I remember when I was about 14 years old. There was a period of several months when my parents told me NOT to answer the phone under any circumstances. I thought it was strange at the time of course but as a good little Pilgrim, I listened.
It didn’t take long to figure out what was going on; collection agencies were hounding my parents day and night for money we owed. They were making our entire family’s lives miserable. I’ll never forget that sense of fear and anger for as long as I live. Yuk.
It was terrible that my parents got us into the situation in the first place but it was also a shame they didn’t really know how to deal with those calls other than asking us not to pick up the phone.
If you are dealing with collection calls, or if you think it will happen very soon, you need to prepare yourself. There is a way to deal with collection calls, and with the collection agencies behind them. I admit that it’s probably not going to be much fun. But at least you have a lot more power than my family did back in the day.
How Debt Collectors Work
Debt collectors work on commission, which means they don’t get paid until and unless you make payments. Though they are merely acting as agents on behalf of the original creditor, they’ll come at you as if they are trying to get their own money – which is exactly what they’re doing as a result of the commission structure. That explains why they are so relentless.
Unless you protect yourself, here is some of what you might experience from a collection agency:
- Phone calls at home, at all hours of the day, and often several each day
- Phone calls at work
- Phone calls to your neighbors (illegal, but some do it anyway)
- Official looking letters, threatening you with court action, garnishment, repossession and sometimes veiled threats of jail
- Threats to turn you into the IRS (unpaid debts represent taxable income under IRS rules, so this one is not to be taken lightly)
Some of these activities are legal, some are borderline, and some – like contacting your neighbors – are completely illegal. But a collection agency has every incentive to do whatever they can get away with in order to collect that money. Again, the collection agent does not get paid unless you pay the debt. They will do anything possible to get even a partial payment from you.
The Laws That Protect You Against Predator Collectors
If you are being hounded by one or more collection agencies, then you need to familiarize yourself with the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act issued by the Fair Trade Commission (FTC). There are laws governing what collection agencies may and may not do in order to settle a debt, and this is the law that spells it all out.
It’s a complex law, especially considering all that it covers. But you should try to be familiar with the basics, at least as far as your rights as a consumer. This will help you to know when a collection agency has stepped over the line, and is engaging in illegal acts.
For example, it is not legal for a collection agency to threaten you with physical harm, to use obscene language, to publish your name on a list (other than a credit report), to contact you outside of reasonable hours (before 8 am, or after 9 pm), or to contact you posing as someone other than who they actually are. (Many times these sharks will lie and tell you they are lawyers to put some added pressure on you. Don’t fall for unsubstantiated claims.)
There are dozens of other protections. The more you familiarize yourself with these regulations, the better off you’ll be.
Best Advice – Don’t Deal With Collection Agencies
Your best defense overall is to completely refuse to cooperate with a debt collection agency. There are different ways that you can do this. For example, once a collection agency starts to contact you by phone, you can simply refuse to answer or hang up. (Too bad we didn’t have caller ID back in the 70’s).
There is no law that requires you to answer the phone, or to entertain conversations with collection agencies. The less that you speak with them, the less likely it is that you’ll do something that is likely to bind you or incriminate you.
The secret that debt collection agencies won’t tell you is that you cannot be put in jail for failure to pay a debt. But that won’t stop them from inferring that it will be one of the outcomes.
If you are already struggling under the weight of major debt problems, the last thing you need is to be intimidated by an overzealous collection agent. The less contact you have with them, the better.
Never Promise A Collector Anything. And Don’t Send a Partial Payment
When it comes to collection agencies and money, the best policy is to say nothing and do nothing. That means that you should never commit to a dollar amount, whether by phone, by email, or in writing.
Once you do, you may have unknowingly given the collection agent a legal basis to go after you in court. Never, ever commit to paying a certain amount. If you do, and you’re unable to send it in, things can get really ugly, really fast.
In addition, never send a partial payment. Collection agencies are notorious for telling you that they will leave you alone if you send in a partial payment. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The receipt of the partial payment by the collection agency will result in continued harassment for additional funds because you’ve proven that you do have money.
Unless you’re in a position to pay a debt in full, or if the collection agency agrees (in writing) to take a lesser amount in full settlement of the original debt, you should never send any money to a collection agency.
The Alternative Solution: Get Professional Credit Help
There’s a fundamental reality that you must be aware of if you are facing collection calls. Collection agents are collection professionals It’s what they do and how they survive. Unless you have experience as a collection agent yourself, when you come up against one – especially against several – you are severely overmatched.
If I could get into a time machine and go back and help my folks when they were facing the debt collectors, I’d suggest that they get professional help. I would tell them to speak with a law firm then and that’s my best advice to you now. Not only can they stop the collection calls – and put a quick end to illegal threats and activities by the collection agency – but they may be able to negotiate lower settlement amounts for your debts.
If you are in debt, you’re already in a compromised position. The last thing that you need is a collection agency, or multiple collection agencies, threatening you with all kinds of disasters and ruining your life. In that kind of situation, you might be better off having your own expert put those collectors back in their cage.
Being in debt is no fun. If the debt collectors are knocking at your door, shut them down by educating yourself and demanding the protection the laws provide. If that doesn’t work, hire a reputable law firm to take care of business. From what I’ve seen, law firms which specialize in this type of work aren’t all that expensive and can really be a game changer.
Are you dealing with debt collectors? What have you done to get them to leave you alone? Has it worked?