How To Deal With Debt Collectors
If you’ve ever had a debt that went to collections, you know how stressful the constant calls and letters from the company that holds the debt can be. Some of the tactics these companies use can be intimidating and, in some cases, downright abusive.
Once a debt has gone to collections, it is likely to show up on your credit history with at least one of the three major credit bureaus, Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax. Once that happens, it will remain on your credit report, dragging down your credit score for seven long years.
Some of the damage has indeed been done, but there are steps you can take to repair the damage and steps you can take so that the situation doesn’t get even worse. We’ll show you how to deal with debt collectors.
Don’t Ignore the Calls and Letters
It’s easy just to stick your head in the sand and ignore calls and letters about a debt. You can simply not answer the phone, block numbers, and toss the letters unopened into the trash. But that’s the wrong strategy, ignoring a debt is not going to make it go away. In fact, the longer you ignore it, the worse the situation can become. Debt collection agencies want their money and are often willing to work with you, but the longer you wait, the fewer options they will likely be open to offering to you.
So first thing’s first, open any overdue bills, so you know exactly what you’re dealing with. It might be worse than you thought, or it might not be as bad as you thought. But you can’t know for sure if you continue to ignore the situation.
Know Your Rights
No matter how old or how large a debt is, debt collectors, don’t have a pass to treat you any way they want. Consumers have certain rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Before you engage with someone calling about a debt, know your rights and their limitations.
Proof of Debt
Never pay a debt that you’re not sure you owe. Under the FDCPA, you have the right to know the amount of the debt and the name of the creditor. The debt collector must provide this information in writing within five days of their first communication with you unless that information has already been provided in the initial notice.
The Name of the Collection Agency
We don’t need to tell you how many scam artists are out there trying to get money and personal information by pretending to be any number of things, the IRS, your local police department, deposed foreign royalty, and debt collectors.
Anyone attempting to collect a debt from you is required to provide the name, address, and contact number of the company they are working for. And it’s not enough to get the information, be sure to verify it as well. A quick Google search should be enough to prove whether or not the agency is legitimate.
Harassment is Illegal
A debt collection call probably won’t be the most pleasant interaction, but they can only go so far. They cannot call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., scream, curse, or use vulgar language or threaten you in any manner, including threats of arrest, physical harm, deportation, or publically releasing information about your debt.
Part of the prohibition against publically releasing information about your debt covers who a debt collection agency can speak to regarding your debt. That list includes only you, your spouse, and your attorney if you have one. They are allowed to reach out to others in your life, such as relatives or employers, but only in an attempt to track you down and are still forbidden to discuss your debt with those people.
Calling You at Work
A collector can call you at work, but if you make it known that the calls are interrupting your workday or that you’re forbidden to receive personal calls at work, the collector must stop calling you there.
Statute of Limitations
Debts often get sold and resold several times. If the original creditor fails to collect, they may sell the debt off for much less than it’s worth to get some money. Typically, it will be sold to an “official” debt collection agency. If they fail to collect, they may sell it to another collector and so on.
If you’ve been dodging a debt for a long time or the collectors have had a hard time tracking you down, the clock might have run out on your legal obligation to pay the debt. Every state has its own statute of limitations, but in many places in ranges from three to six years.
However, in some states, if you pay any amount or even say that you will pay some amount on a debt past the statute of limitations, it restarts the clock and, in some cases, means the collector can sue you for the amount owed. This is why you should never pay anything or even commit to doing so verbally or in writing before the debt, including the age of it, has been verified.
The first and most important documentation is verifying the debt, as mentioned above. Once that has been done, don’t stop documenting each and every interaction you have with anyone trying to collect a debt, be it on paper, or with a phone call. Some states allow telephone calls to be recorded with one-party consent meaning you can record a call without the other person’s permission. There are several free smartphone apps that allow you to record your phone calls.
If you do settle a debt, be sure to keep the records that prove the debt has been settled or resolved.
Debt Management Help
Dealing with some trying to collect a debt from you is stressful, and as a layperson, it’s hard to know what options you have. You can’t depend on the collector to inform you of all of them. If this is something you feel is too overwhelming to handle alone, which may be the case if you have several debts in collection, there is help available.
An accredited debt counseling agency can help. These agencies can help create an agreement between you and your creditors. You’ll make a single monthly payment to one of these nonprofit agencies, who will then distribute the money to your creditors.
These agencies can often get finance charges and fees reduced or waived, help with budgeting, and instruct you on how to start rebuilding your credit score.
If you choose not to work with a debt counseling agency to make your payments, be sure to go about it the right way. It’s best to avoid giving a creditor information about your financial accounts or to provide them with direct access to them. Therefore, don’t pay with a check which has your bank account number printed on the bottom and don’t give them access to debit payments from your account directly.
You do want to make sure you have a paper trail of your payments, though, so consider paying with a money order which you can buy at several locations, including some grocery and drug stores, your bank, credit union, or post office.
Bankruptcy is not something to be taken lightly. It has severe consequences that can last for years. You can lose your home, car, and other property, your credit score will plunge, and it may be years before you can qualify for a mortgage.
Those are the downsides of bankruptcy, but there are advantages too. One of the first you’ll notice is the collection calls, and letters stop. Once you file for bankruptcy, creditors can no longer contact you or take you to court to collect a debt with a few exceptions in cases of criminal actions, family issues, and taxes.
Bankruptcy will eliminate most of the kinds of debt that lead people to file for bankruptcy, including credit cards, medical bills, and personal loans. Please note that student loan debt is almost never forgiven under bankruptcy or for any other reason.
If a creditor has a court order that allows them to garnish your wages, to take a portion of your paycheck, filing for bankruptcy automatically stops that. This, coupled with the fact that you are no longer paying anything on most of your debts, can result in more money in your pocket every month.
While bankruptcy does hurt your credit score, the clean slate it gives you means you can start rebuilding your credit much sooner than if you took years and years to pay off your debt.
Filing for bankruptcy should never be your first option, but if you have multiple debts that you can never realistically pay off, it is an option.
There is Help and Hope
If debt collectors are breathing down your neck, you do have options. It may merely be a matter of employing a very strict budget for a time and picking up a side hustle. It may be enough to work with a legitimate debt counseling agency. Or you may have to take the drastic action of declaring bankruptcy. Whatever your situation, if you’re dealing with debt and debt collectors, there is help and hope.