Help! A bill collector is coming after me

  @Money November 20, 2013: 5:18 PM ET
bill collector
NEW YORK (Money Magazine)

Must I pay a bill collector $134 for a shipping charge? A (now-closed) store I shopped at was to pay it. -- Elizabeth, Carlisle, Mass.

You have 30 days after a collection agency has contacted you in writing to ask for proof of the debt, says John Ulzheimer, a contributor to

Should that month have passed, try negotiating with the shipper.

No luck? Your best choice (albeit unfair) is to give in. If the company still owns the debt, paying it may keep the claim off your credit report. If the shipper has sold the debt, though, the claim will stay even if you pay.

Why worry about a collections claim? Having one could ding an 800-plus FICO score by 200 points, raising rates with lenders and maybe insurance premiums too.

Related: Can my 80-year-old dad give me money from his IRA?

Your score will start to recover after a year, but Ulzheimer says it is not likely to exceed the mid-700s for the seven years the claim is listed. To top of page

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