By Gerri Detweiler. May 3, 2020
Some links on this site are for services for which we may earn a commission. This helps us keep the information on this site free. Also keep in mind this information is educational, and is not a substitute for legal advice.
If you have a loan or other debt with a company that goes out of business, you may be wondering whether you still have to pay the debt you owe. The fact that a company goes out of business doesn’t automatically erase the debt. You may or may not be responsible for continuing to make payments, depending on the specific situation and the status of the debt.
When a company goes out of business it will often file for bankruptcy. If a company goes bankrupt, the court will oversee the bankruptcy. A Chapter 11 bankruptcy is a reorganization that is designed so the business can restructure and stay open. A Chapter 7 bankruptcy is a “liquidation” of the business and it will likely assets will be sold and it will be shut down. The court will divide up the assets of the business to pay as many creditors as possible. Some creditors have a higher to get paid, and those are usually those where collateral is involved. The debt you owe as a debtor to a company that goes into bankruptcy administration will become part of the assets of the company in bankruptcy.
However, exactly what happens if you owe money to a company that goes out of business, and how that debt will be collected, depends in part on the status of the debt.
If a lender is collecting the debt but goes out of business, you will need to continue to make payments on the loan or you risk damage to your credit reports and credit scores. If the company files for bankruptcy, the court will instruct you where to make your monthly payments if that changes. If you have any dispute over whether the debt is valid, raise that dispute as soon as you are notified of the bankruptcy. If you don’t, the debt may be considered valid. Review the information the creditor or court sends you for instructions on how to dispute it. Do so in writing and keep a copy for your records.
If you are making payments to a debt collector, it is helpful to know the status of the debt. (Finding this out isn’t always easy, however. Debt collectors don’t always volunteer this information and may not answer correctly if you ask.)
If a debt collector is collecting on behalf of the business, the court may order those unpaid debts to be sold to a collection agency (the same one or a different one) so the money from that sale can be used to help cover debts the business owed.
If this happens, your debt may change hands to a different collection agency which must notify you in writing about the debt you owe. The debt may be sold at a deep discount which could give you the opportunity to try to settle the balance for less than you owe. For example, if you owe $1000 but can only afford to pay $250, you may be able to get the collector to agree to $250 if you can pay that amount right away.
Read: How to Settle Collection Accounts
As a general rule, if your debt was more than a few months old or went to multiple collection agencies before you started making payments, there is a good chance it was purchased by a debt collector.
If a debt collector has already purchased your debt from the business, you may continue making payments to that same collection agency. Since they already own the debt, nothing changes and if the original debt was correct you’re obligated to pay it.
If your debt was sent to collections shortly after you missed payments with the original creditor and you started paying that collection agency, it may or may not have been sold. The collection agency may still be collecting on behalf of the creditor.
If you paid by credit card but the goods or services have not been delivered as agreed, you can dispute the charge with your credit card company. Follow the instructions on your billing statement for filing a billing dispute. It’s a good idea to do this in writing and keep a copy of your dispute to protect your rights.
Whether a collector is collecting on behalf of a creditor or has purchased the debt, information about the original debt may be hard to come by. That may allow you to challenge whether the debt is valid. If there aren’t sufficient records to confirm the debt is valid, you may not have to pay it.
If you have been paying on a debt for a while, it’s going to be harder to challenge the debt as invalid. However, you can always send a debt validation letter to the debt collection agency, asking it to verify the debt and see what happens. If they can’t provide proof of the debt you may be able to get it dismissed.
If a lender or debt collector has sued you for the debt and you didn’t show up or lost the lawsuit, there is likely a judgment against you. If so, don’t just stop paying the debt. If you do, the creditor or collection agency may be able to seize your bank accounts, garnish your wages or take other legal action to try to collect from your personal assets. Your best bet in this case is to talk with a consumer law attorney to ask about whether it makes sense to challenge the debt or even to consider filing for bankruptcy yourself.
Sometimes a lender or collector that someone is making loan payments to will just “disappear,” and the debtor won’t know who to pay. If this happens to you, keep records of what happened. If a payment was returned, for example, keep whatever evidence you have that happened in a place where you can find it in case you are later contacted by someone else. You may even want to send a certified letter to the company stating that you are ready and willing to make payments and keep a copy for your records. (Send it with delivery tracking and keep a record of either the returned letter or the fact that it was delivered.)
Watch out! It is not uncommon for debts to resurface months or even years later. If that happens and the debt is too old, you may be able to challenge it based on the statute of limitations. But you will want whatever proof you have about dates you made payments, and amounts you paid. If it turns out you still owe the debt, you don’t want them to inflate the debt, or charge you extra interest or fees.
Sometimes a company will go out of business and owe you money. Instead of being the debtor, if you are owed money, you are the creditor. For example, you may be providing services to that company and have a business debt, you may have a gift card with a balance or you may even have a credit balance on a store credit card.
In this case, if the company has gone bankrupt, you want to file with the bankruptcy court so you can get paid if there are enough assets to pay creditors. Unsecured creditors-- that’s likely you if you are owed money but there was no collateral-- aren’t generally on the top of the list to get paid, but if you don’t try you won’t get anything. A creditor must file a proof of claim with the bankruptcy court within 90 days after the first date set for the meeting of creditors so don’t delay. Similarly, if you have a gift card you may have to file a claim to try to get back some or all of the money you are owed. Read more about gift cards and bankruptcy filing at the BBB.org.
The IRS considers cancelled or forgiven debt to be taxable income and you may have to pay taxes on any amount forgiven or provide information with your tax return about why you don’t believe you have to pay taxes on those amounts. Make sure you understand whether cancellation of your debt is taxable so you don’t turn one debt into new tax debt!