No one ever wants a bill to go to a collections agency. But what happens if it does…and you had NO idea you even owed a debt?
Yep, that happened to me.
Disclaimer: I am NOT a financial advisor and the following is not financial advice. I am just sharing my personal experience. Always seek advice from a qualified professional before making major financial decisions.
Here’s the story: Back in May 2019, I moved out of my apartment in Florida. At the time, my power company was Duke Energy, and since I was moving out, I had to cancel my account. That was an easy phone call that took a couple of minutes. I thought that was the end of it, and I moved out without looking back.
One year later, in June 2020, I decided to check my credit report on MyFICO.com. I do this on occasion to ensure there are no suspicious or fraudulent items and ensure my credit score is looking healthy.
As background, I’m extremely conscientious about my finances, especially my credit score, since it can dictate whether you can rent an apartment or get the best mortgage rate. My credit score is typically around 780.
So imagine my shock when I logged into MyFICO and saw that my Equifax score was 677!
Cue the panic.
I went to the Reports tab of MyFICO and checked the credit report. Sure enough, there was a notice on the Collections tab.
It looked like I hadn’t paid a Duke Energy bill (even though I thought my account was paid off when I closed it a year ago). It also looked like my debt had been assigned to a collections agency named Helvey & Associates.
Over the past year, I never received ANY mail or phone calls from Duke Energy nor Helvey & Associates.
I immediately searched my emails for notices from Duke Energy. I had been signed up for online bill pay, and they always sent me an email when a bill was due. But when I tried to log into my old Duke Energy account, it said it no longer existed.
Here’s what I was able to piece together: Apparently, when I closed my account with Duke Energy, I still had money due on it, and I failed to pay it. I assumed Duke Energy would’ve made me pay off the remaining balance BEFORE I canceled the account, but they didn’t. Then, once the account was closed, Duke Energy stopped sending me email notices of a balance due.
Further, when I moved out of that apartment, I failed to notify Duke Energy of my NEW mailing address. So…if they had been sending notices, they had gone to my OLD apartment address, so of course, I never got them.
As for the phone calls, I guess neither Duke Energy nor the collections agency is required to call you. They are required to at least notify you by mail, but again, they had my old address.
In fact, according to The Balance, a debt collector is only required to make “initial communication” with you—whether that’s via phone call or snail mail is up to the debt collector:
However the collector chooses to contact you about the debt for the first time is the initial communication. It can be a phone call, a letter, or even a summons to appear in court. The initial communication should include how much you owe, to whom, and other pertinent information. The debt collector must also notify you, in writing, of your debt validation rights within five days of its initial communication to youThe Balance
Trying to Get Rid of a Collections on My Credit Report
At this point, I was DESPERATE to get the collections item removed from my credit report, so I started Googling.
How to dispute collections with a credit bureau
I came across SO much advice saying that under no circumstances should I contact the collections agency myself. I also read that I could dispute the debt with the credit bureau.
However, here’s the rub: I was pretty sure I owed the debt. It was my mistake. So I had no right to dispute something that was correct, even if I felt it was unfair that no one ever called me. So, I decided not to go this route.
Duke Energy collections pay to delete/goodwill deletion
I also read that I could call Duke Energy myself and ask them if they’d offer a “pay to delete” or “Goodwill deletion.” This means that if I pay off the debt, they will delete the item from my credit report.
I tried this. But here’s the problem: At the point at which your debt has been sold to a collections agency, Duke Energy no longer owns it. You don’t pay Duke Energy. You pay the collections agency. Duke Energy also told me that they do NOT delete items from your credit report. So this was useless.
Contact a consumer advocacy group to help you with debt collections
Did you know that there are consumer advocacy groups out there who help you with debt collectors and give general financial advice for FREE? This option was useful because they offered me expert advice without me paying a dime.
I filled out this contact form on the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA), and a credit counselor contacted me by phone and gave me free advice on what to do about my debt in collections. Her advice? Just pay it off in full as soon as possible.
However, your situation may be different! Before you do ANYTHING, I recommend talking to a consumer advocate to get advice pertaining to your unique situation.
How long does a collection stay on your credit report?
According to Experian, “seven years from the original delinquency date of the original debt, or the date of the first missed payment after which the account was no longer brought current. “ When you pay off your debt with a collections agency, they report to the credit bureaus that the collection status is now “paid” (instead of “unpaid”), but the collection will remain on your report for up to seven years.
Calling Helvey & Associates to Pay My Debt
I called Helvey & Associates and was greeted with “This communication is from a debt collector. This is an attempt to collect a debt and any information obtained will be used for that purpose.”
The woman who answered the phone was cordial. I explained my situation and asked her why I never received any notice about my debt. She informed me that they didn’t have a forwarding address on file, so the collections notice went to my old address (which explains why I never got it).
She also told me, “We’re not required to do phone calls.” Which explains why I never received a phone call about it.
At this point, I decided to try to negotiate with Helvey & Associates to see if they would delete the debt from my credit report.
Can I Negotiate with Helvey & Associates to “Pay for Deletion”?
No. Everything I have read from other people says Helvey & Associates will not remove the collections from your credit report—and it was true for me too.
When I asked the woman on the phone if they’d remove the debt from my credit report if I paid in full today, she told me, “We don’t remove an item from a credit history because we are required to report accurate info to credit bureaus.”
This seems fair, in my case. I failed to pay my debt, and the debt reported on my credit report from the collections agency was accurate. It stinks, but it was accurate.
I decided to go ahead and pay the debt off in full, since there was no point in disputing an accurate debt that I failed to pay. It would just keep hurting my credit score. The sooner I paid it off, the sooner the 7-year countdown to getting it removed from my report could begin. 😭
What Happens When I Pay Helvey & Associates?
To pay off your debt with Helvey & Associates, you have four options:
- Mail a check – No fee
- Mail a money order – No fee
- Pay over the phone with a credit/debit card – This incurs a $4.95 transaction fee from the third-party processor that Helvey & Associates uses: PaymentVision.
- Pay online – This incurs a $4.95 transaction fee from the third-party processor that Helvey & Associates uses: PaymentVision.
Important note about paying with credit card: The Helvey & Associates employee told me that if I paid over the phone with my credit card, my credit card company would likely charge me a cash advance fee. (It’s just a weird thing that happens because of the way the credit card company categorizes Helvey & Associates.)
The credit card I paid with was a Chase Sapphire Reserve card, and Chase has excellent customer service, so I wasn’t worried about getting the fee refunded. Sure enough, a few days later, the payment to Helvey & Associates showed up on my Chase statement as a cash advance, and I was charged a $10 cash advance fee by Chase. I called Chase customer service, and they instantly refunded me the fee!
So just be aware that this might happen, and depending on your credit card company, it may or may not be refunded.
When I gave the employee my credit card details, she very professionally read off the amount of the charge to my credit card and informed me that it would occur on the date June 24, 2020. She also said if I had any questions or wanted to revoke the authorization, I could call Helvey & Associates Monday-Friday from 8am to 9pm or Saturday 8am to 5pm. She also gave me a tracking number for my payment.
What Happened to My Credit Report and Credit Score After I Paid Off My Delinquent Debt with Helvey & Associates
I paid Helvey & Associates on June 24, 2020.
On July 9, 2020, MyFICO.com notified me that TransUnion had updated a collection listed on my credit report.
On July 10, 2020, Experian updated my credit reported and changed the status of my collection from “unpaid” to “paid.” As you can see below, that instantly boosted by credit score by 4 points.
On July 10, 2020, Equifax updated my collection status from “unpaid” to “paid” as well.
Also, when I called Helvey & Associates, I gave them my updated address and they mailed me the notice about my debt to my new address (even though I had already paid it off). It was nice to have a physical record of the notice.
How soon after I pay a collections agency will my credit score recover?
Well, for me, it’s been two months since I paid off my debt with the collections agency, and my credit score has risen by about 15 points with Equifax, 6 points with Transunion, and 4 points with Experian. So, it’s slow. 🙁 I’m hoping to get back into the 700s by the end of the year.
Remember, the collections history has not been removed from my credit report. It’s still there. It’s just now showing up as “paid” instead of “unpaid.” It may be seven years before it’s deleted from my report entirely.
Wrapping It Up: What to Do When a Bill Goes to Collections
Step 1: Determine if it’s legitimate and accurate.
Review your payment history with the creditor and see if you genuinely did forget to pay the bill. If the collection is accurate, then there’s probably no use disputing it. But if it is inaccurate, you might be able to successfully dispute it.
Step 2: Talk to a free credit counselor or consumer advocate.
Contact a consumer advocacy group that gives free advice regarding delinquent accounts.
Step 3: Even if the debt is accurate, it never hurts to ask both the creditor and the collections agency to delete it from your credit report.
Even though doing so did NOT work in my case, maybe it will work in your case. It’s worth a try!
Step 4: If you can, pay off that debt in full as soon as possible.
If the debt is accurate, you’ll likely want to pay it off as soon as you can to change the status from “unpaid” to “paid” on your credit report.
Believe me, I know how stressful and disheartening having a bill go to collections can be—especially when you had good credit before or when you were hoping to buy a home soon. But the sooner you can get it resolved, the sooner you can start building that credit back up again. I believe in you!
JeffSeptember 15, 2020 at 4:15 pm
Thank you for the article. I’m in the same situation with Helvey & Assoc for an old Duke bill. I’ve also read that they won’t PFD, but it’s nice to see your credit score did improve after paying them.
Advice for MillennialsSeptember 29, 2020 at 9:19 pm
Hey Jeff, I’m so sorry to hear you’re in the same situation. It stinks. But yes, there’s hope! My credit score continues to improve, so I just have to wait it out. Thanks for reading!
DougJuly 14, 2021 at 8:32 pm
They r required to verify the debt I would have gotten the account number paid duke and then sue. They r suppose to validate before reporting. Oh wait I and doing that to them
Upset former Duke Cust.July 29, 2021 at 9:13 pm
Yep. Same exact situation. Duke energy, moved out of apartment, cancelled account, last payment somehow didn’t get paid. How do they do this?? so silly.
Advice for MillennialsSeptember 3, 2021 at 7:53 pm
It’s maddening, isn’t it?? I’m so sorry this happened to you.
Duke ruined meSeptember 23, 2021 at 7:51 pm
Same exact thing happened to me with Duke and Helvey. Sucks that there isn’t really any solution except paying off the debt and waiting.
Advice for MillennialsSeptember 25, 2021 at 2:21 am
Yep, no other solutions that I know of. I’m so sorry this happened to you too.
Sharath naikNovember 6, 2021 at 6:54 am
Same case with me. It all seems utterly unfair, why would duke send the final bill to the old address. And not send it to the email has they have been doing for the entire account period as set.
I felt duke is ruining people’s credit score knowing full well, how many times this has happened without intention from its customers. Maybe lodging a complaint to relevant authority might change dukes policy even for existing credit reports on the scenario.
LSDecember 24, 2021 at 8:20 pm
So this is my story…
My credit score before this incidence was over 800 as I have been very responsible with my finances and paying ALL of my bills on time and in full via automatic payments. I purchased and closed on a new construction home on 6/30/2021. This is an investment property, so I have never lived in this house. I called Duke Energy to have the account switched to my name on 7/8/21. I also called Charlotte water and Piedmont Natural Gas to take over the accounts on 7/8/21. I found a tenant who officially moved into the house on 7/23/21 and who would take over the utility bills. She called and have the utility switched to her name and took over the utility bills from 7/23/21. On 7/22/21, when I went to the house to give the house key to the tenant, I noticed that the construction workers who were working on the house next-door to mine was using my electrical outlet and I reported this to the builder with a picture of the worker’s microwave plugged into my outlet as evidence. On 12/10/21, I received a notification from my Mint App that I established an account with Helvey and Associates. I thought it was a fraud at first as I did not recognize this company. After calling Helvey and Associates, I found out that they are a collection agency and that I have an unpaid $141 bill from Duke Energy for this rental property. I thought this was a mistake as my Charlotte water and Piedmont Natural Gas bills were paid automatically using my card on file. I know for sure that I had called all three utility companies on 7/8/21 and took over the accounts and was sure that I would have either provided a forwarding address for the bills to be sent to or a credit card on file for the payments to be deducted automatically. I wondered why Duke energy bill was the only bill that was not paid. After calling Duke Energy to inquire about the bill that I have never received, Duke Energy sent me a copy of the bill to my email. The bill was from service date of 5/24/21 to 7/22/21. I reached out to the builder and informed them of the bill, since the builder legally owned the house from 5/24/21 to 6/30/21 and I had notified the builder on 7/22/21 that their workers were using my electrical outlet, the builder agreed to pay for the entire bill. I called again and explained to Duke energy that I did not legally own the house until 6/30/21 and although I legally owned the property from 6/30/21 to 7/22/21, I had no knowledge that the bill was not paid as Duke Energy never sent me any bill to my primary address nor contacted me via email or phone calls to notify me of the bill. Since my Charlotte water and Piedmont Natural Gas bills were paid, I thought the Duke energy bill from 6/30/21 to 7/22/21 was also paid automatically. Also, the $141 bill from Duke was not my bill as I did not own the house until 6/30/21. I asked Duke Energy why I have never received the bill and was told that Duke energy sent the bill to the service address and not my primary address. When I asked Duke energy why the bill was not sent to my primary address, I was told that I did not provide a forwarding address. I find that hard to believe as the reason I called Duke Energy on 7/8/21 was to have the bill switch to my name, surly I would have given a forwarding address or a credit card on file for the automatic payment. When I asked Duke Energy to send me a transcript of the conversation of the call on 7/8/21, I was told that they cannot send me the transcript. I explained to Duke Energy that if they had tried to contact me and if I was aware of an outstanding bill, I most certainly would have paid my bill. However, Duke energy made no attempts to contact me. They insisted that they sent the bill to the service address, and I informed them that the service address is a rental property and that the tenant denied having seen anything in my name. Duke energy further insisted that they don’t have to try to contact me via any other means. The $141 was paid by the builder shortly after I informed the builder of the bill, surly if the bill is not the builder’s responsibility, they would not have paid for it. When I called Duke Energy to have them clear my name with Helvey and Associates, Duke energy informed me that Helvey and Associates would have to reach out to them. When I reached out to Helvey and Associates and informed them of the situation and that the bill was already paid by the builder, Helvey and Associates insisted that they have not seen the updates from Duke Energy and even if the bill was paid that I am still the one responsible for the bill. I started the dispute process with Transunion, Equifax, and Experian. Experian cleared my name the same day and my credit score with Experian is 803. Today I got an email from Equifax stating that they agree with Halvey and Associates that I am responsible for the bill, and therefore my credit score is still only 765.