Can a Debt Collector See My Credit Score?

There’s a perception that only people with serious money problems have to deal with debt collectors. While people struggling to pay their bills may be more likely to have a collection account on their credit reports, debt collectors are going to aggressively pursue a different type of consumer: The kind who will pay up.

Collectors can see your credit scores, but they’re more interested in something called a collectability score. In addition to the sort of information that determines your credit score, like payment history and debt levels, collectability scores crunch much more data, like your age or assets.

“They’ve got all these metrics that feed these scores,” said Michael Bovee, a contributor and founder of the Consumer Recovery Network. He spent decades mediating negotiations between debt-laden consumers and their collectors, and he said he started to see collectors using programs to determine collectability in 2004. This software analyzes credit reports and public records on the consumer, looking for evidence of steady income or anything else that indicates someone’s ability to pay a debt.

Say a collector is looking at two accounts. One belongs to someone who owns a home and has never been late on mortgage payments. Account No. 2 shows someone with a lot of credit cards with high balances and a slew of payment problems. Account No. 1 is more likely to have a higher collectability score (the score ranges vary by software), so the collection agency is probably going to dedicate its resources to collecting from that consumer.

“Make no mistake — collections has become so sophisticated,” Bovee said.

Collectors can see your credit scores, but they’re not necessarily going to look at them. At the same time, there’s a correlation between credit scores and collectability scores, because of the relationship among all sorts of financial information. The higher your credit score, the more likely you are to be hounded by debt collectors for unpaid bills. While this may seem like an advantage for people with low credit scores, having poor credit isn’t an enviable position, given how it can complicate the cost of and access to other forms of credit.

No one wants a collections account on his or her credit report, so if you’re contacted by a collections agency, address the issue right away. (That doesn’t necessarily mean you should pay ASAP, because you need to be wary of scams, too.) Your high credit score could suffer if an unpaid debt makes its way onto your credit report.

If you’re not sure where you stand, you can always check two of your credit scores for free using the Credit Report Card. This tool can also help you see how your past actions have impacted your scores thus far, giving you a game plan for improving your scores in the future.

More on Credit Reports and Credit Scores:

Image: gabe palmer

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