Getting under a mountain of debt is not something you’d want to experience. Unfortunately, some life circumstances could lead to that. When your debt is in the hands of the collectors, getting the calls asking you to pay what you owe can be dreadful and stressful. Should I answer debt collector calls? It may have crossed your mind.
The quick answer is yes, you should. It’s tempting to change your number, hide, and ignore collection calls, but that will only make things worse.
What are the Consequences of Ignoring Collectors’ Calls?
When you ignore the calls from a collector, there’s only one positive thing that could happen. That is, the collector may give up and stop pursuing your debt. However, the chances are slim. Most collectors have tricks up their sleeves and will continue to contact you to collect payments. If you ignore the calls, it can make things worse for you.
- The debt collector might sue you and get a default judgment. If you ignore their calls and letter, the collector might file a lawsuit against you. Since you’re avoiding any communications with them, you might miss the notice of the lawsuit, and that could lead to a default judgment. It means that the judge resolves the case without hearing your side and the ruling is against you. When that happens, the collector can garnish your wage or take away money from your bank account. The court will also include court costs in the money judgment.
- Your debt will get out of hand. While you ignore the calls from the debt collector, your debt continues to have interest and penalties against you.
- You’ll miss a chance to get a settlement agreement. When you can’t afford to pay what you owe, but you want to get rid of your debt, you can try to negotiate with the collector to lower your debt or come up with an affordable repayment plan. But if you don’t talk to them, you’ll miss the opportunity.
How to Deal with Debt Collectors
The best thing to do is to face your debt problems head-on because they won’t go away on their own (not until it reaches the statute of limitations which we will discuss below).
So, how do you deal with debt collectors? Here are the dos and don’ts:
1. Know Your Rights
First, know that you have rights as a consumer and your debt is by no means a valid reason for collectors to harass or force you to pay. You have protection against malicious debt collection practices under the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). This law prohibits debt collectors from using abusive language and threatening you into paying your debt. It also sets the limit on when and where they can communicate with you, and if you want the debtors to stop contacting you.
The federal law doesn’t indicate a specific number of how many calls from a debt collector is considered harassment. In general, though, repetitive calls are clearly meant to harass you, especially if the collector is just saying the same message over and over again.
2. Validate if the Debt is Yours
Sometimes, collectors may have mistakenly contacted you for a debt you don’t owe or is uncollectable. So, you need to verify if the debt is yours. Don’t simply accept that the debt is your obligation.
What does the debt collector need to present to you? They need to provide information about the debt. That includes the name of the creditor, the exact amount of debt, the debt collector’s name, and the debt collection agency’s name.
Some debt collectors don’t validate if the debt you owe is still collectible or they’re past the statute of limitations, which pertains to the limited amount of time that collectors and creditors can try to collect a debt from you or sue you for nonpayment.
The statute of limitations varies from state to state, but it can range from 3 to 6 years typically. Some can go as long as 10 to 15 years, depending on the type of debt or how much you owe. For instance, credit card debts have a limit of 3 years in Alabama, Connecticut, and Kansas, while home loans can still be collectible within 10 years in Illinois, Indiana, and Louisiana.
3. Keep a Record of Your Conversation with the Collector
Keep a record log of your communication with the collector, including the date and time they called, the name of the collector you talked to, and what you talked about. It will help you keep track of the communications and how consistent they are with their message. If they used abusive language or threaten you in any way, make sure you keep the messages as proof if you decide to sue them or settle the debt.
4. Don’t Disclose Any Financial Information
One of the tricks that debt collectors use is asking you about your income, saying that you might qualify for a lower repayment deal. However, you shouldn’t disclose any financial information to them, especially your Social Security number, bank account numbers, and the value of your property.
The debt collectors may use such information to get a judgment against you. When that happens, they can garnish your wage or get a bank levy or property lien.
5. Don’t Make Any Promise to Pay nor Make “Good Faith” Payment
The debt collector may try to ask you to make a minimum payment to show your “good faith” and willingness to pay your debt. However, don’t do that if you don’t have a settlement agreement. Don’t admit that the debt is yours or make any promises that you will pay as soon as you can, especially if the statute of limitation has expired.
When you make any payment or promise, it can restart the statute of limitation, and the debt collector can file a lawsuit against you.
6. Keep Calm and Professional
Understandably, it can be emotional to deal with debt collectors, but don’t lose your temper. Keep the conversations professional. Don’t use violent language as well because that will weaken your case if it goes to court.
Getting emotional and losing your temper could lead you to reveal sensitive information, which could only work against you. Instead, try to be calm while you’re talking to them. If the debt collector starts to threaten you, cut short the conversation and tell them you know your rights.
How Can I Stop the Debt Collector from Contacting Me?
Write a letter of request to the debt collector to stop contacting you. You can ask the debt collection agency to stop contacting you regarding your debt unless you’ve been sued for nonpayment. Here’s a sample letter from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
The final ruling of the CFPB on Regulation F of the FDCPA addresses the communication methods used by debt collectors, including digital means, such as texts, social media messages, and emails. They can send you private messages through these digital and electronic means, but not excessively (i.e., 7 times in 7 consecutive days). They must also include a means for you to opt-out easily, such as by replying STOP to text messages. The revisions to the FDCPA regulations will take effect on November 30, 2021.
When you’ve requested a cease of collection communications from debt collectors, they must comply and stop sending you messages or calling you. The only exemptions are when they confirm that they won’t contact you again as requested and when they need to inform you that they filed a lawsuit against you.
Remember, however, that requesting them to cease any communication with you doesn’t mean your debt will go away and they won’t try to collect it. Debt collectors can use other means to collect payments from you, such as filing a lawsuit and getting a judgment against you.
Consider consulting with a lawyer to ensure that you handle your debt properly and legally. You can seek help with negotiating a settlement, dealing with an aggressive debt collector, or responding to a lawsuit. You can find free credit and debt counseling, such as from The National Foundation for Credit Counseling and InCharge Debt Solutions.
When your debt goes to the collection agency, you can expect to receive calls and messages that ask you to settle the debt. It can be stressful and emotionally draining, especially when the collector starts to harass you or threaten you with violence just to make you pay.
“Should I answer debt collector calls?” It’s the common question that probably has crossed your mind. Yes, you should, but first, know your rights. Keep in mind our tips above before you answer their calls so that you know what to say to debt collectors and how to handle conversations with them. Know what information the debt collector should provide you and what you can or can’t tell them about your financial situation. You can request a cease of collection communications, which the debt collectors must honor. However, remember that it will not cancel the debt and you can still face a lawsuit for nonpayment.
Seek legal advice when you can. Ultimately, if you can settle your debt, it’s best to do so to improve your credit.