It’s being seriously in debt and having to deal with debt collectors.
The problem is that these people usually work on a commission basis and have a quota. If they want to get paid and keep their jobs they must collect money from you –by hook or by crook, which is an old English phrase that means by any means necessary. And trust us. Debt collectors will use any means necessary up to and including threatening to go to your employer or your relatives, to take you to court, to have you arrested or to sue you.
“I’m mad as hell”
If you’re one of the millions of Americans being harassed by debt collectors you may have reached the point where you’re like the character Howard Beale in the movie Network and are saying to yourself, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.”
Well, you’re right. You don’t have to take being pressured by debt collectors anymore. You have rights and when you know what they are you can either stop any more phone calls or at least negotiate favorable settlements of your debts.
The first thing to do
First of all, a debt collector has to be able to prove the debt is actually yours. We live in a nation of more than 330 million people, many of whom have the save names and have done business with the same companies. Last I looked there were at least 30 other people just on Facebook with the same name as mine and isn’t John Smith, Bob Jones or Tom Brown.
So the next (or first) time a debt collector calls, make him prove the debt he’s trying to collect is yours. You can ask him for the name and address of the original creditor and the exact amount you owe. If the collector is unable to provide this information, he has five days to send you a written notice with the information you’ve requested. You could also dispute the debt by writing a letter to the collection agency asking that it verify the debt. This could mean requesting a copy of the statement showing your balance, a copy of the original credit agreement or any other information you deem pertinent. Once the collection agency receives your letter it has 30 days to respond during which time it is not allowed to contact you.
If the debt is really yours
If the debt collector is able to prove the debt is yours, you have a couple of choices. First, you could try to settle it for less than you owe. One thing the debt collection agency doesn’t want you to know is what it paid for the debt. In most cases the original creditor (think bank or credit card issuer) bundled up a bunch of debts it had written off and sold them to the collection agency for pennies on the dollar. If your original debt was for $500, the collection agency mighjt have paid five dollars or even less for it. This means there is room to negotiate. You could offer to settle the debt for, say, $50. The collector can then either accept your offer or make a counter offer. In either event the odds are that you’ll be able to settle the debt for much less than its face amount.
A second alternative is to make the collector stop calling you and then just wait to see what happens. Yes, you read that right. You can make the collector stop calling you. In fact, all you need to do is write and send his agency a cease and desist letter. You can find samples of this letter by clicking on this link. Be sure to send the letter certified and return receipt requested so that you can prove the collection agency actually received it.
If the collection agency does indicate that it received your letter (which it may not do) it can contact you just one more time to either acknowledge it won’t be contacting you again or to inform you what legal action it will take next such as suing you.
If you’re lucky
Once the collection agency has stopped contacting you, start holding your breath to see what it does next. If you’re lucky it will simply go away and you won’t hear from it again. If it’s a big debt you may not be so fortunate. The agency might sue you or sell your debt to yet another collection agency, which would then start harassing you.
Get an attorney
A third alternative is to hire an attorney to represent you. Of coarse, you wouldn’t want to do this unless it was a very large debt as you will have to pay the attorney somewhere between $100 and $500 an hour for his or her services. But once the debt collector knows you are being represented by an attorney, he will generally stop calling you and will contact your attorney instead. This means the debt collector must know your attorney’s name and contact information. If you do have an attorney and receive a call from a debt collector make sure you tell him that that you are being represented by an attorney and that he should start contacting him or her and not you.
Understand your rights
Assuming a worst-case scenario – that the collection agency continues to harass you over the debt – it’s important to know what it can’t do. This is covered in a law passed by Congress several years ago called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). It sets out what a debt collector can and can’t do. The most important things it can’t do are …
- Call you prior to 8:00 AM or beyond 9:00 PM unless you give the collector permission to do so
- Contact your employer unless your debt is past-due child support
- Call you where you work if he knows your employer doesn’t want you to be contacted there
- Send you a postcard or envelope that clearly indicates it had been sent by a debt collector
- Call your neighbors, friends or relatives about the debt in order to embarrass you into paying it
- Use an envelope or post card that makes it appear that it came from a court or government agency
- Call you frequently during a relatively short amount of time as this constitutes harassment and harassment is illegal under the FDCPA.
- Force you to accept collect calls from the agency
- Swear or insult you when you’re talking or threaten to ruin your reputation or have you jailed
- Try to collect more than your debt unless the contract it has with the creditor allows this
What to do if the debt collector violates the FDCPA
If the debt collector does any of the things listed above, you could file a complaint with the Consumer Finances Protection Bureau either online or by calling (855) 411-CFPB (2372). You can report any problems you’re having with a debt collector to your state’s attorney general. You might also be able to sue the debt collector in your state’s or federal court. If you are successful you could win up to $1000, which is not a huge amount but you would also win a lot of self-satisfaction in having beaten the collection agency.