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How to Handle Debt Collectors

Written by Laura Martinez - 12 Comments

I hate debt collection agencies. This distaste is mainly because of past personal experience. A few of years ago, a collection company called me repeatedly about a medical bill that my insurance company had already paid. I sent the proof of payment through fax and mail, but they refused to accept it.

I decided that enough was enough, and I finally stopped communicating with them on the phone. I was getting nowhere, so I kept any communication I had with them in writing. I know I’m not the only who has had problems with collection agencies, so I prepared some information for tackling this trying situation.

Tricks of the Trade

While not everyone working in the call center is a crook, there are too many horror stories about nasty collectors who threaten and harass you into sending them money. For example, CNN Money had a piece on previous debt collectors who shared their stories about the industry.

Here is a summary of some of the underhanded activities that went on:

  • Admitting at times that he had to have a ‘black heart’ to survive, a collector threatened debtors and intimidated them to get payments.
  • Contests at a particular collection agency to see who could get the most people to cry.
  • A debt collector took advantage of debtors’ ignorance and identified himself as legal counsel, and would ask questions that they had the right to refuse to answer.
  • Neighbors and family members were targeted to pressure the debtor to make payments.

There are plenty more stories, some much worse than what I highlighted, but you can see that you have to stay on your toes when working with debt collectors. If the debt is your responsibility, you should pay your debt off as quickly as you can.

However, you shouldn’t be bullied or intimidated by someone to handle your finances. Don’t be a victim; know your rights and how to handle them.

Your rights under the FDCPA

Your best protection with a collection agency harassing you is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Why was the FDCPA created? There was a study that found the following practices in its investigation of the debt collection industry:

There is abundant evidence of the use of abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices by many debt collectors. Abusive debt collection practices contribute to the number of personal bankruptcies, to marital instability, to the loss of jobs, and to invasions of individual privacy.

Source: FTC.gov

The FDCPA is there to help minimize this problem as the laws at the time didn’t cover the issues adequately. While there is a lot of material in the Act, I just want to highlight a few key provisions.

What’s allowed under FDCPA

  • Reasonable hours for phone calls – Debt collectors can only call you between 8am and 9pm.
  • Verification – You have the right notify the collection agency within 30 days that they need to verify the debt if you doubt their claim.
  • Request no contact – You have the right to instruct them to cease contacting you by sending your request through certified mail with a return receipt. They can only contact you to confirm that they received your letter and/or if they are filing a lawsuit. The debt doesn’t go away, you’re still responsible for it, but they have to stop hassling you.

What’s not allowed under FDCPA:

  • Harassment – They cannot use profane language, or repeatedly call you for the sole purpose of bullying or abusing you.
  • False statements – They cannot misrepresent themselves (either as law enforcement or part of a credit reporting agency), give you a false amount of your debt, or claim that you’ve committed a crime.
  • Invasion of privacy – While they may call your family to get contact information, they cannot speak to anyone but you and your lawyer about your debt.
  • Peace at work – While they can call you at your place of employment, you can request in writing that the cease. If they continue calling you at your job, then they are violating FDCPA.

Talking with debt collectors

Working with a collection agency can be difficult, especially if they’re aggressive. Here are some things you need to keep in mind when working with debt collectors to protect yourself.

  • Double check that it really is your debt. You’d be surprised at how some credit collector mistake you for someone else with the same name. You also want to check to see if you were a victim of identity theft with this debt.
  • Never agree to a payment plan you can’t comfortably afford. Debt collectors want their money, they’re not thinking about how it affects your grocery bills or your rent. They will push you to pay the maximum they can get.
  • Make sure they send you the payment plan in writing before you give them money. While many of us are honest people, but you can’t guarantee that the person on the other line is, too. Protect yourself and tell them that you need the paperwork first before you’ll send in a payment. Some may scream, yell, or argue with you, but you have to stand your ground on this.
  • If all else fails, communicate only by certified mail. If they are being bullies with you, then keep all communications traceable. Contact your state’s Attorney General if they flagrantly violate your rights.

Your debt collector stories

I’ve heard some scary debt collection stories. I hope none of you have gone through the nightmare that some people had to deal with, but I know some of you probably have.

Have you been harassed by a collection agency? Were you ever bothered by a debt collector even though the debt wasn’t yours? How did you resolve the situation?

Published on October 26th, 2010 - 12 Comments
Filed under: Debt Reduction

About the author: helps families achieve financial freedom by sharing tips for reducing debt and building freelance income over at Couple Money.

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12 Responses to “How to Handle Debt Collectors”

  1. 1
    Rosa Says:

    I have a really common name, and a landline with a listed number. For a while we got LOTS of debt collection calls and none of them were actually for me. They would often try to get me to tell them my social security number “so they could check”.

    Because I worked in a phone room I’d had pretty extensive training on the Do Not Call List laws, so I just said to them “I am not the person you are looking for. I am requesting not to be called. I have no business relationship with you. Please tell me the name of your company and what state it is in.” Usually they just hung up. A few times they actually registered me as DNC.

  2. 2
    Chris Gagner @ SmartPF Says:

    i actually worked as a debt collector for two days despite my distaste for the industry. I needed a job and thought that I could struggle through with that job for a little while. Let me tell you, I hated myself for those two days. On the bright side, I learned a lot about the collection industry in that short amount of time.

  3. 3
    Hermano Says:

    How does an early termination fee of $150 keep growing into something bigger? I just laugh every time i get the notice. I don’t care what sprint thinks, I’m not paying them a cent so I could drop them for my iPhone. I tell them I am hanging up and you can hear them screaming, saying wait wait, then I hang up, lol

  4. 4
    Mike Says:

    I had a fraternity brother in college who received multiple letters and phone calls about a store credit card. We lived in a fraternity house with one number, so we all ended up hearing these messages on the machine.

    My friend denied that this was his and they had the wrong person or it was fraudulent. He was venting one day about it. One of the brothers not living in the house (not having heard the messages) turned to him and said “I was with you that day; you opened it to save 15%. Now you know why I told you not to.”

    To his credit, my friend immediately called the debt collector and agreed to pay the charges, which was about $100 with late fees.

  5. 5
    Chad Says:

    I had a debt collector who purchased my debt from another collection agency. He claimed that I owed over $300 for a $30 bounced check. The debt on my credit report only said $30 (as reported by the original collection agency), so needless to say I told him where he could shove it. He claimed that he would sue me for the debt, even though he was based on the East coast and I lived in the Midwest – a scare tactic that I since learned was illegal. After clearing up some other debts I called him back to look into it again, and again said that the debt to my knowledge was only $30, and unless he could provide proof that I owed more on the debt that I would not be paying him at all. He said “If you want to see it on your credit report, you’ll see it on your credit report!” and hung up the phone. I never saw it on my credit report, the original collection agency who had reported it no longer held the debt, so I contested it with the reporting agencies and got it removed from my record. The debt collector from NY didn’t get a penny, which is what the jerk deserved.

  6. 6
    Mark Says:

    It is such an unscrupulous industry with almost no regulation. It’s a shame.

  7. 7
    Robert @ The College Investor Says:

    I had a box of new checks stolen out of the mail about 3 years ago, and the thieves went on a shopping spree (of course!). I had to file a police report, and essentially defend myself against all of these checks that bounces around town at various stores.

    Now, over 3 years later, I still receive collection notices for various debt collectors who are trying to collect these debts they bought. It is really pain, especially since it costs me time to respond, and about $5 to send a certified letter with return receipt with a copy of the police report.

    I feel like the original companies shouldn’t have been even allowed to sell my debt once they knew if was fraudulent.

  8. 8
    Ben Says:

    Important thing to keep in mind: much of the FDCPA doesn’t apply to debt collectors who are directly employed by, say, a bank who holds the debt, it mostly only applies to third-party debt collection. California, Florida, and Connecticut have their own laws which make the FDCPA apply to even first-party debt collectors.

  9. 9
    Sandra Says:

    My husband is out of work so I am behind on a few bills. These people call me repeatedly at home and work and I have them on my block list so the phone doesn’t even ring on my end but I can see who called. They will call me about 2 or 3 times a day at home and work and my references, is that legal? And what can I do?

  10. 10
    Steven @ The Debt Solution Says:

    My best technique is to send a Cease and Desist / harassment letter to the debt collector with a CC to the State Attorney Generals office.

    This usually does the trick and they go and pick on someone else.

  11. 11
    IHateCollectors Says:

    All the cease and desist letter does is cause them to file the lawsuit faster. Send them the letter and a week later you will get a knock on your door around dinner time from someone who has some “documents” for you.

  12. 12
    David @ Bill Collectors Hate Me Says:

    Bill collector scare tactics and voicemails are so comical to listen to. I usually return every voicemail that I receive just to give them a piece of my mind and after about two calls and hearing my “wrath” they generally just stop calling and sell the debt to someone else and I start the process all over again. At some point it will reach the statute of limitations. The key is once they know you are not intimidated they will go away and bully someone else. I was sued earlier this year and won because I knew my rights. Do your research and fight back!!!

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