Advice on 4-year-old collection debt?
I just got off the phone with a collection agency and would like some advice.
In June of 2003, as I was finishing up college, I received a bill for about $150 from my AT&T cell phone. I believed the charges to be unfair--I was billed for a few days of usage that occurred after my contract had ended because my service had not stopped. At the time this was quite a bit of money for me so I returned the bill with a letter stating what had happened and naively thought all was well...and proceeded to move abroad for two years.
Upon my return to the US, I would receive the occasional letter about the bill from various collection agencies, but was told by various people that paying it at this point would only hurt my credit rating--so I didn't.
I'm now in a stable financial position. I have no problems paying my bills on time, barely use credit cards, invest heavily in my 401k, etc. and I now know that follow-through and trusting more than hearsay are parts of financial responsibility. I did find that my credit rating drop from 750 to the 600s, however, when I checked it last year. And, while annoying, paying the $300 bill the debt has now become would not be a hardship.
Tonight I received a call from the collection agency, answered it by accident and ended up talking to a collector. I was surprised to find that various details of the debt were wrong. My one year contract, completed, had become two and the date of the debt was listed a year earlier, as 2002 rather than 2003. Unfortunately, I really don't think I have the paperwork to support this anymore. When I stated my case, they told me they would mark the debt as "refusal to pay." I told them I was disputing it and the details given, but they said it would not matter.
There is a small chance I will be interested in buying a condo in the next two to three years, but there is a greater chance I will not be stable enough location-wise to make that kind of commitment at this point.
My understanding is that this collection will cease to affect my credit rating in a few years, but will haunt me for seven starting the day I pay it off. I have also heard varying opinions as to whether it is more beneficial to pay the debt in full.
I have also yet to write to the credit bureaus and dispute the debt, although the collector assured me they would hold me to it. Does this really make a difference?
Is "refusal to pay" a tactic to get me paying or a sign they will be suing me?
Any opinions or advice? I'd like to get this off my back but I'm wondering if it's worth it at this point.