It’s become far too common place lately. In an era where individuals are carrying larger defaulted credit card debts or huge medical bills because their underlying treatments weren’t covered by major medical, more and more consumers are facing the constant ring of their phone as debt collectors come a knocking. Through often no fault of their own other than bad luck and circumstance, consumers are racking up massive amounts of debt that they can neither afford nor come up with a way to repay. Depending on the repute of the collector who eventually comes calling when you fail to remit that next payment, you may or may not feel like you’re being harassed. Whether or not that’s the case, one thing will be for certain: in the face of those phone calls, you’ll feel like there is a huge burden on your shoulders.

As a consumer, it’s important to know that you have rights under both Federal and state laws which protect your interests; they protect you against harassment and/or the phone ringing off the hook. Just because a debt collector is reaching out to resolve a purported debt does NOT mean that you simply have to give in to what they say. You have alternatives, especially if you’re questioning the validity of a debt, and you need to stand up for yourself.

Rather than tackling the portion of the equation dealing with ways in which to hopefully resolve the underlying debt (that’s a series of articles unto themselves meant for another time), I’m focusing today on how to put an end to the collection calls. Even though this might seem like a miniscule step toward righting your ship, getting the phone to stop ringing for many people is a huge breakthrough in addressing the debt cycle, even if just psychologically.

Even when collectors are doing their jobs properly and following the letter of the law, it can feel like you’re constantly being pressured to pay up or face the consequences. What can a debtor do about this? The first step? Secure counsel to act as your representative. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not trying to be self-aggrandizing here by saying that you need counsel at the beginning of the process, but I believe it’s always a good idea. There are some with enough intestinal fortitude to see these initial steps through without much difficulty. That said, many will find this hill a daunting challenge, and it will just be easier for them to have an experienced professional who knows the system take charge of the reins on their behalf.

Whether you get counsel or not, you don’t have to be a victim of harassment and/or never ending collection calls. I feel like I’m beating a drum here, but you have rights! You’ll forgive me for endlessly repeating it, but it seems like too few people understand that they can do something to protect themselves, so I feel obliged to repeatedly beat readers over the head with the information. Under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, consumers can and should send (or at least have issued on their behalf) letters to debt collectors instructing them as to how they want any further communications to take place (or rather, NOT take place). In short, you can direct debt collectors to outright STOP their efforts at communicating with you in any way, shape or form, with a few very limited exceptions. Debt collectors are obliged to honor your request or they risk running afoul of statutes that will not only penalize them for their unlawful conduct, but potentially force them to reimburse you for damages that you might have suffered.

In addition to stopping the debt communications, consumers have other rights, including a huge one: the right to have your debt confirmed! Whether you’re disputing the outright validity of the debt or just the amount claimed, it’s also a good idea to demand that the creditor verify the debt. Depending on the nature of the debt, even if it’s valid, you might learn that the creditor claiming it doesn’t have sufficient evidence to substantiate it. For this reason alone it makes sense to engage counsel on your behalf to receive and review these documents since the import of what you’re being provided (or often not provided) may not always make sense. My original recommendation, therefore, stands: do what you can to protect your interests, but be mindful of the necessity of seeking and securing professional assistance when the time is right! You have too much on the line to tackle this on your own.