What to say (and NOT say) to debt collectors

By Tonya Stumphauzer

Imagine you're having a quiet evening at home, sipping a glass of wine and reading a good book, when suddenly the phone rings and it's a debt collector.

Getting a call from a debt collector might be the quickest way to ruin your day. And while it would be easy to be sad, angry, fearful, or speak emotionally, there are better approaches that would make the process a lot less painful. Here are some examples of what you might want to say, and what our experts say would be a better way to communicate:

You might want to say, "Go away! Stop calling me, you #@$%^&#!" But experts urge a calmer approach.

"The other approach to take rather than being angry," says Melinda Opperman, a senior vice president at Springboard Nonprofit Consumer Credit Management, Inc., "is to go ahead, pause a moment, remember what your mother said of the golden rule, and not get too emotional."

Pretending you're someone else, i.e. a boyfriend, great aunt or daughter, might not be the best solution either.

"You aren't required to speak with a debt collector on the telephone," Opperman says. "You can ask them to cease making phone calls to you."

Experts also warn about giving out too much information over the phone without verifying the debt is yours.

"Remember what our parents used to tell us about, 'Don't talk to strangers?'" says Opperman. "You need to get that debt verified and information regarding that debt before you start making your plan."

You might want to make excuses and say, "Well I would pay it off, but I have a wedding coming up and have to buy a bridesmaid dress ..." Or fake a bad phone connection to get off the line.

"Yes, denial is a way of coping with a debt," Opperman says. "But let's come up with a plan, let's work with a collector after you've substantiated that the debt is indeed yours and that the debt isn't "time-barred."

Remember, when it comes to dealing with debt collectors, hiding or avoiding won't help your situation. Knowing your rights and being able to handle the caller with authority and in a calm manner will help you get one step closer to managing your debt issues. 

See related: Video: Debt collector calling? Know your rights, Collectors can't win judgment without proof of debt

Published: July 24, 2015

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Updated: 10-27-2016

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