It’s not uncommon to receive a bill for services you received a long time ago — sometimes even after a year or more. Whether you have to pay depends on the situation.
How long does someone have to send you a bill?
There are no general time limits on how long someone has to send you a bill after they do work or sell you something. In most cases, people want to get paid, so they’ll send you a bill promptly.
Some businesses are bad about sending bills because they’re disorganized or the owner isn’t good with handling money. It’s pretty common for these businesses to realize months or even years later that they never sent out bills.
You’re right if you think it’s bad customer service to not bill you on time. While many businesses will write off bills they didn’t send for this reason, customer service isn’t a rule. If the amount of money is large, the business may not even be able to afford to write off unsent bills.
Do you have a contract saying when you should get a bill?
In some cases, you may have a contract that says the vendor has a certain amount of time to send you the final charges. In that case, you may have the right to not pay if they didn’t bill you on time.
Note that this depends on the exact wording of the contract. If it says you’ll be billed within 30 days, that’s usually a guideline or to keep the seller from billing you early. If it says the seller must bill you by a certain date, that’s usually a concrete deadline that the seller can’t bill you after.
Do these charges involve insurance?
Doctors, dentists, and other medical practitioners are often the worst about sending out timely bills. If the bill is for a medical procedure, you may be protected by insurance rules.
In some situations, the medical provider may be balance billing you for an amount insurance didn’t cover. Check with your insurance plan whether they’re allowed to do that. It’s not always allowed.
Your insurance company may also have as part of their contract that doctors have a certain amount of time to bill patients.
Is there a statute of limitations?
Under the statute of limitations, businesses only have so long after doing work to sue for non-payment. It varies by state but it’s usually somewhere in between two to six years.
The statute of limitations doesn’t stop a business from sending you a bill, but it does stop them from doing anything else if you don’t pay. A bill after the statute of limitations is only a request. If you don’t pay, they generally can’t sue you.
The only thing that can happen if you don’t pay is they may refuse to do business with you in the future until you pay.
Was the bill sent to collections?
When a bill is sent to collections, the collections agency doesn’t gain any additional rights over the original business you owed money to. Whether or not you have to pay still depends on the above factors.
The first step you should take is to request a debt validation notice if you didn’t already receive one. This is information a creditor must provide about a debt. Don’t admit to anything about the debt or give information — just request the notice. It has information they must prove to be able to collect from you.
If the debt collector validates the debt, you would then dispute it using one of the reasons above or some other legal reason you’re not required to pay. You can also try to negotiate a lower amount or a payment plan.
If you have no legal reason to not pay the bill, the creditor could eventually put the debt on your credit report or sue you for the balance.
Who can help you with this?
If you receive a late bill, the best thing to do is usually to try to work it out with that business. This might include leaving a bad (truthful) review or contacting the Better Business Bureau.
You may want to contact a debt collection attorney if the amount is large, the business is insisting you pay, and you believe there may be a reason you shouldn’t have to. If you’re having problems with a collection agency, you may also be able to sue them for violations of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act.