How do you get debt collectors off your back?
By Todd Ossenfort
Our columnists constantly field questions from our readers about credit and debt issues. Over the years, certain issues keep popping up. This week, we're having each of our columnists field one of the most frequently asked questions from our readers. Today, "The Credit Guy" Todd Ossenfort kicks things off with this question:.
How do you get debt collectors off your back?
Answer: Dealing with many debt collectors can be, at best, an unpleasant experience and, at worst, a total nightmare. To help ease the pain of the debt collection process, practice the "three Ps" -- patience, protection and payment.
Patience -- Losing your cool with a debt collector will not accomplish anything. The temporary good feeling of telling collectors what you think of them will fade fast, and you will still have to deal with them concerning your debt. Besides, a collector has much more experience collecting debts than you have and knows the right way to navigate the collection process.
What you need is the right information to assure that the collection process is as painless as possible. That leads us to the second "P" -- protection.
Protection -- You have rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act that I recommend everyone learn, should you find yourself in the unfortunate circumstance of debt collection. The most important right you have under the FDCPA is that the collector must provide verification that the debt is yours. So, when initially contacted by a collector, let him know that you need verification -- in writing -- that the debt is yours, and that once you receive verification, you will be willing to communicate about the debt.
If the debt is not yours or you do not believe you owe the amount given, you have the right to dispute the debt. You must write the collector within 30 days of receiving the debt notification and let him know you are disputing the debt . Once you have disputed the debt, the collector must cease all collection activity until verification of the debt, in the form of a judgment or other proof, is mailed to you.
The Credit Guy
On the other hand, if the debt is yours, and you agree with the amount owed, then you have options and rights for how to communicate with the collector regarding payment. You can request that all communication concerning the debt takes place through your attorney, and the collector may no longer contact you directly. (Of course, you would have to hire an attorney for this method of communication to work.) The collector may not contact you at work if you tell them your employer does not allow it. In addition, the collector may not contact you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
When communicating with collectors, they want to know about only one thing -- the last "P" -- payment.
Payment -- Before you begin communicating with a collector, you need to know what you can realistically afford to pay -- either in a lump sum, one-time payment or in monthly installments. Collectors are famous for catching people at a bad time and getting them to commit to an unrealistic payment. Do not allow yourself to be pressured into agreeing to a payment. Discontinue the conversation if you have not determined what you can afford to pay. Have the payment conversation only after you know what you can pay, and stick to the amount, no matter how ugly the collector may get in an attempt to get you to pay more.
Now that you are armed with the "three Ps" of dealing with collectors, I'd like to leave you with the most important "P" of them all -- prevention. Your goal should be to avoid having to implement any of the debt collection "Ps." Communicate with your creditors right away if you know you will be unable to make a payment. Seek help early if you have a reduction in income or an increase in expenses that will cause you to have trouble meeting your obligations.
Take care of your credit!
See related: Know your rights: Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Debt collection sample letters, Debt in collections: Do you settle or pay in full?, When is a debt too old for collection?, Don't fall prey to aggressive debt collection tactics, 11 tips for dealing with debt collection, collectors, 5 steps to dispute a debt that's not yours
Meet CreditCards.com's reader Q&A expertsDoes a personal finance problem have you worried? Monday through Saturday, CreditCards.com's Q&A experts answer questions from readers. Ask a question, or click on any expert to see their previous answers.
Published: August 23, 2010
Three most recent The Credit Guy stories: