This post comes from Bob Sullivan at partner site Credit.com.
When you have a dispute over a bill with a company, sometimes it’s not enough to respond to a collections notice with evidence that the bill has been paid. Sadly, even if the collections firm appears to drop the matter, it can still come up again, and again, and again. This is the tale of the bill that just wouldn’t die.
It’s often harder than it should be to close an account. A small remaining balance, sometimes invisible to consumers, can create a big hassle, leading to collections calls and damaged credit, even bills that are several years old for as little as $50 or $100 can really punish a credit score. That’s bad enough.
It’s hard to understand how simply changing service, rather than canceling service, could lead to that kind of red tape nightmare. But that’s exactly what happened to Cathy Nestor, who lives north of Chicago, when she dropped AT&T’s U-verse TV, phone and Internet bundle three years ago and went with only U-verse Internet service.
The trouble started with a $70-something balance remaining on her old bundled account with AT&T’s U-verse, which Nestor claims she paid back in 2011.
Since then, three different firms have tried to collect on the bill, and Nestor says she provided evidence it was paid each time. Still, by the time she wrote to me, she was on the verge of being reported as delinquent to the credit bureaus.
AT&T, for its part, disagrees with Nestor’s version of events. The company says the old account was never settled (for reasons we’ll explain shortly) and claims her evidence is faulty. Nestor says that the various collection firms never successfully communicated that to her, or didn’t push back when she told them the bill was paid.
The confusion begins
When Nestor dropped her U-verse bundle in 2011 but kept high-speed Internet, AT&T gave her a new account and new account number. She says she paid her new bill, thinking it would include any leftover balance from her old U-verse account. It didn’t.
But soon after, she realized the error and says she separately paid the old account bill balance of $72 on Nov. 23, 2011. As evidence, she provided me a copy of an electronic payment from her bank statement. (And we should note that she is currently considered an in-good-standing customer of AT&T’s Internet service — that is, on the new account.)
Then the fun began.