If you’ve ever had a debt turned over to a collector you already know how bad things can get. We’ve heard stories of people who were hounded multiple times a day – both at home and at work – had their relatives contacted and were dragged into court. Unscrupulous debt collectors can and will make a debtor’s life miserable until he or she finally gives in and pays up.
The dirty, little secrets of debt collection
Why will most debt collectors stop at nothing until they get your money? The first dirty little secret of debt collection is that most collectors are paid on commission. If they spend several hours hollering at you, threatening and harassing you without colleting anything they’ve basically worked free. What this means for the collector is that the bigger the bill the better. In many cases the agency will get a bounty of 10% to 50%, which is usually split with the collector. Top collectors can earn as much as $10,000 a month.
The second dirty, little secret of debt collection is that agencies generally buy debts for pennies on the dollar. In other words, the collection agency might have purchased your $1,000 debt for $20 or less. This gives the collector room to negotiate and still earn his or her commission. This means that in many cases, you could probably settle that $1000 debt for $500 or less.
You can run but you can’t hide
Today’s technology has had two impacts on debt collection – one good, one not so good. First, if you have any kind of caller ID you can check your incoming calls and if it appears to be from a debt collector, just ignore it. That’s the good part. The bad part is that it’s almost impossible to run away from a debt collector – even by changing your phone number.
In the event you have a debt you feel you just can’t pay, you could stonewall the collector by ignoring all of his calls. Legally speaking, you do have the right to ignore a debt collector but it’s important to understand that this doesn’t make the debt go away.
A number of different scenarios
If you decide to ignore a debt collector, there are several different scenarios that can occur. First, the collector could just leave you alone. Maybe he simply can’t find you and has quit trying to track you down. While this could happen, it’s not something to count on.
Your credit will suffer
When you have a debt go to collection, your credit score will be seriously damaged. It will appear on your credit reports regardless of whether you try to work with the debt collector or not. However, if you do talk with the collector, you at least have the opportunity to explain what the problem is and to try to work something out.
The debt could grow
Just because you don’t pay on a debt doesn’t mean that the interest will go away. Depending on the contract that the collector has with the creditor and your state’s law, the agency may be able to add interest and collection costs to your debt. Some debtors have reported that their debt actually doubled over time.
You may be bounced from one agency to another
Just as lenders sell debts to collection agencies, the agencies sell debts to one another. If the first collector that contacts you is unsuccessful at collecting the debt, it could wind up at a different agency. And this could happen multiple until you give up and pay the debt.
People you know may be contacted
In the event that the debt collector tries to reach you and is unsuccessful, the law allows him to reach out to third parties such as your neighbors, relatives or your employer – but only to find you. The law doesn’t allow a collector to disclose the fact that you owe a debt or to discuss your finances with other people. However, it can still be very embarrassing if the person the collector called starts asking you pointed questions like, “why did this collection agency contact me?”
You could be sued
If you fail to communicate with a debt collector it may leave the agency with no option but to sue you. While it is possible to successfully defend a debt collection lawsuit, it’s very difficult. And if the agency is successful in court, it can get a judgment entered against you. This in turn would allow the collection agency to garnish your wages or even go after your bank account.
The stress will increase
Trying to dodge a debt collector can leave you feeling very stressed out. It can be scary or frustrating to talk with a debt collector but the alternative – which is not to talk to him – can be just as stressful. If you call the debt collector, this is the friendliest aspect of debt collection because at that point he will want to work with you to try to resolve the debt. The bottom line is that if you have an unresolved collection account, try to decide on your approach and then pick up the phone – or write a letter – so you can put the debt behind you. Also, because collection accounts have such a dramatic impact on your credit score, it’s a good idea to get your free annual credit report to see whether or not you have any outstanding collection accounts. You should also be sure to monitor your credit scores every month.
Tips for negotiating with creditors
If you take a call from a debt collector, he or she will have no interest in why it is that you can’t pay the bill. But if you’re in a hardship situation, the collector does need to know this and what it is you’re doing to get back on track. You should have a story ready and then stick to it. This could be just a few sentences that you can use consistently when you talk to a creditor. For example, “I was very ill, out of work for two months and now I am trying to get caught up.” Or “my husband was laid off and I’ve taken a significant cut in pay. He’s looking for a job so we can catch up but we don’t have any money right now.”
Don’t be a drama queen
You’ll get nowhere with a debt collector if you lose your temper. It’s important to stay calm and not lose your cool. If you find yourself losing your temper, just tell the collector you will need to talk with him later and then hang up. In the event that you have to talk with that collector again, tell him you would like to record the conversation. This usually keeps collectors on their best behavior.
Ask the right questions
If the collector threatens to sue you or that you’ll lose some property if you don’t pay up, ask for specifics: “When will I be notified of the lawsuit?” Or “When will the money be taken from my bank account?” Some of these threats may be a illegal and the more information you have the better.
Be sure to take notes
Whenever you talk with a collector, have a pen and paper handy so that you can take notes. Be sure to write down the name of the person you talk with, what was discussed and when you talked. This will not only take much of the emotion out of the deal but you will also have a record if the collector broke the law when attempting to collect from you.
Know exactly what you can afford to pay
Sit down with a notepad or spreadsheet and go over your expenses and income very carefully. Figure out exactly what you could afford to pay and agree to pay only a realistic amount. In general, if you can come up with a lump sum amount to resolve the debt, you’ll get the best settlement. If you can’t do that, you may have to agree to a payment plan. In this case, you’ll probably pay more over time. If you do agree to a payment plan, make sure you know the total amount you will be required to pay.
Deal with creditors and not collectors
What’s best is to try to work out an agreement with your creditor or creditors before your bill(s) is sent to collection. If you make late payments this will affect your credit score and credit reports, but collection accounts will do even greater damage. You should know that it’s a myth that so long as you are paying something towards a debt it can’t be turned over to a collection agency. Also, understand that once a debt is sent to collection, you have no choice but to deal with the collection agency.
Get it all in writing
If you do agree to a payment arrangement or settlement agreement, get everything in writing before you pay a cent. If not, the terms can change and it will be your word against that of the collection agency. There have been many cases where consumers were hounded for balances they thought they had resolved years before.
Finally, here is a video courtesy of National Debt Relief with some good tips for dealing with debt collectors.