Your question opens up a can of worms. Your credit report should indicate the source of the debt with the collection agency and state the date the debt was transferred. If you don't recognize the debt as yours, either dispute it or send the collector a "debt validation letter." You can find out more about debt validation by researching legal advice here on AVVO.
Just paying off the debt will not remove it from your credit report. It will remain as a negative blotch on your credit for many years showing that you were very delinquent in paying this debt. If you are interested in repairing your credit, I posted a 10 part series on this topic under my legal guides. To find these guides, click on my picture & scroll down to the section on legal guides.
Hope this perspective helps!
I would contact the debt collection agency to determine what the debt was for and determine if you are liable for it.
If you are liable you can offer to settle the debt for less than what is owed, but the creditor may or may not accept your offer.
If you are not liable you can write to the credit reporting agencies to contest the debt.
If you are not sure you owe the debt then my first step would be to dispute it with the credit bureau. If the creditor does not verify the debt within 30 days then it has to come off your credit report. This doesn't mean you don't owe them but it does fix the credit report.
If they validate the debt then step two would be to contact them and ask for verification. Once verified, step three would be to settle the debt for less then full value. The damage to your credit score has already happened. Why pay full value? Your goals are to stop the reporting and end your indebtedness. You can accomplish these by settling the debt.
This answer in no way creates an attorney-client relationship. The answer is not a complete answer and requires additional facts in order to provide the best options. The submitter accepts the risk of relying on such an incomplete answer and waives any claims of damages for doing so. As stated in the answer the submitter should contact a qualified bankruptcy attorney is discuss these issues further before any action is taken. Any action taken without advise and counsel of a qualified attorney is inadvisable.
I would first and foremost find out if you do in fact owe the debt in question. If you are responsible for the debt and can pay it, call the collection agency and ask about making payment arrangements or paying it off for a lesser amount. In my experience with my clients in this position they usually settle for a much lesser amount than the original debt owed. If you pay off the debt, the collection agency should report on your credit report accordingly. Ask about this before beforehand and you can take steps to prevent further damage to your credit.
THESE COMMENTS ARE NOT LEGAL ADVICE. They are provided for informational purposes only. Actual legal advice can only be provided after consultation by an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction. The answer to question does not create an attorney-client relationship or otherwise require further consultation.