If its been four or five years since you stopped making payments to a debt and you haven’t had any phone calls or letters for a long while, you may be hoping your debt has got lost or the debt collector has forgotten about it.
This article looks at what is likely to happen as in 2018 debt collectors are taking more people to court for CCJs than they used to.
If you have been making payments, even very small ones, to an old debt this article isn’t relevant for you – instead read Should I keep paying an old debt?
Here is a typical situation. Mr H wrote:
I stopped paying a loan in 2013 when I lost my job. I have a Default on my credit file for June 2013. The bank sold it to a debt collector after a couple of years. But I was never contacted by the debt collector. I know in 2019 it will fall off my credit history altogether.
Do you think there is a chance after 5 years of a Debt Collector contacting me this year or next year? What is the best thing for me to do?
Becoming “statute barred”
When a debt is statute barred, the creditor won’t be able to get a County Court Judgment (CCJ) for the debt. In general a debt becomes statute barred six years after you missed a payment if the creditor had the right to start court action at that point. But if you made any payments during that six year period, the 6 years would start again. I’ve written another post that looks in details at questions people ask about statute barred debt because it can be complicated for different types of debt.
Mt H hasn’t been making any payments. But if a debt collector gets in contact with him before this six-year period is up, they could take hime to court for the debt and he would get a CCJ.
It’s natural for Mr H to think that after five years he has probably been forgotten. But it’s common for people to be contacted by a debt collector with only a few months left before that statute barred point.
If you are contacted, can you ignore the letters?
Another reader wrote
I have just received a letter threatening court action. My debt will be statute barred in December, only 6 weeks away, surely I can tough it out until then? It must take a few weeks to get a CCJ?
It does take a few weeks to get a CCJ – it will be months if you defend the case – but all the debt collector has to do is start court action before the statute barred point, not complete the case before then.
Also you have to be absolutely sure your debt will be statute barred – this is especially important in 2019 as a recent court case has made it more difficult for some loans and credit cards to become statute barred.
If you ignore the letters there is a chance the debt collector won’t go to court. This probably depends on how certain the debt collector is that you are the debtor. But in many cases they will.
In the first quarter of 2018, there were more than 100,000 CCJs per month – a lot more than there were a few years ago. Debt collectors are taking more people to court about unpaid debts than they used to.
So ignoring letters isn’t a good idea because you could end up with a CCJ.
In particular, if you get one headed Letter Before Action (or sometimes Letter Before Claim or Letter Before Court), then this is your last chance to make a monthly agreement to pay the debt and not get a CCJ.
It is also the point at which you can ask for more information about the debt as sometimes the debt collector doesn’t have the right documentation to get a CCJ. Read How to reply to a letter before action which suggests how to complete the Reply Form that you have been sent.
What happens to your credit file
When a default date has been added to a debt on your credit file, the whole debt will disappear after six years. This is going to happen whatever you – or a debt collector – does.
If the debt collector suddenly springs into life you are likely to see them add the debt to your credit record under their name with the same default date as the original record does. If the debt collector “makes a mistake” with this and uses a later date, you should get the default date corrected.
But if you get a CCJ, this is then added to your credit record and will remain for another six years. A CCJ is worse for your credit score than a default is.
So what is the best thing to do?
That depends on your financial situation. Here are a few cases:
Much improved, hoping to get a mortgage
This old debt needs to be sorted, the last thing you want if you are making a mortgage application is the possibility of getting a CCJ. If you want to get a mortgage soon, whilst the old default is still on your file, I suggest you contact the debt collector yourself and pay the debt in full. If you won’t be applying until afterwards, then have a go at getting a Full and Final Settlement offer.
OK, could start clearing this debt
I suggest you work out how much you could pay each month and start saving this amount up in a separate account, where you won’t be tempted to dip into it. If the debt collector contacts you, you then have an amount you could offer in a full and final settlement. If time goes on, the debt drops off your credit file and you are sure it is well over six years since you made a payment, then read up about statute barring. At some point you will feel comfortable to use the little nest egg you have saved for something else.
Not good, could only afford a token monthly payment
In this case there isn’t anything sensible you can do now except wait. If the debt collector does contact you, don’t ignore the letter but offer a token payment and give details of your income and expenditure, showing why you can’t afford any more.
Dreadful, lots of other problem debts as well
You need to look at your whole situation, not just firefight individual debts. Although this particular old debt could potentially disappear, you should probably assume that it won’t. Have a look at the range of possible debt options then consider talking to StepChange about your options.