Should I pay an erroneous bill in collections if it is a tiny amount?

I have a very small bill amounting to $43. I was billed this amount when a medical services company sent me a product that I did not order. (It was probably ordered on my behalf by a doctor I visited.) Perhaps erroneously, I ignored it and they sent the bill amount to a collections agency.

At this point, the collections agency is asking for $55. the doctor at fault is actually really good and they have gone out of their way for me in the past. I am trying to get their opinion on this matter.

I am tempted to just pay off the debt because this might get worse before it gets better. on the other hand, I didn’t order the product. In any event the money won’t break the bank or anything, I am just looking for someone to either say “you’re a dink, pay it” or “stick up for yourself and do (this)”.

Is there a downside to paying off the debt? In general, what is the credit score hit for an unpaid $55 bill?

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4 Responses to “Should I pay an erroneous bill in collections if it is a tiny amount?”

  1. Collections companies buy debt for a fraction of the face value of the debt (as little as 5-7 cents on the dollar), and you can often settle debt for a fraction of the face amount (perhaps 10-25 cents on the dollar).

    But there are several considerations. Do you owe the debt (is it a legitimate debt), can you afford to pay the debt, what is the age of the debt (remember, there is a statute of limitations on debt, varies by state), and what are the consequences of non-payment or settlement of the debt.

    Rather than confirm that you owe the debt, tell the debt collector that you need proof that the debt is yours (you should do this by certified letter). Be careful not to confirm the debt, or agree to pay it, or make any payments (yet).

    You said that your doctor ordered the product for you.

    You said the company sent you a product (you have the product).

    Once you have confirmed that the debt is yours, you should determine the age of the debt (when was the last time you paid on the debt). Each state has statute of limitations on debt, depending upon the age of the debt (this is why it is important not to send the collector money until you have verified the debt).

    You did not state when the debt was incurred (assume under SoL).

    Ask yourself whether you can afford to pay the debt. The amount of the debt, and your ability to pay, and whether you want to avoid the time and expense of dealing with the collector (they are trained to be annoying) are all factors to consider. You should also consider the negative consequences (credit score effects), and whether the cost of a derogatory entry is worth fighting the debt.

    You did not explain your financial situation; paying the $55 may be trivial, or it may be a hardship.

    Before you settle any debt, you should send a letter (keep a copy and proof you sent it, certified), and demand that the debt collector provide proof that you owe the debt. Often this proof does not exist, or is insufficient to gain a judgement (you would need legal help here). And should a debt collector agree to settle the debt for a lower amount, you need to get that agreement in writing. Be aware that when you settle a debt, the collector can (and will) send you a 1099 for the portion of the debt which has been forgiven, and can report to the credit bureaus that you settled a debt for less than the full amount (negative mark against credit). Derogatory credit items will haunt you for years.

    Decide whether saving $20, $30 or even $55 is worth the trouble. Probably not.

    Learn from this.

    When a company sends you something you did not order, contact them, and send it back or demand they pay shipping, and send them a letter demanding $5/day storage and $20 handling fee to ship it back to them.


    Disclaimer: Heed the insane ravings of a deranged heretic at your peril… hire a lawyer.

  2. As part of the cost benefit analysis, I would consider that the collections agency has often paid pennies on the dollar, so you can negotiate a lower amount if the bill is legitimate. That may make paying the debt more attractive than fighting.

    If the bill is illegitimate then you would mainly consider what legal means they have to attempt to collect. If they can put a lien on your property then you may want to settle it and avoid the hassle. If all they can do legally is keep calling you and asking for the money, they may give up if you tell them that you have no intention of paying because you don’t believe you owe anything and you look forward to telling them the same thing tomorrow, next week, and next year (followed by a change of subject–ask some personal questions and go into a discussion of the weather, etc.). Whether they give up will depend on how strong they think their legal position is.

  3. Due to the fact that months have gone by since the item was shipped to you it will be hard to resolve by sending it back.

    The collection agency is now only interested in getting as much of the money as they can from you. They may have sent a percentage of the debt to the original company when they bought the debt. They may also be working on a commission. Therefore they are not interested in having everybody happy with the result. They need to follow the law, but they don’t care if you are a happy customer.

    The longer you wait to resolve it, the longer it will remain on the credit report. The fact that it went to collections has already hurt your score.

    Yes, make sure that they update your credit file to reflect that you have paid the debt. Get it in writing.

    Also check with your health insurance company to see if this is at least partially covered by insurance. They generally won’t cover the $12 in fees from the collections company, but they might cover part of the original bill. Depending on the item, it might also be an allowable expense for your FSA (Flexible spending account) or your HSA (Health Spending account).

  4. To me this is a simple cost/benefit analysis… I’m guessing you will spend a whole lot more time and effort trying to fight the collection agency than the $55 is worth. In this case I would just go ahead, pay it and be done with it. Had the amount been higher, this would change. But that’s me; you should do your own analysis based on your circumstances (including how much it’s worth to you to be right) and let that inform your decision.