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A reader, Brittney, like many of us, made lots of financial mistakes when she was a young adult, and she has spent the past few years trying to correct them and rebuild her credit. She pulled her credit report (here’s how you can do the same thing, and it’s free) recently and was stunned to see a judgment from 2009. This was the first she’d heard of it. She was not contacted about it, and she no longer lives in the state where it was ordered. In fact, since the judgment, she has applied for and received credit cards and a car loan. She would like to pay the judgment off, but she doesn’t have the money just now. Also, she’s up for a promotion at work and she’s worried that the creditor could contact her employer, and that could ruin her chances. Her question: What should she do?

Michael Bovee, president of the Consumer Recovery Network, likens the judgment on Brittney’s credit report to a sleeping bear, and he recommends that she leave it alone until she has saved up a lump sum large enough to appease the beast (at least 60%, and possibly 80% of the money she owes). There is certainly a chance that this hibernating bear will wake up on its own, but if Brittney initiates contact, the chances of it waking rise to 100%. And there is no way she can know ahead of time whether her employer will be contacted. The best course may be to wait and hope that nothing wakes the bear until Brittney is prepared to confront it.

Her worry that the judgment could hurt her chances of promotion may or may not be realistic, Bovee said. If Brittney works in finance or security, it could be damaging. Otherwise, “I would like to think that employers and human resource managers would not form a bias about a person after learning of a co-worker’s collections or a judgment for unpaid debt,” he wrote in an email. “But I suspect that a bias is formed by many. Enough of a bias to pass someone over for a promotion? Yes, I believe that can happen some of the time, and regardless of company policy, or a state law. People are … people.”

However, Bovee said the chances that her boss would get a phone call are slim. If she lives in a state that allows garnishment, and most states do, the company she works for would more likely receive a writ (notice) of garnishment in the mail.

But in addition to worrying about her career, Bovee suggests another concern — that Brittney was sued and a judgment was entered without her knowledge. “This kind of scenario has been dubbed ‘sewer service,’ and has been a real problem in years past,” he said. There are options to look into for vacating the judgment. You should run your situation by an attorney whose practice focuses on debt collection defense.” (She can find an attorney at www.naca.net.)

It’s important for Brittney to understand the full impact the judgment is having on her credit. Even though she was able to get a car loan and credit cards with the judgment on her report, she may be getting less than ideal interest rates because of the judgment, and checking her credit scores can help her see where she stands. If you’re wondering where your credit stands, you can check your credit data for free every 30 days on Credit.com.

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