How to Deal With Those Pesky Debt Collectors
Your phone rings for the tenth time today. The caller ID doesn’t recognize the number flashing on the screen, but you know exactly who it is. Your thumb quickly taps “ignore” as you slide your phone back into your pocket.
Dealing with debt collectors can be scary and overwhelming. Listening to someone threaten you with lawsuits is the last thing you want to hear when you’re already struggling to make ends meet.
So what do you when the collection calls won’t stop? Use these 4 tips on dealing with debt collectors.
Know Your Rights
Many consumers are not aware that they have rights. Collectors violate federal law every day because of this. It’s important that you know your rights.
In 1977, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was enacted to set guidelines for how collectors can behave. The FDCPA protects you from being harassed and mistreated by collectors. Some regulations collectors must follow are:
There are time restraints that calls must fall between. Collectors may only call you between 8:00am and 9:00pm in your local time zone. If this is violated, document the time the call was made and the name of the collector calling. Collectors must identify themselves and their purpose for calling.
Collectors cannot call you at work IF they are notified that your employer disapproves. Send a letter to the collector via certified mail with delivery confirmation requesting they only call you at home. That way if they continue to call you at work, you have proof that they received your request and are in violation of the FDCPA.
Collectors are only allowed to contact a person whose name is on the debt. They may only contact family members if they are trying to verify an address, but are NOT allowed to share that they are collecting a debt.
Collectors may not harass debtors or their family to collect a debt. They are also prohibited from using foul language.
These regulations are violated all the time. While not all collectors are bad people, many of them break these rules knowing that most consumers are unaware of the FDCPA. If your state law allows it, record all conversations with the collectors. Be sure to notify them that the call is being recorded.
How to Talk to a Collector
The key to dealing with collections is to over communicate. Ignoring phone calls will only cause them to continue calling.
Be kind and courteous on the phone. They are just doing their job, and as long as they are in compliance with the FDCPA, they have done nothing wrong. If you really want to throw them off, trying calling them once a week. Update them on your current situation, even if nothing has changed. By over communicating, they may eventually stop calling you all together.
Some collectors are going to try and get an emotional response from you. They want you to get angry or upset. When someone gets upset, they are more likely to pay. Many collectors use this as a tactic to receive the payment. Keep calm and remember it’s not a personal attack. Their goal is to collect the debt.
Have a script prepared ahead of time with key points you are going to stick to. I've created a free checklist with key talking points to use when you speak to a collector. Only give the collector facts and don’t promise payments that you aren’t going to make. If you don’t have the money, let the collector know. If the conversation begins to make you uncomfortable, hang up! Stay in control of the situation.
Keep detailed records of all correspondence with a collector. This should include the date and time of the call, the name of the collector, what was discussed, and any plans of action. If possible, try and speak with the same person each time so that you don’t have to start over from the beginning.
Take Care of the Essentials First
Never make a debt payment before taking care of your home first. While the collection calls can be frustrating, don’t feel pressured into giving them money before you take care of your family. Pay these 4 essentials before doing anything else:
Stay current on your mortgage or rent. You need a place to live and a roof over your family. It’s also important to stay on top of your utilities. The credit cards can wait.
Make sure you have food to put on the table. The grocery store comes before the car loan.
Basic clothing is essential. The key word here is basic. Make sure everyone has clothes to get them by. They don’t need new name brand outfits. Goodwill and Ross will do just fine.
Transportation is important as well. In order to get current on your debt payments, you need to get to and from work. If you don’t have transportation, it’s hard to make an income.
Once these things are taken care of, then you can allocate money toward the debt payments. It’s important to be on a written budget during this time. Every dollar needs to be accounted for and given an assignment.
You’re in the Wrong
That was pretty presumptuous of me, wasn’t it?
When you signed the loan paperwork, you made a promise to pay the money back. The reason collectors are calling you is because you broke that promise. That’s why I tell my clients that if you have the money to make your payments, pay them! Defaulting on debts so you can settle them for less is not a strategy; it’s unethical.
However, for most of us, life happens. We had every intention of paying that money back, but our circumstances changed. Maybe you lost your job? Maybe the loss of a spouse dropped you down to one income? Whatever the reason, it’s important to seek a solution.
Work with your collectors to settle the debt for less than what is owed. If they agree to take less, make sure you get the settlement amount from them in writing. Once they have emailed or mailed this statement, you can mail them a cashier’s check for the balance (again, using certified mail with delivery confirmation). Do not let them electronically draft the amount from your account.
People all over the country are dealing with debt collectors on a daily basis. While some collectors are ethical and follow the regulations, many are not. It’s important you know your rights when dealing with the bad ones. If you would like more help with handling these types of collectors, or getting back on track financially, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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