Home > Managing Debt > What Is Zombie Debt and Why Is It a Problem?

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Zombie debt is exactly what it sounds like. It’s debt that’s already dead and shouldn’t be living on your credit report. But for whatever reason, it’s risen from the grave and chasing you down. Find out what you need to know about zombie debt and how to deal with it.

How Does Zombie Debt Happen?

The most common cases of zombie debt involve collection activities. Here’s one example of how a zombie might rise with help from a collection agency.

  • You default on a debt.
  • The original lender or collection agency fails to collect within the statute of limitations.
  • The unpaid debt falls off your credit report after a certain amount of time.
  • But a separate collection agency, which purchased the debt for pennies on the dollar at some point, revives the debt and tries to collect it.

That collection agency may report the debt as owed to the credit bureaus. Suddenly, the debt reappears on your credit report, except now it’s a zombie debt.

Zombie Debts and Judgments

If the original creditor went to court and obtained a judgment against you for a debt, the zombie debt cycle can be more complicated. It can also seem a bit more vicious.

First, judgments provide the creditor with the legal means to collect via actions such as wage garnishments or bank account liens. How long a judgment is good for depends on the state it was issued in, but most states allow judgments to be renewed at least once. Some states allow judgments to be renewed an unlimited number of times, which makes them potentially limitless.

Judgments can also show up on your credit report for years. In some states, judgments might show up for two decades if the creditor renews them.

Why Is Zombie Debt Such a Problem?

First, if you legitimately owe the debt and it’s still collectible, you could find yourself facing collection activities. That can include wage garnishment or levies. The result can be a difficult financial hit that makes it hard for you to cover your other obligations.

Even if the debt is truly dead and no longer collectible, if it resurfaces on your credit report, it can bring down your score. That makes it harder to get new credit.

How Can You Protect Yourself From Zombie Debt Collectors?

Fans of pop culture movies and comic books know how to kill a zombie. You go for the headshot. But the answer to slaying zombie debt isn’t so simple. How you protect yourself against zombie debt collectors depends on why the debt is sticking around or coming back to life to begin with.

Debts Past the Statute of Limitations

In cases where the debt collector is trying to collect a debt that has been revived past the statute of limitations, the law is on your side. Send the debt collector a letter disputing the debt. Legally, they must halt collections activity until they provide documented proof that the debt is legal and still collectible.

Obviously, zombie debt collectors aren’t always playing by the same rules as others, though. In some cases, they may be aggressive in their pursuit of payment. Make sure you understand your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Stand up for your rights and consider consulting with an attorney if you believe creditors are infringing on those rights.

Remember that one of your rights is to an accurate credit report. If a collection agency reports a dead debt that can’t be collected to the credit bureau, you may be able to dispute it.

When Judgments Turn Debt Into the Undead

If a judgment has been entered and the creditor can renew it, the debt could be collectible for years. In some cases, you could be on the hook for decades.

There are a few options for dealing with this type of zombie debt. First, contact the creditor that originally secured the judgment. Work directly with them and not a secondary collections agency if at all possible.

Try to negotiate a settlement. The debt is old now, and they may accept a partial payment of the balance and agree to list the collection as paid. Once that occurs, no one else can continue to take action to collect the money from you.

If you can’t afford to settle the debt or you’re dealing with several collection accounts or judgments, you might consider bankruptcy. Bankruptcy converts all debts covered under the plan into secure and nonsecure debts. Then, they’re all treated the same way, regardless of whether a judgment was entered.

While you’re under the protection of bankruptcy, no creditor covered by the petition can take any action to collect from you. Instead, they are paid based on a schedule by the bankruptcy trustee. Once the bankruptcy is finalized, the debts are considered settled and paid off.

Get Help Dealing With Zombie Debt

Battling zombies requires skill and fortitude. So does dealing with zombie debt. If you’re not sure where to start to revive your struggling credit score and slay zombie debt, consider working with a credit repair agency. These professional zombie debt hunters have all the right tools to repair credit, and they can teach you to wield them.

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  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    Hi, Angel.

    We wrote a general story in response to your question. Here it is: http://blog.credit.com/2016/08/i-paid-this-judgment-what-is-it-still-doing-on-my-credit-report-154927/

  • Jeanine Skowronski

    Hi, Angel,

    Is the judgment showing up as paid or unpaid? Negative information remains on credit reports for seven years (some bankruptcies stay on for ten) so it’s possible that the judgement is still there because it hasn’t aged off yet.

    Thanks,

    Jeanine

  • Santiago Gaviria

    Back in 2009 I had a property in Florida that went into foreclosure. Before the foreclosure happened I tried to do a short sale and lien in lieu but the second mortgage [redacted] never approved them and it was sold in a tax auction in 2011.{Redacted] never tried to foreclose but instead, filed a judgement against me for $26,000 in 2009.This judgement was never reported in my credit report so my credit is good now. I am now ready to buy a house but this judgement is not allowing me to do it. I contacted the attorney who filed it to try to negotiate it and he answered me saying he is not taking care of the case anymore and to contact the bank directly. I tried contacting the bank and they do not respond, they don’t have any records because the loan shows as charged off since 2009. Nobody seems to know who to contact to get this resolved.Is there any way to get this judgement dismissed? or what can I do so I can resolve this?Thank you so much for your help.

    • Jeanine Skowronski

      Hi, Santiago,

      You may want to consult a consumer attorney to learn what your legal options are.

      Thank you,

      Jeanine

    • Jeff Clanton

      Someone I know is having a similar issue with a bank she owes a Judgement to. The bank responds…but they evade the issue of debt. The catch here is that she cannot possibly pay what is owed (including interest and fees) if the bank does no acknowledge the Judgment. What may eventually happen is that the debt will accumulate enough interest that it will be worth suing for. She wants to pay now…but can’t negotiate with a party that won’t acknowledge the debt. It’s quite a roadblock.

  • Katlyn

    I have a problem. When I was younger and in college, I made several mistakes impacting my credit score. I didn’t pay because I was unemployed. My issue is that a judgment for approx. $1800 was put against me and I was completely unaware of it. The judgment was issued in the state of NY which I’ve NEVER lived in. I am from California/NV and have only lived in those states. I’ve only ever been 2 New York maybe 3 times in my life for less than a week at a time. I’m not sure how to handle this situation as they keep telling me I need to come into the county clerks office to get a copy of the judgement or mail them a money order (that amount suggested keeps changing) to get any information. I’ve never been served and I had no idea this had happened. I’m trying to buy a house and with this judgement here is no way anyone would give me a home loan with a judgment even though it is a small amount. Plus when I ran the name of the debt collector it is CACH, LLC. Apparently, they aren’t very easy to deal with. Please help…any suggestions are appreciated and welcome.

    • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

      Katlyn —
      How do you know there is a judgment? Have you seen it on your credit report? Make sure it is actually there before paying anyone. We’ve written posts about this issue before. Here are 3 that may help:
      I Found a Judgment on My Credit Report. Now What?

      Creditor Gets a Judgment Against You – Now What?

      How to Get a Mortgage Despite a Debt Judgment

      • Katlyn

        It is on all 3 of my credit reports as a public record. I just called the number I was given and was transferred to an attorneys office that asked me to leave my name and phone number and said they would call me back. I’m not sure what to do at this point…

        • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

          Check the advice in Creditor Gets a Judgment Against You – Now What?

          You may also want to consult a lawyer. Interest can be added to judgments, and they can be renewed. However, it is also sometimes possible to negotiate a lower amount. It sounds like it’s time to get some legal advice.

          • Katlyn

            I have another question if you don’t mind. I just received a response from one of my CRA disputes telling me that my account for my judgement was updated to satisfied/released. What does this mean? It seems like a good thing but I’m not too sure. This was unexpected. Even if it stays on my credit report, it is considered taken care of? How do I get this to change on all 3 reports.

            Thank you again in advance for all of your help,

            Katlyn

          • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

            Satisfied/released is a good thing because unpaid judgments can be reported longer than paid ones. If it’s been updated with the courts the other two should follow soon. If they don’t. then dispute it.

  • tequilatax

    Just so I understand: I got evicted from my apartment in 2012 when I lost my job. I found another job 6 months later and was able to pay off my debt to the apartment complex in two installments. I had no idea there was a judgement until I tried to rent another apartment and they saw it on my backround check. So even though I paid this off in full, I still can’t get the judgement “released”?

    I even signed up at Pacer.gov and couldn’t find my case on that site. (It’s very confusing to move around and they charge $.10 per page.

    • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

      You won’t find your judgment on Pacer. (What you find there is bankruptcies – if the judgment creditor went bankruptcy.) I am sorry if that wasn’t clear.

      We just published an article that explains how to find the information about your judgment:
      I Found a Judgment on My Credit Report. Now What?

  • http://www.Credit.com/ Gerri Detweiler

    Once you pay off a judgment, the judgment creditor is supposed to file a Satisfaction of Judgment letting them know it’s been paid. Once a judgment is paid, it may be reported on your credit reports for a total of seven years from the date it was first entered by the court. So I’m not sure when this creditor got the judgment originally, but if it was more than seven years ago than it sounds like they failed to file the Satisfaction of Judgment.

    My understanding is your next step would be to send them a written demand insisting they take care of this. You should send it by certified mail to the judgment creditor that you paid. If they failed to do so in a specific period of time (which varies by locale), you may be entitled to damages. A consumer law attorney in your state can give you more information or help you if you can’t get this resolved.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    When did the judgment occur? Judgments stay on your credit reports for seven years and six months. Sometimes they can be deleted, but that’s generally in cases where there is an inaccuracy. We wish we had better news. (The slightly better news is the further this recedes into the past. It’s a good idea to keep tabs on your credit to see where you are now. Here’s how to monitor your credit score for free.)

    Here’s more on judgments:
    Creditor Gets a Judgment Against You – Now What?

  • Joe

    What if a default judgment was obtained because I didn’t show up?? Years later the notice that was filled out and awarded the plaintiff misspelled my name bad.
    Can I get it thrown out because of a mistake?? The plaintiff guy was old then and isn’t even in business anymore and I do not know if he is even alive.
    I have read it is better to get a plaintiff to set aside a judgment for the credit then to have them report paid or settled in full. Is set aside the same thing as plaintiff vacating the judgment??
    Thanks

  • Pingback: Credit Card Judgments: How Long Before They Expire? | Best Credit Repair()

  • Mike

    Rina, from what I understand in the article is the judgement is two places. The first is on your credit report, which you say you disputed and it was removed. To check your credit report for free (the real free one, once per year), go to the freeannualcreditreport website. Be prepared to answer a bunch of questions to verify who you are, but it is legit when you use that site, I have a number of times in the past to verify my report. That will tell you all the accounts reported to them. It won’t tell you your score and each will try to have you set up an account and subscribe and sell you your score, but it’s not necessary to check your report for free. You can also go to your bank and they might pull your report for free and review it with you, but which agency they pull might differ and not all 3 major agencies (Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) have the same info.

    So now you know about your credit report. The other place the judgement is, is public record. To get that cleared, you’d have to search to see if it’s really there and follow the steps described in the interview. You might want to call around and see if there’s a non-profit who can help for minimal fees, or find a lawyer who will do a free consultation and give you an overview of steps and fees. You’ll ultimately have to go to court and contest something like described above: you werent properly served or the debt isn’t correct. You may in turn have to serve other people, so that’s why I’d try to get some legal help.

    Best of luck!

  • Rina Kaiser

    I attended school in Pittsburgh & resided in Washington PA from 1995-1999. In 2007, I discovered a judgement on my credit report for 2003. It was only on one of the three and there was no information other than $3200, Washinton, PA. I called various offices in the town of Washington and not one found any record of a judgement related to me nor any address i had resided at. i then sent a dispute letter to the credit reporting agency, indicating I had never been served and requested further information to make sure it was valid. Several months later it was removed, but I never received a letter from the City of Washinton nor the credit agency. All this time I have been under the impression it was an error that was corrected. After reading this article, I am concerned this issue may become an issue. How do I find out about a judgement that is not on a credit report?

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