Whether you’re contacted by phone or by mail, debt collectors can cast a shadow on even the brightest of days.
But here’s some really good news: as an American consumer, you not only have legal rights on your side, but you have a number of powerful ways to proceed.
You’re in charge of the conversation—not the debt collector. And once you read through the facts below, you can move forward with confidence.
Here is uLink’s comprehensive guide on how to deal with debt collectors.
The Debt Collection Do’s
While debt collection may seem intimidating, federal law empowers consumers to assert their rights and never pay a penny more than necessary.
Wherever you are in the debt collection journey, be sure to keep these five powerful tips in mind to know how to handle debt collectors. These tips could save your credit health.
1. DO Know Your Rights
You’re not alone in the fight. Far from it.
In fact, The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is firmly on your side.
As outlined by the Federal Trade Commission, this law protects you from predatory (and illegal) collection tactics.
As a consumer, you are entitled to:
- Challenge all debts, thereby providing you with 30 days of protection where collectors cannot legally ask for payment.
- Determine communication guidelines, so debt collectors contact you how and when you prefer.
- Honest and threat-free interactions, where debt collectors cannot misrepresent their identities, exaggerate owed amounts, or specify legal repercussions of not paying debts.
If you believe any of these rights are breached, you can easily file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Click here to learn more.
2. DO Gather the Facts
While debt collectors thrive on applying pressure, try to remain calm. Rather than getting emotional, get factual.
Understand what the allegations are, where the debt may have originated, and what the collector is requesting.
While gathering information from the debt collector, be sure to gather your own records.That may include getting information from the original creditor, identifying the purchase in question, and reviewing your payment history.
Above all, protect your fact-finding mission by taking the following tip very seriously…
3. DO Get All Debt Information in Writing
When debt collectors call by phone, they seem untouchable and accountable to no one.
They can therefore inflate debt figures, harass you, and even lie to you to extort payment.
That’s why it’s essential to request a validation letter from the debt collector as soon as they approach you.
This letter should include details of the debt, of the original creditor, and of the collection company in question. Most importantly, it should also provide information on how you can challenge the debt.
With a validation letter in hand, you will be able to approach the CFPB with confidence.
Without getting this information in writing, debt collectors will be able to act with impunity.
4. DO Dispute Debts That Aren’t Yours
Debt collection agencies aren’t always in the right.
In fact, collectors often have false information and request payments from the wrong consumers. In some cases, they aim to collect debts that have long since been paid.
In 2021 alone, the CFPB received a whopping 121,700 debt collection complaints—many of which were from consumers charged with debts they didn’t actually owe.
The point is clear: if you’re being pressured to pay a debt you don’t have, don’t pay it.
Instead, send a written dispute letter to the collection agency within 30 days of the initial contact.
As mentioned above, the debt collector will be legally required to cease communication and collections efforts until the debt is verified.
Even if the debt is your responsibility, you may not have to pay the full amount. After all, you can still negotiate.
5. DO Try to Negotiate
Important: be sure to read the rest of this article before responding to or negotiating with a debt collector. There are some valuable debt collection tips to consider before you take action.
Negotiating with debt collectors isn’t only possible—it’s common. In fact, it’s a strategy that’s fully endorsed by the CFPB.
To that end, don’t be afraid to ask if the debt collector will settle for a portion of the cost if you pay upfront. In many cases, they will gladly cut part of the debt in return for a one-time payment.
If the debt collector is unwilling to reduce the full amount, you can still negotiate for a payment plan that’s consistent with your monthly income and expenses.
This means you can still deal with debt collectors when you can’t pay: just be prepared to honestly explain your financial situation as you negotiate.
Note: when you reach an agreement, be sure to get all details confirmed in writing before you even make a single payment.
To learn more about negotiating with debt collectors, please click here.
The Debt Collection Don’ts
While knowing what to do is important, it’s equally valuable to know what not to do when dealing with debt collectors.
To protect your emotional and financial well-being, be sure to avoid these five common pitfalls.
1. DON’T Ignore Debt Collectors
Let’s face it: ignoring a debt collector is pretty easy to do (at first, anyway). All you have to do is silence your cell phone, block their number, or put their mail in the trash.
But here’s an important truth: in the long run, ignoring debt collectors will only make the problem worse. In fact, ignoring or avoiding a debt collector could force them to take more drastic measures, including filing a lawsuit against you.
The debt collector could then be in a position to garnish your wages and bank account.
2. DON’T Provide Personal Details Over the Phone
Debt collectors are very good at providing pressure. They move quickly, cast a shadow of doubt on your future, and often speak in threatening tones.
Despite these tactics, you should never provide personal details over the phone. In fact, federal law protects you from ever needing to give out private information to anyone.
Instead of divulging personal information over the phone, insist that all requests be made in writing. This will provide a paper trail for you to keep records and protect your privacy.
3. DON’T Admit to a Debt’s Validity (Or Make Payment Promises)
When you speak with a debt collector, aim to slow down the conversation.
While they will hope to create a sense of urgency (and prey on your insecurity), your job is to remain calm and ask for more information—rather than commit to a payment plan.
You should never verbally admit to a debt’s validity over the phone. You also should never make single payments, even in small denominations.
Because as soon as you give money to a debt collector, you acknowledge the debt’s validity and expose yourself to potential legal ramifications and even wage garnishment.
Note: when it comes to speaking with debt collectors, less is more. Avoid excessive talking where possible, and make sure they put everything in writing.
4. DON’T Lose Your Temper (Even if It’s Warranted)
Anger compounds errors.
When debt collectors are on the phone, they want you to get emotional. After all, they know that if they can elicit a frustrated or panicked response, they might get you to admit to a debt’s validity or even make a payment.
Remain calm and peaceable, especially if the debt collector is mistreating or harassing you. Remember that you aren’t ever required to reveal any information over the phone, even if you’re being threatened to do so.
5. DON’T Fall For Debt Collection Scams
Unfortunately, debt collection scams are a real phenomenon in our modern economy. As a consumer, you must be on guard against thieves and fraudsters.
Here are a few telltale signs of debt collection scams:
- When they call you outside of normal business hours (and on weekends).
- If they refuse to provide you with a validation letter.
- If they are unable or unwilling to provide you with their individual identification and company information.
- If they fail to provide key information about your debt (like the original creditor, when you first fell behind on payments, and the specific interest rates).
- If they are hostile to you, manipulative, impatient, or threatening in any way.
Finally, many debt collection scams will often only have one payment method. For example, they may insist on receiving money via wire transfer or a prepaid debit card.
Bills slip through the cracks, and payments get forgotten. It happens—to everyone.
To deal with debt collectors, following the tips we went through will help to move forward with confidence.
Remember that you’re in charge of the conversation. Your job is to keep your rights in mind, collect information, verify that information, and then forge a path forward that fits your lifestyle and finances.
At uLink, we’re dedicated to helping you support your loved ones in an affordable and reliable way.
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