Q: Do I have to pay a bill that I never received 13 years ago?

I recently received a letter from a collection agency for a tax bill on a car that was registered in a state I lived in 13 years ago. In addition to the $136 tax bill, there is over $300 in interest fees. I called the city issuing the bill and they say there is no excuse for not paying a tax bill. Will this affect my credit rating?

A: The short answer is, yes — there is no excuse for not paying a tax bill – whether it’s for a car, the IRS, or your property taxes. Just because you didn’t receive the bill doesn’t excuse you from paying it.

Think about a property tax bill. Even if you never received the bill, you would still owe the tax. It’s a homeowner’s responsibility to check on his or her tax bill and to make sure it is paid — even if you never receive anything from the state assessor’s office.

But, do you really owe this particular bill? If you owned the car at the time, and lived in the state in which the tax was generated, then you would owe the money.

But the burden is on the collection agency to prove that this bill is yours. So, ask them to provide proof. If the bill if yours, you’ll have to pay it. If not, you’ll have to prove why it isn’t yours, why there has been a mix-up, and demand that this be removed from your credit history.

Which brings us to the real issue: Unfortunately, having a bill sent to a collection agency does spell trouble for your credit history and credit score. I’d go to www.annualcreditreport.com and get a free copy of your credit history to see if this has landed on there yet. For $6.95, you can purchase a copy of your credit score. I’d do that as well to see what, if any, damage has been done.

For more information on your rights under the Fair Collections Act, go to the Federal Trade Commission’s website, www.ftc.gov

Published: Nov 28, 2005