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A reader, “Anngie,” recently contacted us to ask what she could do about credit damage from a bill that should have been paid by workers’ compensation. Here’s what she told us:

“A workmans comp claim not paid from 2012 is on my credit report. I am working with all parties to resolve…but how do I remove the negative impact on my report….I don’t want it to look as if I paid it & it was my responsibility & allowed it to remain for 3 years unpaid. Can I have the company fax somewhere to validate this was not my collections? If this is accomplished — will my credit score reveal a pre-collections score?”

The answer isn’t simple, unfortunately. We asked Troy Doucet, a consumer law attorney in Dublin, Ohio, what a consumer like our reader could do about the credit report problem. The issue involves both state law and the Fair Credit Reporting Act. “The initial questions to resolve are whether the consumer was the owner of the company, and then whether state law mandates the owner be personally responsible for these kinds of obligations. If so, and if there is no safe harbor that applies under state workers’ compensation rules, then the delinquent debt may be appropriately appearing on the consumer’s credit report under the FCRA.”

So, if state law mandates that Anngie take financial responsibility for the debt (and seek reimbursement later), there may be nothing she can do about it being on her credit report, because the information was accurate.

However, Anngie is not without options. First, she can dispute the information. If the credit reporting agencies can’t confirm the accuracy of the information with the creditor, then it would be removed from her credit report. Or, if the debt was never hers to begin with, it should come off of her credit report.

Collections and other negative information on a credit report can do great harm to a credit score. And it can be particularly tricky to protect your credit when it comes to health care bills. We hear frequently from readers who find they have been sent to collections for bills they never received. And because medical care frequently involves bills from multiple creditors (doctors, labs, facilities, etc.), it can be almost impossible to know if you have received them all, let alone whether they have all been paid.

If you want to know how unpaid bills could be affecting your credit, you can first check your free annual credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also get your free credit report summary from Credit.com for a breakdown of your accounts and the impact they have on your credit — and it’s updated every 14 days.

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