Written by Mary McKeague, Certified Financial Counselor
Are you currently being hounded by debt collectors? Getting collection calls every few hours during the day can be pretty overwhelming and possibly even make your debt problems seem bigger than they really are. Even if your phone is ringing off the hook all day long, it might only be one or two collection agencies attempting to get a hold of you; they just happen to be re-dialing your phone number over and over again in hopes someone will eventually pick up.
Answer the phone
Most debt collection agencies use automatic dialing systems that give them the ability to dial thousands of phone numbers multiple times every day. When you answer the call, the debt collection agent on the other end of the line is supposed to put a hold on your account for at least a day or more (depending on state law) to ensure you are not contacted again on the same day. So, next time you get a collection call, consider picking up the phone and it might just make for a more peaceful day.
What if I can’t pay?
If you are caught off guard by a bill collector, you have every right to get the facts about the debt before you make a repayment agreement. In fact, a bill collector is required to send you a written validation notice telling you how much money you owe within five days after they first contact you. The validation notice needs to include the name of the creditor where money is owed, and how to dispute the debt if you feel it is a mistake.
If you are unsure what you can afford to pay, ask for their contact information, and tell them you will call them back after you have a chance to sit down, review your budget, and figure out what you can really afford to do. I can’t even tell you how many of my clients have agreed to monthly check by phone payments that were not affordable. They agreed to the payment simply to get the collector off of their back. Don’t do that.
Figure out how much you can afford to pay the collection agency BEFORE you agree to a payment. Analyze your budget and figure out what is realistic for you so you do not buckle under the pressure and agree to something you are unable to afford. Need help with the budget part. Call us!
Don’t change your phone number just to dodge collection calls
Collection agencies have access to skip tracing tools to help them find your new digits even if it is a cell phone or an unlisted number. If the calls are really that stressful and you feel they are jeopardizing your well being, then you do have the right to send them a letter to request they correspond through regular mail only and cease all phone contact. Send your letter certified mail so you know when they receive it and make sure to keep a copy of the letter for your records. Keep in mind that if you do this, they could decide to move forward with a lawsuit to garnish wages.
If you are getting collection calls at your place of employment, you can verbally tell them to stop calling you there. You do not have to send your request in writing. You simply tell the collector who called you that you are not allowed to get calls at work and then ask them to remove your work number.
Document every phone call
Make sure you document the name of the collection agency, who you spoke with, what was discussed and the date and time of the call. It is always a good idea to keep good records of all phone conversations with debt collectors. If they call you at work again after you verbally told them not to, you have the right to pursue legal action. With good documentation, a judge could require the debt collection agency to pay you up to $1,000 or more than that if you can prove that you lost wages or accrued medical bills as a result of the illegal collection practices.
Where do I go for help?
If you feel your consumer rights have been violated you should consult with a consumer attorney. You can obtain a list of consumer attorneys in your area online through the National Foundation of Consumer Advocates website: www.naca.net . You should also report any problems you have with a debt collector to your state Attorney general’s office www.naag.org and the Federal Trade Commission www.ftc.gov
LSS Financial Counseling can also provide you with free budget and debt counseling. We are here to help you figure out a plan to resolve your collection debt problems and equip you with the tools and knowledge necessary to turn your financial situation around and get you back on track. Give us a call at 1-888-577-2227 or visit our website at www.ConquerYourDebt.org to schedule an appointment today! We would love to help you in person, over the phone or even online.