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    How to Deal With Debt Collectors When You Can't Pay
    How to Deal With Debt Collectors When You Can't Pay

    Disclaimer: Penny Calling Penny is an affiliate website. This means that we get a small commission when you click some of the links in this article. Don’t worry – we’ll never recommend anything we wouldn’t use ourselves.

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    f you’re terrified to answer the phone because you’re being harassed by debt collectors, relief is closer than you might think.

    Once you have a good understanding of how debt collection works, you can find peace in your journey to get out of debt.

    So just how can you deal with debt collectors when you can’t pay? And how do you avoid their harrassive and unlawful tactics?

    Who Are Debt Collectors? And What Do Debt Collectors Do?

    When most of us think of debt collectors, employees from the bank or credit card business that supplied the credit or loan isn’t what comes to mind. That’s not what we’re talking about today, either.

    We’re talking about employees who work for a third-party company that collects debts owed to other creditors. The bill is usually well past due when these companies come into the picture.

    “Internal” debt collectors are employed by most financial organizations. They work with borrowers who have recently gone delinquent, and their goal is to get you back on track ASAP.

    “External” debt collectors are usually employed by companies that are debt buyers. That means that when a bank writes off your debt as a loss, these companies come in and buy it for pennies on the dollar. Then, they keep a portion of the paid debt.

    5 Tips for Dealing with Debt Collectors

    When dealing with debt collectors, you may encounter a variety of people. Some might be courteous, others… not so much.  There are a few golden guidelines that apply to every debt collection call you get.

    1. Know Your Rights

    Internal debt collectors, third-party debt collectors, and debt buyers are all required to follow the guidelines of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). This is a federal law, but many debt collection businesses ignore it. 

    You can use the FDCPA to slow or halt irritating calls about debt. This is because you have a say in how debt collectors communicate with you. For instance, you can specify that they only send emails or deliver notices through the mail.

    No matter what, they can’t phone you at work if you tell them it could jeopardize your employment. In most states, they are only allowed to phone each family member or friend once.

    If you’ve been targeted by abusive debt collection practices, you have resources (besdies avoiding the calls and hoping they go away).

    A note before be get started: the FDCPA does not protect you from someone attempting to collect on personal debts. It only applies to debt collectors hired by third parties.

    I need to… You should visit… 
    Make a complaint about a debt collector or the in-house collection agency of a creditor.The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 855-411-2372 or the complaint form on the CFPB website.
    Make a complaint to the consumer protection agency in your state.Your state attorney general, through the National Association of Attorneys General.
    Submit a grievance to the Better Business Bureau.The BBB’s Online Complaint System
    In your state or federal court, file a civil claim.A consumer lawyer in your city or state from The National Association of Consumer Advocates.

    2. Know the Law

    Ignoring a debt collector will not result in the debt or the collector disappearing. In fact, it might make things worse. The debt collector might take more drastic measures against you, such as filing a lawsuit.

    The good news is, there are limits on how far debt collectors can go to retrieve your money. Let’s go over a few FAQs on what debt collectors can and can’t do if you can’t pay.

    Can collectors sue me or garnish my wages?

    Debt collectors might serve you with a court summons in order to sue you for a debt. And, yes, the lawsuit might end in wage garnishment. However, they are limited to suing within the statute of limitations.

    The statute of limitations for suing for debt in most states is three to six years since the last payment. Collectors will try to collect more payments to reset the statute of limitations, but if you’re sued after it’s passed, the case will almost certainly be dismissed.

    Will I Go to Jail Because I’m in Debt?

    There are only a few circumstances in which you might be arrested because of unpaid debt. First, if your debt is tied to criminal behavior — for example, overdue fines or fees ordered due to a crime. (Even if the crime is just a parking ticket.) 

    Second, if you fail to comply with a court order. Such as court-ordered payments or failure to appear at summons. 

    You will not be arrested for outstanding debt in most other circumstances. In fact, it’s against the law for a debt collection firm to threaten you with arrest if jail time isn’t a real possibility. 

    You have the right to make a complaint if you were informed you’d be arrested for unpaid debt and afterwards found out it was untrue.

    Can Debt Collectors Force Me to Pay a Family Member’s Debt?

    If you get a call from someone looking for a relative, it’s almost always a debt collector. These calls are lawful, but they can only contact you once – and only for the purpose of locating the debtor.

    They can’t ask you to pay the debt, ask about family members’ financial situations, or ask any other questions. You can submit a complaint if you receive more than one call or are asked for anything besides your family member’s location.

    As long as you’re not co-signer for the debt, and the individual is not your spouse, you are not liable for the debt in any way, shape, or form.

    If I can’t pay my debt, what should I do?

    This is the easiest question of all. Work with your creditor to develop a payment plan. Debt buyers in particular are likely to be flexible in terms of monthly payments.

    You can also seek help from a credit counseling service, a non-profit financial institution that will help you create a debt repayment plan.

    The service pays your creditors on your behalf to eliminates late fees and costs. This reduces your debt burden and helps you stay current. You can normally pay off your debt in three to five years through these companies, and your credit score may even increase over that period.

    3. Check Their Info

    If you have a suspicion that a collector’s information is incorrect, trust your gut. When debts are exchanged between corporations, a lot of data is lost in the process. Even if you’re wrong, your due diligence may pay off. Here’s an example.

    Daniel Gillaspia, attorney and the proprietor UponArriving, and his partner, Bradley were denied for a credit card. Bradley noticed on his credit report after the denial that a $1,000 medical bill had been sold to collections, which he assumed had reset the statute of limitations.

    “We didn’t think it was fair,” Gillaspia added. “So I sent a legal demand letter to the collection agency.” The update had little effect on the statute of limitations, and the investigation turned out to be successful.

    When the company received the demand letter, it had to report the account as “in dispute” while it validated the information. The company promised to remove the collections account from Bradley’s credit report in exchange for a settlement.

    As a result, Daniel and Bradley were able to remove the ding on their score and pay a lower amount than the debt owed. Taking charge of the situation went a long way!

    4. Check Your Records

    People spend a lot of time bashing debt collectors, but keep in mind that they’re just doing their job. They aren’t on your side, or necessarily against you. They’re only looking at things through the lens of what’s profitable for their business.

    That means it’s your (importatn) responsibility to keep track of all letters, emails, and phone calls.

    You have the legal right to record debt collector phone calls. Just make sure they’re aware before you begin recording. If they refuse to be recorded, hang up and contact them via email so that everything is documented.

    Keep comprehensive notes about what you talked if you neglect to record a call. If you ever need to submit a complaint against an abusive debt collector or fight in court to prove that the debt isn’t yours, this will come in handy.

    Don’t toss those recordings out once you’ve settled. You may need them again later.

    The goal here is to create a paper trail. If you ever go to court, you need to be able to prove what you told the company (or what they told you) and when.

    5. Take Control of Communication

    You might be doing everything right and still getting constant calls. If you want them to stop, make your request in writing. This can be done through email or by sending a physical letter. The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) has a collection of sample letters to help you interact with debt collectors in writing.

    Dealing with a debt collector can be unpleasant in most cases, but you’ll need to submit a complaint if the collection agency breaches the law by making continual phone calls or threatening violence.

    Typically, filing a complaint with the FTC or the CFPB is enough. However, if this doesn’t work, you can also report the harassment to your local law enforcement agency or the FBI in extreme situations.

    Stand Up to Debt Collectors, Even When You Can’t Pay

    You don’t deserve to be bullied by debt collectors. No one does. The law is on your side when it comes to harrasive calls, so being proactive is the best choice. 

    Keep good records, check your rights, and don’t let the fear tactics get to you. You can stand up to debt collectors and make this part of your journey less stressful, even when you can’t make payments.

    Paying off debt is only one step on your path to financial freedom. We want to be another. Subscribe to our newsletter and we’ll send tips, tricks, and more articles like this one!

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