Top Ten Tips for Dealing with Debt Collectors

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Identify the Collector

Many consumers have more than one debt collector calling either because they have multiple debts or have a single debt that is repeatedly being reassigned to new collection companies. It is imperative to know who is calling. In every single call, you should identify the company, the individual collector, the amount, and the original creditor. No matter how bad you are getting harassed, we cannot stop it if we do not know who is calling. If a collector is reluctant to give this information, there is a high possibility that the calls are part of an illegitimate scam.


Keep All Voice Messages

Debt collectors have to follow several laws that not only address the substance of the voice messages but also the manner in which they are conveyed. This includes calls to your home, work, or mobile phone. Be especially watchful for robocall messages to a mobile phone and messages to any phone that fail to state "that the debt collector is attempting to collect a debt and that any information obtained will be used for that purpose."


Communicate in Writing

First, this goes back to the initial point. Writings help identify the debt collector and the debt. It is also evidence that the company is at least a somewhat legitimate entity and not some offshore scam. Finally, it establishes a memorandum of the account so that the debt collector or a future debt collector cannot waiver on the details of the account. For instance, if the letter says you owe $1000, then you will know something is wrong if you have a future collector claiming you owe $1500.00.


Maintain Financial Control

If you decide that the debt collector is legitimate and the amount is acceptable, only agree to pay through methods where you remain in control. Too many problems can occur when setting up a reoccurring payment or some other method that gives the debt collector access to your account without you giving consent every single time. Sometimes "glitches" or "misunderstandings" occur and payments will be taken out twice or prematurely -- either by negligence or on purpose. Either way, prevent these by maintaining control over your accounts.


Document Every Call

Keep a collection log and document every single time you get a call. Its common to feel like, "debt collectors are calling me all day and night long, every single day." Again, this goes back to helping to identify the debt collector and also helps you from becoming overwhelmed by keeping the accounts/collectors categorized.


Don't Assume Account Correctness

Just because a debt collector is giving you a balance does not mean it is correct. In the most innocuous situations, accounts can pass through several computer systems and sometimes the inputs do not match up. This can cause improper interest calculations among other problems. If something doesn't sound right, ask for a breakdown of the principal, interest, and finance charges. The debt collector may not have this information readily available but insist it before agreeing to any deals.


Think and Ask "Why?"

Let's say a debt collector keeps saying, "If you do not pay over the phone right now, we are going to garnish your wages." They make it sound like such an easy process. That they can just call your employer or bank and just take the money out. If it was such an easy process, why do they keep wasting their time calling you? The problem is that it is not an easy process. Outside of certain government related debts that follow their own procedures (taxes, student loans, and child support), the creditor must have a judgment against in court before it can start the garnishment process. Even if everything goes to plan, these procedures are time consuming and expensive. They also require that you have notice and time to respond. If the collector is making threats, ask how they plan to carry out their plans. Do they have a judgment against you? If so, ask for verification. Do they have an Alabama attorney that is planning on suing you? If so, who is it and why isn't he/she calling


Deadlines Can Be Arbitrary

Most debt collectors work on a commission basis. They want you to pay quickly to ensure they get their bonus - usually while on the phone. Thus, they train on and develop tactics to pressure you into paying due to artificial time constricts. Any legitimate offer can almost certainly be held out long enough for you to make an informed decision. A good approach is to ask the debt collector to put the offer in writing. That gives you time to think and makes a memorandum as referenced above.


Remember Your Right to Say "Stop Calling"

If at any time, you feel like the debt collector is crossing the line and becoming abusive, send them a written letter to cease all communications with you. According to law, the debt collector must stop all calls and letters. Be straightforward about it. If you are on the phone, orally tell the collector to stop calling and state that you are going to follow up with a letter. Document the oral notification and the written follow up in your own records. If the same company continues to call, then contact a local consumer attorney immediately.


Talk with Friend & Family

Debt collectors have a very limited window that allows them to call third parties (anyone other than your spouse) about your debt. That window is calling to obtain location information for you. That's it. They cannot disclose anything about the debt and they certainly cannot pressure the third party to entice you to pay. The main problem is that when debt collector do break the law and disclose information to a third party, the consumers are usually embarrassed and try to diffuse the situation instead of finding out what happened in order to prevent it from happening again. Third party disclosure is a huge violation of the law. Having personal information discussed is a major invasion of privacy. Find out as much as you can about who is calling your friends and family and what exactly is said.

Additional Resources

John C. Hubbard, LLC

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