What to Do When You’re Contacted By Debt Collections
Debt collectors have earned a poor reputation, and to some degree, it is with good reason thanks to the overly aggressive tactics of a few. However, the vast majority are simply in the business of collecting money that is validly owed and are actually reasonable to deal with. Instead of panicking or getting defensive when a debt collector calls, try these steps.
Try Talking to Them First
The first thing you should when a debt collector contacts you is to get as much information from them as you can. This will let you know if they might have you mistaken for someone with a similar name or if the debt might actually be yours. If you’re worried about giving them information they can use against you, just tell them your name (they have to know they’re talking to the debtor before they can say anything), ask questions, and politely answer their questions with, “I don’t wish to respond to that at this time.”
If they are contacting you about a debt you actually owe, you may want to set up a payment plan or make arrangements to pay off the debt. Sometimes, they’ll even be willing to accept less than you owe if it guarantees they’ll receive payments without having to spend more time and money on collection efforts. Just be aware, especially with older debts, that by doing so you may be giving up defenses that you could use in court to avoid paying anything at all.
You Can Make Them Stop Contacting You If Needed
How far you go depends on the situation, but debt collectors must stop contacting you entirely if that is what you request. They would then only be able to contact you again to inform you that they are filing a lawsuit or to tell you they are ending collection efforts. If you do want to try to work something out with them, but they’re calling too much, calling at inconvenient hours, or you don’t want to be called at work, you can ask them to call only at specific times or to only contact you in writing.
To best protect yourself, make your request in a letter sent by certified mail with return receipt requested. Keep a copy of the letter along with both the mailing receipt and the return receipt when it is sent back. If they fail to honor your request, they may be forced to pay you damages for Fair Debt Collection Practices Act violations.
How to Respond to a Debt Collector’s Lawsuit
The worst mistake you can make if you’re sued by a debt collector is to ignore the legal papers. If you fail to go to court, the debt collector will be granted a default judgment. That means they automatically win and will be able to get a court order to garnish your wages or bank account. If you respond to the lawsuit, the debt collector will be required to present evidence that you owed the debt, and in many cases they don’t actually have the documentation they need to do so. You may also have affirmative defenses such as the lawsuit being barred by the statute of limitations or that the court doesn’t have jurisdiction over the claim.
Contact a debtor-creditor attorney for assistance on how to proceed.[meta]