I get this question a lot. Although I would never suggest NOT paying your debts, you need to be very careful when paying a collection account. If you are 100% sure you owe it, then maybe you should pay it (more on this later). However, if your goal is to improve your credit score, paying it will likely have the opposite, negative effect.
The FICO scoring model treats collection accounts as closed accounts, and the balance on these accounts have no impact on your credit score. What matters most is “the date of last activity”, which is the date the original debt went bad, or the date of your last payment to the collection agency. This means that a $150 collection account from last month has more negative impact to your credit score than a $3,000 collection account from last year. Therefore, paying it will not increase your credit score. In fact, often times paying it will drop your credit score even more by creating new and more recent activity on this account.
Further, paying a collection account does NOT remove it from your credit report. You end up spending your money and reducing your credit score.
If you plan to pay a collection account, first secure an agreement with the collection agency to remove the entire collection account from your credit report upon receipt of payment. Better yet, make them first prove you owe the debt by sending them a debt validation letter AND make the credit bureaus prove they are reporting the account 100% accurately on your credit report. If they can’t prove it, they must remove it! Utilize the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, as these protect consumers like you and me! You will have a very good chance of getting the account deleted from your credit report, which WILL increase your credit score.
Call me if you or your clients would like help with this, or if you have any credit related questions!