Maybe paying off that $600 credit card bill just slipped your mind. Or maybe you were going through a bad stretch and just didn’t have enough money to pay it. One thing led to another and before you knew it, that $600 credit card bill was turned over to a debt collection agency.
How does this happen?
Your credit card issuer is probably a huge financial institution that processes literally millions of credit card transactions a month. The odds are that most of this process is automated with built-in algorithms that after six months automatically labels your debt as “charged off.” However, when that $600 debt has been charged off it doesn’t mean it evaporates into thin air. What it usually means is that your debt will be bundled up with hundreds of other charged-off debts and sold to a collection agency – probably for pennies on the dollar.
While you might think that debt collectors work at the banks or loan companies this is generally not the case. Most nasty debt collectors work for third-party debt collection agencies that buy debts from the banks or credit card providers. In this case your $600 debt was probably one of several hundred debts purchased by a collection agency. The debt collectors are employees of the agency and almost always paid on commission. This means they earn very little unless they are able to collect all or most of the debts they are assigned.
When a debt collector contacts you
A debt collector lives a fast-paced life and spends his days chasing people to pay their debts. When he first contacts you, he may or may not have all the facts. While debt collectors can say almost anything there is the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, which gives you certain rights, one of which is to dispute the debt. You can question everything about it from how much interest is being charged, any fees and penalties you’ve been assessed or even the original balance. Given the fact that your debt was sold and maybe even sold again the truth is that you may not owe anything. So your first step in dealing with a debt collector is to tell him that you want the debt validated. The way you do this is by asking him to send you copies of the contract, original documents from your original creditor, when the last payments were posted on your account and all fees and penalties that have been added on. In the event the collector can’t verify the accuracy of your debt you may not owe it. On the other hand if the agency bought a valid debt – in this case your $600 credit card debt – it will have valid documentation from your credit card provider.
In addition to insisting that the debt be validated you have a number of other rights as spelled out in the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act. For example, it is illegal for a debt collector to call you at work, to call you multiple times at home or to flood your mailbox was dunning notices. If you are being continually hassled by a collector you can send it what’s called a cease and desist letter. You tell the collector in this letter that you do not wish to be contacted any further by phone or mail. When you do this, the debt collection agency must honor your request. It can then only contact you one more time to tell you that it either will not be contacting you again or that it is planning to sue you. If this is what happens you have to then use some common sense and weigh the facts before panicking. For example, is the debt large enough that the collection agency will actually file suit? Most experts say that if the debt is less than $500, the collection agency probably won’t. This means your debt of $600 lies in a sort of gray area where the collection agency might or might not sue you.
Check out your state’s statute of limitations
Every state has a statute of limitations on debts. When you receive the validation information on your debt from the collector one of the most important things to check is when you incurred the debt. This is because the statute of limitations on it may have expired so you don’t have to pay it. A second thing to consider is where the debt collection agency is located. Let’s say that you live in Kansas but the debt collection agency is headquartered in New York City. Do you think it’s going to fly someone out to Kansas to file suit over your $600 debt? The odds are that it won’t. Of course, it could always sell your debt to a collection agency located closer to you.
You can always negotiate
Remember what we said about debts being sold for pennies on the dollar? The odds are that the collection agency paid $25 or even less for your $600 debt. This leaves a lot of room for negotiation. Also, as noted above, debt collectors get paid on commission. This gives them a strong incentive to collect something – especially in the last few days of the month. Knowing this the first thing you should do – assuming the debt has been validated – is to ask, “What’s the least amount you would accept to settle this debt.” While most debt collectors will refuse to answer this question some will and might give you a figure that’s even lower than you would have offered. Barring this, you could offer to settle that $600 debt for, say, $100. The debt collector may not accept this offer but he will then most likely make a counter offer and you could then negotiate from there.
Get it in writing
If you are able to negotiate a settlement, never take the collector’s word for it. Get everything on paper before you agree to anything or pay anything. If the debt collector has agreed to settle the debt for $200 or even $100, why would he have a problem putting this in writing? If so, it’s because he has no intention of settling your debt for the amount he agreed to. But if you get it in writing before you send off the $200 or $100 you’re totally covered.