I'm a college student in the United States, and for an Economics class I was taking I needed a subscription to the Wall Street Journal, so during the first class we filled out a subscription form with information like name, address, email, but no payment information.

I had to switch to another class, so I no longer needed the subscription, so I never sent them my payment information. For approximately 4 months they kept sending me email and snail mail about having to pay them, but I never received an actual newspaper from them. I just ignored all of their requests to pay them, but today I received a letter from a debt collection agency asking for $29.95. The collection agency is North Shore Agency, if that matters.

I figure if they're sending these goons after me, I shouldn't just ignore this. AFAIK, you can be taken to court for as little as $20, but I doubt they'd do that, but I don't want to take chances.

I don't intend to pay the bill, but is there anything I should know or do to protect myself?

  • 1
    Court costs will exceed the amount they hope to recover. Tell them to pound sand.
    – Andy
    Feb 13 '15 at 1:37

Don't ignore them. They'll trash your credit ratings and you'll have problems getting credit cards and mortgages for years, just because of some stupid $30. That's much worse than being dragged to courts, and there's no-one you can prove your innocence to.

Either pay them (and ask, in writing, to remove any note on your credit record), or call WSJ and have them call the collection agency off.

What you should have done was contact WSJ first time you received their payment demand, explain them the situation, and have them cancel the subscription.

Lesson learned: never ignore bills.

  • nevr ignored the bills, however small it is... Jan 16 '12 at 2:01
  • 2
    I seriously doubt a $30 unpaid subscription is going to have any real effect. Lenders look at the entire history, not just some number.
    – Andy
    Feb 13 '15 at 1:40
  • In fact those subscriptions are often offered on a trial basis with some lines like "if you like our magazine, pay the subscription bill. If you don't like it, do nothing". At least in this sort of case "doing nothing" should be sufficient.
    – user100487
    Feb 26 '16 at 19:37

I suggest you do two things:

  1. What littleadv said.

  2. Also open up some organizer software on your cellphone or your computer. Set up a repeating to-do or calendar item to request a free copy of your credit report. Go to www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre34.shtm or www.annualcreditreport.com . You can get up to three free reports per year: that equals one free report every four months. It's a good idea for everyone to check their credit report for mistakes every so often, even if they don't have collection agencies pursuing them.

You can request your first report today if you like.

  • I just checked mine from TransUnion, and I didn't see anything about WSJ or North Shore Agency, or anything about owing anybody money. So it looks good for now.
    – jonescb
    Jan 16 '12 at 16:07
  • 2
    @jonescb - for now.
    – littleadv
    Jan 16 '12 at 20:57

Ask them to send you a copy of your order and proof of delivery of the newspaper. Agree (orally) to pay them as soon as they get you that. Of course, since you didn't receive any copies of the paper, they won't be able to provide proof.

  • 3
    NEVER agree to pay a collection agency, unless you are actually going to pay them. There are legal consequences to this. They will be recording these conversations.
    – MattMcA
    Jan 16 '12 at 3:52
  • 2
    It's a bet. You're betting $30 that they won't come up with that info. It will take more hours than the $30 is worth, and the proof of delivery doesn't even exist. Once I asked a collection agency for a copy of an order for a small invoice I didn't owe for. They said OK, but I never heard from them again and I never saw the bill on my credit record.
    – xpda
    Jan 16 '12 at 3:55
  • 1
    @xpda - what if they do come up? The OP will be paying for all those hours, the bill will jump from $30 to $300, and he's agreed to pay it upfront. What if the contract doesn't require any of these things as a payment condition? And never deal with collection agencies "orally". Always in writing.
    – littleadv
    Jan 16 '12 at 20:59
  • 2
    @xdpa - he said he never received. But again - who said that delivery is a pre-condition for payment? As the matter of fact its the other way around - payment is usually a pre-condition for delivery. Since he signed the contract - he was obliged to pay, and that is why the collection agency is after him now. Agreeing to pay verbally, and then not paying will only make things worse. Doing what you suggested will eliminate any chance of not paying, because first and foremost it would mean admitting that the paper should have been delivered.
    – littleadv
    Jan 16 '12 at 21:51
  • 2
    @xpda the point that they won't bother looking for proofs may be correct. But what I'm saying is that its totally irrelevant. They don't have to prove you anything other than you signing the contract, which the OP admits doing.
    – littleadv
    Jan 17 '12 at 19:05

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