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How To Handle Debt Collectors Without Talking To Them

If you’ve ever had the experience of dealing with debt collection calls, you know how stressful and frustrating – even insulting – it can be. Maybe you’ve tried taking different approaches to work with a debt collector, but to no avail. So you resort to not answering your phone, hoping to buy yourself some time until you can resolve your debt, or stall the collection process to the point where the collection agency will simply give up (which rarely, if ever, happens).

Most financial institutions have internal debt collectors who work with borrowers to rectify accounts or debts that have recently become past due. If attempts at rectifying the debt fail, the debt may be moved to a third-party collector. If that company also fails in attempts to resolve the issue, the debt collection can be transferred to debt buyers who purchase debts and have their own in-house collectors.

The debt collection process can seem intimidating, but there are better and more effective ways of dealing with debt collectors other than not answering your phone and putting all of your eggs in the avoidance basket. Here are some tips that can help you better understand how debt collection works, and how you can have a voice in fairly and effectively resolving your debt.

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First And Foremost:  Understand Your Rights

Internal collectors, third-party collectors, and debt buyers must follow rules stipulated in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The FDCPA restricts the actions debt collectors can take toward consumers to collect on debts. This act is federal law, and it allows you to slow or even stop debt collection calls. In addition, the FDCPA allows you to decide how you would like debt collectors to communicate with you, including phone calls, email, or regular mail.

You also have the option of stopping communication altogether, although this type of action may have repercussions. According to Bruce McClary from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, “When you request to have communication completely cut off and you just want to drop off their radar, that sends them a signal that you have zero intention of paying ever, and it may accelerate some of their actions in trying to recover the debt in other ways.”

It’s important to note that the FDCPA doesn’t protect you from individuals collecting on personal debts; it applies only to third-party debt collectors.

As per the FDCPA, debt collectors: cannot call you before 8 am or after 9 pm; cannot call you at work if you tell them it could put your job in jeopardy; can contact a friend or family member, but can’t give them details about your debt; additionally, they can only call each family member or friend one time in most states; are required to provide proof that you owe the debt.

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Control Communications With The Collector

If a debt collector’s calls are incessant, request in writing, either by email or a letter, that you want the calls to stop. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) provides template letters to help you communicate with debt collectors in writing. If you feel the calls have reached the level of harassment, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or the CFPB, or report the harassment to your local law enforcement agency or the FBI.

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Don’t Assume That Debt Collectors Have The Right Information

Make sure that the debt collector has the right information regarding what you owe, and to whom. Misinformation can happen when debts get sold between companies.

Daniel Gillaspia, attorney and owner of travel rewards website UponArriving, and his partner, Bradley, learned this when Bradley got denied for a credit card. After the denial, Bradley saw in his credit report that a $1,000 medical debt had been sold to collections, which he thought had reset the statute of limitations. He sent a legal demand letter to the collections agency, and it was determined that the update didn’t move up the statute of limitations. Once the company received the demand letter, the account had to be reported as “in dispute” while the details were being verified. After agreeing on the settlement amount, the company removed the collections account from Bradley’s credit report.

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Make Sure Your Records And Information Are Accurate

When it comes to debts you owe, keep track of every instance of communication, whether it’s an email, letter, or phone call. You have the right to record any phone calls with debt collectors as long as you notify the collector before you start recording. Should they refuse to be recorded, end the conversation and contact the debt collector via email, which ensures that everything is in writing.

If you don’t record a phone conversation, keep detailed notes about the call, including what was discussed and any agreed-upon plan of action. Your notes will provide important information should you need to file a complaint against an abusive debt collector or have to prove legally that the debt isn’t yours.

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Understand What Debt Collectors Can And Cannot Do

It’s important to understand that debt collectors can only go so far when it comes to resolving a debt; there are definite limits on what they can and cannot do.

According to the CFPB, there are very few situations that could result in someone getting arrested over an unpaid debt. Unless your debt is related to a criminal activity such as unpaid restitution for a crime or if you ignore a court order, you won’t be arrested for unpaid debt. It’s important to note that it’s illegal for a debt collection agency to threaten you with arrest if jail time is not an actual punishment that could happen. If you’re told you’ll be arrested for unpaid debt and you find out later that was false, you can file a complaint.

It’s legal for debt collectors to call you when they are trying to locate a relative, but they can only call you just once and only to locate the debtor. If you receive additional calls or are asked for any information other than your family member’s location, you can file a complaint. Generally, if you didn’t co-sign for the debt in question and the person is not your spouse, you have no responsibility for the debt.

While debt collectors can serve you with a court summons to sue you in an attempt to collect a debt, which could result in wage garnishment, they can only sue within the statute of limitations. In most states, the statute of limitations to sue for debt is three to six years. Collectors might still continue to try to collect on the debt  in an attempt to restart the statute of limitations, but if you’re sued past it, you’ll likely be able to get the case thrown out.