Five Tips for Working with a Debt Collector Source: Drop Debt, Surviving Credit Card Hell Without Bankruptcy by Harvey Z. Warren
Being contacted by a debt collector can be scary, embarrassing and confusing. It may even prompt some consumers to believe that avoiding attempts to collect a debt is a solution to their situation. It is not. Putting your head in the sand is a sure way to earn yourself a day in court.
There is a better way. Talk to the debt collector to work on resolving the issue in question. It doesn't have to be something to dread. Debt collectors and consumers have a similar agenda – resolve a legitimately owed debt or clear up any misunderstanding if the wrong person has been contacted. By working together issues can be resolved quickly and efficiently.
Once the debt is verified, meaning that you have confirmed that the account belongs to you and the amount owed is being correctly stated, here are five helpful lessons about how to work peacefully with a debt collector:
- You can settle your debts yourself
- Offer respect in speech and action
- Respond: do not deny or hide / Denial will only make your situation worse
- If you make a promise, keep your promise
- Surprise, it doesn't have to be an ugly fight
You can settle your debts yourself
Debt settlement companies have built a troubled industry on the fact that collection agents know that often bills are not being paid because the consumer just doesn't have enough money to pay in full. My experience is that nearly everyone I have ever helped want to pay something and avoid bankruptcy. Every debt collector I have ever spoken to wanted to help you avoid bankruptcy. The problem arises because people in debt are driven by fear instead of common sense and understanding how to resolve the problem.
The more you know the better your chances are of asking the right questions when you speak to a collection agent on the phone. Keep in mind, the collection agent wants to work with you to resolve the debt in question. If you think a mistake has been made, work collaboratively to resolve the situation.
- Answer the phone when a collector calls or return the message left on your phone.
- Be honest and straightforward – you both want resolution.
- Ask about payment plans to pay what you owe
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Offer respect in speech and action
Follow the golden rule to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It may be a time of financial difficulty for you and the debt collector on the other end of the phone can help if you know the rules. The most powerful weapon a consumer has is being respectfully responsive when working with the collector. If the collector calling you is too aggressive or you feel they are trying to intimidate you, ask for a supervisor.
- Be respectful - you both want to be treated in a truthful and non-hostile manner.
- Work toward a solution – resolving your debt or verifying you are not the person being sought takes the collective action of the collector and the consumer. For example, the consumer may be asked to provide a budget when working on a repayment plan or documentation proving their identity. But, by doing the work and following through consumer can get rid of debt collector calls permanently.
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Respond: do not deny or hide / Denial will only make your situation worse
Consumers in genuine financial distress have a much better chance of getting help by politely asking for it than by trying to force a debt collector or creditor to see things their way. Experienced and professional collectors agree on one basic truth, “You can't get blood from a stone, no matter how hard you squeeze”. The reality is that most debt collectors understand the need to and value of working fairly with consumers. Collection agents who call you are simply doing their jobs. After all, if it is your debt, you do owe the money. If you work with them it is very likely they will work with you.
Debt collectors must follow the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, more than 35 state debt collection laws and, if a member of ACA International, the Association of Credit and Collections Professionals, a stringent code of ethics for working with consumers. They know that violations can come with potentially severe consequences. If the collector is being overly aggressive or if you think they are breaking the rules, advise them that you know your rights and that if he or she cannot be polite, perhaps their supervisor can.
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If you make a promise, keep your promise
When working with a debt collector to create a plan for repaying a debt it is critical to honor the agreement made to pay the bill in full or fulfill a repayment plan. Even as something as simple as “I'll call you Friday with more information on repayment” should be met with diligent follow through. Being diligent reinforces your good faith in working with the collector. If you call the collector at the appointed time, what would be the purpose of the collector calling you 50 times a day? There would be no purpose. That is how to stop the calls.
Consumers should expect that the collection agency will be honest and respectful in working with them to resolve the debt reasonably. The collection agency must follow the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, more than 35 state debt collection laws and, if a member of ACA International, the Association of Credit and Collections Professionals, a stringent code of ethics for working with consumers. They know that violations can come with potentially severe consequences.
Even if you are committed to resolving your debt yourself, don't hesitate to seek the advice of an attorney or a local office of the Legal Aid Society. Contact your state Bar Association for more information.
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Surprise, it doesn't have to be an ugly fight
While their reasons may differ, debt collectors and consumers have similar goals to resolve justly owed debt and avoid the unpleasantness of bankruptcy or legal action.
By communicating, being respectful, responsive and keeping promises, working with a debt collector isn't something that has to be feared. Learning something about how the collector business works is the first step to resolving your debts. A few hours of homework now may save you years of credit damage down the road. Working out payment arrangements may not be a trip to Disneyland, but it doesn't have to be an ugly fight either if you communicate truthfully and respectfully.
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