When you’re having financial problems, one of the most dreadful and embarrassing sounds is the phone ringing when debt collectors begin to call. They will call for any late payment from credit cards and medical debt to student loans and more.
Debt collectors are not trying to be troublesome and anxiety-inducing; they are just doing their jobs. If you are not prepared to talk to them or are too busy, tell them you are busy. If they do not let you off the phone, hang up.
Learn how to protect your money, your rights, your personal information, and your sanity as soon as you find yourself in a financial mess. If not, you could make mistakes allowing debt collectors to get the better of you.
1. Understand your rights
The first thing you should do before taking any steps is to know your rights as a consumer. You have a right not to be harassed, threatened, or abused over the phone.
If you are receiving calls that could be considered threatening, harassing, or abusive, report the phone calls to the United States Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Debt collectors have rules to follow, which are clearly explained to consumers in the Fair Debt Collection Practices.
2. Make sure it’s not a scam
Debt collection scams are everywhere. They’ll call you, text you, and email you – anything to try to get your money.
If a debt collector is contacting you, the very first thing you need to do is ensure it’s legitimate. Do you actually owe this debt, or is it made up? Is the debt collector sharing their mailing address and phone number with you? Are they pressuring or threatening to have you arrested?
Always err on the side of caution regarding your finances and personal information.
3. Don’t make promises
When you begin getting debt collector phone calls, do not make any quick promises to pay. Even if you pay just a little bit, debt collectors have the advantage and can create more problems.
The best advice is to ask the debt collectors to tell you about the debt and tell them you will call them back later. Never give out any information they can use against you, and never acknowledge the debt.
Before you say one word to the person on the other end of the phone, pause, take a deep breath, and then ask for a validation letter. You should receive it within five days of the phone call.
While you are on the phone with the debt collector, use a pen and paper to record the time and date of the call. If you can get the caller’s name and the creditor, record that, too.
4. Record conversations
If you are worried about harassment or threats from debt collectors, record all your phone conversations with them if it’s legal. Some states have outlawed recording phone conversations, so be sure you have a right to do it.
Or, you could just tell the debt collector you are recording them. They won’t know if you really are or if you are bluffing. Doing so can keep debt collectors from being abusive over the phone.
5. Be secretive
Never give your personal information over the phone to debt collectors, including your Social Security or bank account numbers. If you need to share those numbers, only do so after the debt collector has sent you something in writing.
Scammers can easily pose as debt collectors, especially over the phone.
You should also never give out any information about where you work, how much you make, and what other bills you might have. Debt collectors not only want to collect money, but they also want to collect information that will make it easier for them to get money through lawsuits.
Do not make any payments with a personal check to protect your bank account numbers. Instead, use money orders or certified checks from a different bank. Doing so makes it more difficult for debt collectors to figure out where you bank.
6. Know your financial status
You should know how much money you make, how much your monthly bills are, and how much you can pay toward your debts. You should also know the interest rate you are paying on your debts and the balance of each account.
Debt collectors might not understand your financial status accurately, especially regarding how much you owe. You should contact your credit bureau to report inaccuracies if debt collectors have different amounts than you. It is common for inaccuracies to be published on credit reports, too.
Debt collectors will often be satisfied with some type of monthly payment, but you won’t be able to arrange them if you don’t know what you can afford. You must set up a payment plan that fits your lifestyle and financial status. Otherwise, you’ll just end up in further debt.
7. Protect your money
After some time, debt collectors can move to legal action. Once they file suits with courts, you could have your bank accounts frozen or have payments automatically deducted from your accounts.
Some people will take their money out of their bank accounts as soon as debt collectors begin to call.
If you don’t have money in your accounts, there isn’t anything that debt collectors can take. However, if you have direct deposit, consider canceling that and finding an alternative for cashing your paychecks. Look into having separate bank accounts to hold your exempt income, like Social Security or disability payments, securely.
If you have filed for bankruptcy, let debt collectors know they will not be able to access your money.
8. Use certified mail
If you must mail anything to debt collectors, only use certified mail with a return receipt. This way, you will have proof that they received the correspondence.
Letters get lost in the mail, and it would be a shame if yours did, especially when dealing with something as serious as debt collection.
You can also use certified mail to send cease-and-desist letters if the calls become too bothersome. Debt collectors will also use certified mail to contact you if they are beginning court proceedings.
9. Learn how credit reports work
If you don’t mind getting debt collector phone calls, you can simply wait until the debt drops off. It can take several years for this to happen, though.
There are statutes of limitations on debt collection, so creditors and debt collectors will stop calling after a while. But, if the debt is excessive or you have put up collateral, you will most likely have to make some payments or eventually see court action. You won’t go to prison for having unpaid debt, but you could have difficulty buying a new car or getting credit to buy a home.
The magic number for credit reporting is seven years. But, if you have an unpaid tax lien, it could remain on your credit report indefinitely.
If you file for bankruptcy, that financial event can stay on your credit report for up to 10 years, depending on your state.
10. Apply for a consolidation loan
Look into a debt consolidation loan where you can consolidate several payments into one affordable payment.
There are standards that you must meet to be able to qualify, such as l having good credit. Therefore, you should apply as soon as trouble begins before your credit report starts to nosedive.
These loans often have low-interest rates, which can help you pay off your debts quicker and stop the debt collectors from calling.
11. Dispute your debt
Did you know that you can dispute a debt? A challenge to the debt in the first 30 days after the initial phone call will temporarily stop collectors from calling. They can only resume contact after investigating and verifying your debt in writing.
However, the debt collector can still call you if you do not challenge the debt within that window.
Be sure that you keep the dispute letter. You can use a sample dispute letter to send to your debt collector, who has to respond within a set amount of time.
Get Rid of Debt Collectors for Good with These Simple Steps
Dealing with debt collectors is stressful. Before speaking with a debt collector, verify the debt is legitimate and understand your rights. Following these tips will help you confidently work towards resolving the debt with as little stress as possible.
Don’t let debt collectors intimidate you. Arm yourself with knowledge and take control of the situation and your financial future.
This article originally appeared on My Life, I Guess.
Feature Image Credit: Ivan Moreno sl via Canva.com.
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Amanda Kay, an Employment Specialist and founder of My Life, I Guess, strives to keep the "person" in personal finance by writing about money, mistakes, and making a living. She focuses on what it’s like being in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and surviving unemployment while also offering advice and support for others in similar situations - including a FREE library of career & job search resources.