Getting calls from debt collectors can be a difficult event in your life. It could be a sign that you are behind on payments, the victim of identity theft, or it could be a mistake on the part of the debt collector. In addition, debt collectors can be rude, pushy, and insulting when trying to collect the debt(s) they claim you owe.
Debt collection agencies, and their employees, get paid to collect the debt they’re calling you about, and in many cases, they don’t care if the debt they claim you owe is accurate or not. If they can get you to pay over the phone, they will do so.
Follow these lists of Dos and Don’ts when contacted by a debt collector.
- prepare for a call
- get their contact information
- request verification
- take action
- check your credit report
- pay immediately
- let yourself be bullied
- ignore the debt
- provide bank information
- pay what you can’t afford
If you’ve been contacted by collections agencies before, or you expect that to happen soon, be prepared. Know what you are going to say before the debt collector calls. This way, you are less susceptible to bullying, and you can steer the conversation toward a conclusion.
Get the collector’s name, phone number, company address, and company name. For one thing, you may need to send them documentation, payment, or other materials. For another, you may want to do some research into the collector. A legitimate company will have no problem supplying you with this information.
Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, debt collectors are required, within five days of contact, to send written documentation that includes the debt amount and the creditor who is claiming the debt and next steps on payment or disputing the debt.
Once you have received the debt collector’s documentation, you can do one of two things: either pay up, or dispute the debt. If you decide to pay, you can organize your payment directly with the debt collector. If you wish to dispute the debt, you must do so in writing within 30 days of the first collection letter. Once disputed, the debt collector must provide documentation of the debt from the original creditor.
You should check to see if this debt is reflected within your credit report. If it is, it almost certainly will damage your credit score. If you are investigating the credit report listing, you should do so with the credit bureaus as well—a credit and debt expert can help you through this process.
Don’t assume that the debt collector is in the right, and don’t allow them to convince you to pay immediately over the phone. You could wind up paying a debt you aren’t actually responsible for, and since the debt collector is required by law to validate this information, you may as well wait until this happens.
Debt collectors often take a rude and threatening tone to get what they want. Don’t let them push you around. It’s illegal for them to use obscene, abusive language, or to continuously call and harass you. If you request in writing that they cease communication, they are required to do so. (This is not a fix to make your debt go away, but it is a fix to get them to stop calling).
Unpaid debt can have negative consequences on your credit, which in turn can negatively affect other aspects of your life. Determine if the alleged debt is valid or not, and then take action. Don’t ignore the situation.
If you decide to pay the debt collector, do so with a check or other payment method under which you designate the amount of the payment. Do not provide your bank account information. If the debt collector withdraws too much money (either unintentionally or otherwise), it’s very difficult to get your money back. Also, don’t provide any debt collector your Social Security Number (SSN) or other personal data. They should already have what they need.
Again, if you decide to pay, you don’t necessarily have to pay the entire amount of your debt up front. First, the amount owed can often be negotiated down. Second, since debt collectors make money if and when you pay, they are frequently willing to work out a payment schedule that works for you. If you can negotiate such a schedule, do so, and make the payments in full and on the schedule you agreed upon.
Getting a call from a debt collector can be a stressful experience, but by understanding your rights, and the actions you can take, you can at least make the event a less painful one. Follow this advice to ensure that your debt collector is legitimate and to address the issue so that you can move on with your life.