We’ve all been guilty of it: A major problem arises, and rather than face it head-on, we avoid or ignore it, hoping it will go away on its own.
If your finances are deeply in arrears and debt collectors are calling, the temptation to simply ignore them can be strong. But is this a good strategy?
Ignoring debt collector calls is unlikely to make them disappear. But you have rights when dealing with debt collectors that can give you breathing room as you try to find some options for debt relief.
What Is The Fair Debt Collect Practices Act?
Debt collectors are individuals or organizations that collect debts on behalf of others. If you fall behind on your bills for a long period, your creditor may hire a debt collector to pursue payment.
When collectors approach you, they must not violate certain laws. Specifically, they must adhere to the rules that make up the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
The Federal Trade Commission enforces these rules, which state that the debt collector can’t engage in abusive, deceptive, or unfair practices.
You have a right to know specific information about the debt the collector is pursuing. By law, the collector must tell you the name of the original creditor and the amount you owe.
The collector also must inform you that you have a right to dispute the debt and that if you fail to do so within 30 days, the debt collector will assume the debt is valid.
If you dispute the debt in writing within 30 days, the debt collector must provide verification of the debt.
Such verification might include:
- A copy of your statement showing the balance you owe
- A copy of the original credit agreement
- Other documents or information
Debt collectors are allowed to call you at home or send letters, emails, or text messages to collect a debt. However, they’re not allowed to contact you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., or at work, unless you give them permission to do so.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recommends that if a debt collector initially contacts you by phone, you should insist they contact you in writing before you speak with them further.
In addition, the CFPB says you should never give personal or financial information to debt collectors unless you’re sure they’re legitimate.
If you communicate with a debt collector, keep good records of all your interactions. This may include:
- Originals of all letters or documents a debt collector sends you
- Copies of anything you send to a debt collector
- A record of dates and times of conversations, and notes about your communication
Can I ignore a debt collection agency?
What Are Your Options When Dealing With Debt Collectors?
If you believe you don’t owe all or part of the debt, write a letter to the debt collector that explains this, within 30 days of the time you have your first contact with the collector. At that point, the debt collector can’t contact you or attempt to collect the debt until they provide you with written verification of the debt.
Not sure what to say in your letter? The CFPB has sample letters on its website that you can use when creating your own letter.
Even if you know you owe the debt, you can still end the debt collector’s attempts to contact you.
The FTC notes that if you mail a letter to the debt collector and ask it to stop contacting you, it must do so. It can only contact you to confirm that it no longer will contact you in the future, or to let you know if it plans to take specific action against you, such as filing a lawsuit.
If you decide to go this route, the FTC urges you to consider sending the letter by certified mail and paying for a “return receipt,” so that you have proof that the collector received your letter.
The Risks Of Ignoring A Debt Collector
Just because you can ignore a debt collector doesn’t mean you should, regardless of whether it is credit card debt or any other type of debt that you owe.
If the debt isn’t yours, it’s much better to tell this to the debt collector than to ignore the issue.
If you legitimately owe the debt, it also makes sense to take a proactive approach with the debt collector. Choosing to engage with the debt collector opens the opportunity to reach an agreement that ends up more favorable to you.
If you can’t afford to pay the debt in full, see if the debt collector is open to an alternative payment arrangement that buys you more time. Or, see if the debt collector will agree to accept less than the full amount of the debt.
Also, know that if you insist on simply trying to ignore the debt collector, it’s unlikely that your problem. Instead, the debt collector may use more aggressive tactics to try to get you to pay. This might even include filing a lawsuit against you.
Seeking Help When Dealing With A Debt Collector
Ignoring a debt collector rarely results in a good outcome and can result in your credit score taking a hit. If fear of your debt or the debt collection process is preventing you from confronting your problem, look for help.
You can contact a nonprofit credit counselor who can help you explore your options. Or, hire an attorney who can give you legal advice about how to handle the debt. The legal aid office in your community can help you figure out if you qualify for free legal services.
If you hire an attorney, the debt collector is legally required to contact the attorney about your debt instead of bothering you.
Finally, you can consider using the services of a debt settlement company to help you get rid of the debt once and for all.
Preventing Abusive Behavior By Debt Collectors
Debt collectors must follow certain rules when pursuing debtors. Debt collectors can only pursue a debt for a certain period, which varies by state. Once the statute of limitations elapses, they are “time-barred” from suing you for payment. Just know that, in some states, making a payment or even acknowledging in writing that you owe a debt can restart the statute of limitations clock on the debt.
In addition, debt collectors cannot engage in certain behaviors, including:
- Threatening you with physical harm
- Using abusive or profane language
- Lying to you in any way, including about the amount of money you owe
- Publicly revealing your debts
If a debt collector violates any of these rules, you can report the collector to the FTC, the CFPB, or your state attorney general.
At National Debt Relief, we take pride in empowering people to regain their financial stability through our proven debt relief program. Contact us and talk to a financial expert who will work with you to find the best option to settle your debt and help you achieve financial independence