway, the old information also included the P.O. Box she got when she moved out 3.5 years ago and hasn't had for 2+ years now.

I'm sure you can see where this is going...

So no one -- not even the insurance -- has ever seen a bill from this provider ever. What's more, I didn't know about the visit and I certainly didn't sign any kind of a contract with them. Also, the patient wasn't a minor in my custody. Even so, they decided in their infinite wisdom to try to collect from me because the insurance companies use my SSN to identify her claims too. At least that's what I've deduced.

When I called, the CSR said they would send me an itemized statement. I said that would be fine. I then asked if I would be able to get them to agree to delete their tradeline from my credit report if I got it paid. I'm willing to pay them and collect it from my XSO myself, so I told her as much. I also told her all that I've just told you about our history.

Anyway, she sounded like a bloody parakeet. She kept saying, Well this is how we work... When we receive your payment we will report the account as paid. If you then dispute the item with the credit reporting agency, that's between you and them. I explained at least three times that, No, it's not. In order for TransUnion to investigate a dispute, they have to contact you and ask you if the information is correct. If I've paid your bill and they ask you if the item is valid, what will you say? To which she repeats, Well this is how we work... Ad nauseum. I assume you get the picture.

Anyway, I suppose I'm jumping the gun on this. It probably won't affect my ability to refi the house, so I shouldn't really care that much. But the fact is that I personally don't owe this money at all. If anyone does, my XSO does. (In Texas, you can't be held directly liable for the obligations of your spouse. You have to sue first; win; obtain a writ of possession; then seize assets. Only when the creditor obtains the writ and seizes assets does joint property come into play.) So contractually I don't believe I owe this; legally I don't believe I owe this. I'm not trying to cheat the provider. I'm not trying to help my XSO cheat the provider. In fact, I'd be happy to pay the provider off to get this off my record. But as I told the collection agent, It's not going to happen. The only way I'll pay this debt is if you agree to remove it from my report. I doubt you're willing to sue me for $83; but there's no way I'm going to pay you for something that I don't owe and still have that on my credit report. You have two choices here. Agree to my terms and I'll pay you. Or we can play hard ball and I'll fight you. To which she replied, Well this is how we work...


The only other collection I've ever had on my report turned out to be a mistake -- the clinic's office had submitted someone else's unpaid bill in my name. I showed up at their door, asked to speak to whoever was in accounts receivables, followed her back to her office and then asked her to pull the original documentation from their files while I waited. After a couple of hours and with some embarrasment, she wrote me a letter of apology and agreed to remove the notation from my credit report.

I have a feeling this time will be quite different. This time I think I'm going to get to apply most, if not all of the techniques we've discussed here. I spoke to only one person; but I get the feeling this (small) collection agency has no one able to make a real decision on this. Anyway, they're about to find out how tough this business can be. If this doesn't get resolved this month I bet they'll be seeing me in court.

- Joel
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