By timestaff
November 21, 2013
An American tank moves past another gun carriage which slid off an icy road in the Ardennes Forest, 1945.
George Silkā€”Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Q: 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.

A: 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.

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.

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