If you are getting collection calls for any unpaid debt that you owe, the best way to handle them is to speak to the collector and find out everything you can find out about that debt. Make sure the debt is your debt. Make sure the amount is something you remember that you failed to pay. Verify the amount owed is approximately what you thought you owed. If your initial review doesn’t sound like it’s your debt, tell the collector you are disputing the debt. Debt collectors may send a letter to the mailing address that they have on file asking you to validate the debt. Please do not ignore these letters. Review them for accuracy and if the debt is not yours, dispute it by responding to the letter and advise the collector. If it is your debt, be ready for the collection calls to start or be proactive and call the collector yourself.
Remember, if it’s your debt, it’s best to take the call and face it head on. But here are a few rules the collector must follow when contacting you.
- The collector can only call you between 8am and 9pm.
- They are not allowed to call you at work if the policy at your work says you could get in trouble for taking collection calls.
- Collectors cannot contact third parties like your family or neighbors.
You can also stop a collector from calling you by notifying them in writing that they are not allowed to call you. This should only be done if your income is so limited that you cannot afford to pay anything toward this debt.
- Moreover, the collector cannot harass or abuse you, and they certainly cannot threaten physical harm to you or your reputation.
- They cannot use obscene or profane language while contacting you.
- They cannot continually ring your phone in order to simply annoy you.
- The collector cannot make false or misleading statements or representations.
- They cannot say they are acting on behalf of the state or government.
- They cannot threaten action that they have no grounds or intent to take.
Here is an example of how to handle the collector. Talk to the collector and explain your financial hardship. All collectors want to get full payment on every debt but the reality is that is not possible. So once you have advised them on your situation, try and work out a payment plan that you know you can afford. One of the best plans to offer the collector is an immediate payment followed by monthly payments that fit your budget. The collector will push you to make a larger payment to get the debt paid quicker, but do not agree to any arrangement that you cannot keep. Remember the collector is driven by money only and they typically get a portion of the money they collect from you. The larger your payment is, is better for them but not necessarily for you.
Once you have worked out a payment plan, get the collector to send their acknowledgement in writing to you. As long as you have an active arrangement, the collection agency should not take any further collection action against you. So it is very important to make each and every payment on time. If for some reason you fall onto a hardship for a month, be proactive and call the collector before your payment is due and let them know the situation. If you have been paying promptly, they will most likely let you pay late or even skip a month. But get right back on track the next month.
Once your debt is paid in full, contact the collector and advise them to send you a letter stating the debt is paid in full and retain that letter with your permanent records. Also ask the collector to make sure the collection agency updates the credit bureaus that your debt is paid in full. If for some reason they are lax updating your credit report, you can use the letter to prove payment in full.
Face your debt head on and make and keep an arrangement you can afford. That will put old debt behind you and prevent collection calls.
Collection Calls Expert Question And Answers
What do you do if you are being harassed by a debt collector? You do have rights. We asked Attorney William W. Lundquist, someone we consider an “expert” in this area of law, to give us his thoughts on the subject.
Q: Hello Mr. Lundquist, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for our readers.
A: Glad to even be in a position where I could potentially help some of your folks.
Q: We have heard horror stories from our readers about “hard-ball” collection tactics. I guess our first question for you is how does the average person know if a collector has crossed the line from being aggressive or unpleasant to inappropriate or even illegal activity?
A: This is a tough answer because no one wants to be harassed about a prior debt, yet there is nothing illegal about a debt collector simply contacting someone to try and convince them to repay money which may very well be owed. That said, you actually noted a number of statutory violations in this article. For example, when collection calls are actually placed to a debtor can, in some instances, violate the law. And collectors may not contact you at work, if they’re told you’re not allowed to get calls there. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which is the federal statute that governs the conduct of debt collectors, prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect. My general rule is if the collector’s efforts seem overly harassing or you find yourself being lied to, the collection agency has definitely crossed the line. So any instance where a debt collector either uses threats of violence or profane language in communicating with you is a classic violation of the Act. Any repeated phone calls in a short time period designed to annoy someone could also qualify as an abusive practice. Now, your readers might not be getting cursed at, but deceptive practices like false claims that the debt collector is an attorney or that you have committed some form of a crime by not paying your debt are still clear violations under the Act. One of the more common violations we see in the reported cases is where a debt collector simply misrepresents the actual amount a debtor owes. There is quite a laundry list of conduct that would be considered illegal under the Act. The nation’s consumer protection agency known as the Federal Trade Commission actually has a variety of free educational information available on the web. But if you believe you have been subjected to a violation of the Act, you should consider consulting with an attorney.
Q: What steps can a person take to stop collection tactics?
A: Send a letter by certified mail to the collection agency and politely ask them to stop contacting you. Once you receive the signed green card back indicating the debt collector received your letter, they may only contact you again in two instances. First, a debt collector can contact you to tell you there will be no further contact. Second, they can let you know that they or the creditor intend to take a specific action, like filing a lawsuit. It’s important to understand that sending this letter to a debt collector does not get rid of the debt, but it will stop the contact.
Q: Does the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act really provide protection to a consumer?
A: Absolutely. Harassing collection calls can be a nightmare. Just because some of your readers have fallen behind on their debts in the past does not mean they have to tolerate harassing calls. These calls do not make the situation better; they only make it worse. Federal and state laws are there to protect people like your readers from collection fraud and dishonest collection firms, as well as to make sure consumers are treated properly. Under the Act, a consumer has the right to file a lawsuit against a debt collector in federal court within one year from the date the violation occurred. Your attorney may alternatively choose to sue a debt collector in state court, alleging violations of that particular state’s consumer rights laws. The time to file a lawsuit in state court varies from state to state, as do the amounts you can potentially recover if you prevail. If a debtor wins under the FDCPA, the judge can require the debt collector to pay up to $1,000, even if the person can’t prove he or she suffered actual damages in some instances. Additionally, the debtor will most likely be reimbursed for his or her attorney’s fees and court costs. One can simply search the internet for recent judgments under the Act and find any number of examples where the Act has been of tremendous assistance to consumers.
Q: Does each state have debt collection laws that provide consumer protection?
A: I hinted at this in my last answer, but the majority of states have enacted consumer protection laws prohibiting abusive or harassing conduct by a debt collector. Whether a debtor should file suit in state court under a particular state statute or in federal court under the FDCPA will be a judgment call for the attorney based on the laws in that particular jurisdiction and the facts of each debtor’s case.
Q: What are the steps that a person should take if they believe they are being unfairly or illegally harassed by a debt collector?
A: I would document the collection agency’s conduct to the best of your ability. For example, leave a notepad by your phone and jot down an entry each time you receive a call, noting the time of the call and, if you take the call, who you speak to. You should also try to save voice mails in your phone and any written communication you send or receive in a file at your home. While it may sound strange in this day and age, one of the most difficult issues in these types of cases is proving the number of calls that were placed to a consumer’s home. If in doubt, I’d strongly recommend that a debtor seek the assistance of an attorney, as there may be conditions to filing suit in certain jurisdictions. Moreover, even if the violations are egregious, a statute of limitations on a debtor’s right to bring suit may preclude the lawsuit from going forward. Look for any attorney who will provide you with a free consultation to determine whether you may have a claim under the Act or your state’s laws. Being in debt does not make you a bad person. It does not make you irresponsible, and you are not a second class citizen. There is a good chance that the debt is by no means your fault. Do not feel guilty just because you owe it and certainly do not tolerate what may be irresponsible behavior by debt collectors.
We want to thank Attorney William W. Lundquist of the Lundquist Law Firm PLLC for taking the time and providing some answers on how to handle deal with debt collectors.