If you’ve ever fallen behind on your bills, you know just how stressful that situation can be. Unfortunately, it’s often made worse by calls from debt collectors reminding you of your unpaid bills and asking for payment.
When you find yourself in this situation, it often feels like you’re out of options, but that isn’t true. While you may still be on the hook for the debt, there are ways to get debt collectors to stop calling. If you’ve been in this situation before, you may have heard about an 11-word phrase that experts recommend to stop debt collectors.
In this article, we’ll share that phrase, answer the question of whether it really works, and provide some additional tips to help stop debt collectors from calling once and for all.
Why Is a Debt Collector Calling Me?
If a debt collector calls you, it’s likely because you have a past-due debt, and they’re trying to collect payment. Some creditors have their own debt collectors that make those calls. But more often, companies contract with a debt collection agency or even sell your debt to a collections agency.
Unfortunately, it’s not only you that a debt collector might call. Collectors may also contact other people in your life — including friends, family members, and even your employer — in an attempt to locate you. However, while debt collectors can call other people to try to get in contact with you, they can’t reveal they’re calling to collect a debt.
Laws on Phone Calls From Debt Collectors
If you’re being pursued by a debt collector, it’s important to understand what your rights are and what the debt collector can and can’t do in an effort to collect the debt. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, passed in 1978, was designed to stop abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices.
First, the federal law prohibits debt collectors from calling consumers before 8:00 a.m. and after 9 p.m. in the consumer’s time zone unless a court or the consumer themselves has given them permission to. The debt collector also can’t contact a consumer at work if they know the consumer isn’t allowed to take personal calls or that the employer otherwise prohibits such communications.
Finally, the law prohibits debt collectors from using the following harassing or abusive practices:
- Using or threatening to use violence or other criminal means to harm the consumer, their property, or their reputation
- Using obscene, profane, or abusive language
- Publishing a list of consumers with unpaid debts, except to a credit reporting agency
- Advertising a debt for sale to coerce payments
- Annoying, abusing, or harassing consumers by repeatedly calling them and letting the phone ring continually
- Making telephone calls without properly identifying themselves
- Making false or misleading representations, such as lying about who they are, who they work for, or the amount and status of the debt
- Threatening to take action they can’t legally take in the interest of debt collection
These are just a handful of the rules that regulate debt collectors. If you feel a debt collector is being abusive or crossing a line — even if their actions aren’t on this list — it’s worth speaking to an attorney to find out if they’re in the wrong.
The 11-Word Phrase to Stop Debt Collectors
In 2017, Larry King interviewed credit expert John Ulzheimer on his talk show. Ulzheimer claimed there was a phrase that, if you said it to a debt collector, would make it illegal for them to continue calling you. While there have been several iterations of the phrase floated around online, the most common 11-word phrase to stop debt collections is this: “Please cease and desist all calls and contact with me immediately.”
Does the Phrase Actually Work?
When it comes to whether this infamous 11-word phrase actually works, the short answer is: it depends. Yes, the last does state that a debt collector must cease further communication if you request them to. But there are two important things to note:
- For your request to the debt collector to stop contacting you to be legally binding, the request must be made in writing and doesn’t apply until the debt collector receives the letter.
- When you make your written request to the debt collector to stop contacting you, any phrasing will do the job. You don’t necessarily have to use the 11-word phrase above for the debt collector to be required to stop contacting you.
What to Do When a Debt Collector Calls
When a debt collector calls you, it’s tempting to send a cease and desist letter and forget about it. But there are a few other things you should also do.
- Request a debt verification letter. Before you pay (or ignore) any debt, it’s important to make sure it’s really yours and is entirely accurate. Upon request, a debt collector must send a verification of the debt and double-check the name and contact information on the debt, the creditor, the date of the debt, the amount, and more.
- Keep a record of your communication with the debt collector. In addition to recording each time you speak to a debt collector, make sure to make note of the name of the person you talked to, what time they called, and what they said.
- Check the statute of limitations. Most states have a statute of limitations on debt (usually ranging, meaning after a certain number of years, a debt collector can’t sue you. Make sure your state’s statute of limitations hasn’t passed before agreeing to payment. Time periods vary by state, but usually range from three to six years.
What Happens If You Ignore Debt Collectors?
Sure, you can request that a debt collector stop calling you. But that doesn’t mean the debt itself goes away. And unfortunately, failing to pay a debt that you rightfully owe could result in bigger problems. The debt collector could sue you, and if successful, have your wages garnished until the debt is fully repaid.
There are a few steps you can take to prevent a debt collector from suing you for your unpaid debt:
- Pay the debt. This is the simplest and most straightforward solution to annoying debt collector calls. However, since this isn’t feasible for all consumers, we’ll share a few additional tips you can try.
- Negotiate the debt. If you can’t afford to pay the debt in full, see if the debt collector will negotiate with you for a lower amount. Collections agencies often buy debts for considerably less than their original amount, meaning they can settle with you without losing money.
- Work with a credit counselor or debt settlement company. Not only can these companies help to settle your debts or restructure them in a way that works for you, but enlisting the help of one of these programs can help get debt collectors to stop calling.
- File for bankruptcy. While bankruptcy should be used only as a last resort, it’s a viable option for people with overwhelming debt they won’t be able to repay.