Dealing with a Debt Collection Agency

July 20, 2009

When debt collectors start calling, we might consider throwing the phone out the window. But that’s not the best way to deal with collection efforts. If you ignore them, they will keep calling for months or even years on end. And no one wants to live in fear every time the phone rings.

Debt collectors are rarely as unreasonable as we imagine them to be. They want to collect the money they’re owed, but they realize that they are more likely to succeed if they work with us. And the law prohibits them from threatening or harassing us. Here are five tips for effectively dealing with collectors:

1. Know your rights. It pays to familiarize yourself with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which protects consumers from unscrupulous collection practices. If at any time you feel that your rights have been violated, you can report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission or file a lawsuit to collect damages.

2. Be honest. Let the collector know if there are extenuating circumstances that have caused you to fall behind or stop making payments altogether. This won’t stop them from trying to collect the debt, but it could buy you some time and make it more likely that they will work with you to get things resolved in a way that is acceptable to both parties.

3. Know how much you can afford to pay each month, and don’t let them convince you to pay more than that. Even if they take all of your obligations into consideration and tell you that you should be able to pay a certain amount, you may not be able to pay that much realistically. If the collector insists on not accepting less than a certain amount, you may want to seek legal advice.

4. Take notes. Each time you speak to the collection agent, write down the highlights of the conversation along with the date and time of the call. Keep these notes for future reference, and if the collector contradicts himself, you’ll have your notes to refer to. These notes will also be helpful if you end up filing a complaint or lawsuit.

5. If you reach an agreement, stick to it. As long as you keep up your end of the bargain, the collection agency can make no further efforts. If you find that you won’t be able to make a payment on time, contact the debt collector immediately and let him know when you will be able to pay.

No one looks forward to dealing with a collection agency. But if you are honest and reasonable, it’s rarely as bad as you think it will be. In most cases, you can work out a mutually agreeable arrangement, get your debt paid off and get on with your life.

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