How to Fight Debt Collectors
You might be looking for a job in the booming oil shale industry so that you can get back on your feet after a long financial drought. If so, good for you. But until you find a high-paying oilfield job, you’re going to be dealing with a number of money issues, one of which will be: the dreaded debt collector. Debt collectors are a nuisance that anyone who is behind on bills has to deal with, and they are more and more common these days.
If you have older unpaid debts, like credit card debts, those accounts will eventually be “charged off” by the credit card companies involved. These charged-off accounts will then be sold to collection companies for pennies on the dollar. If these companies have your current phone number and/or address, you can expect debt collectors to start hassling you for money (whether you are working or not). However, even though you’re likely behind on your debts or have some bills you haven’t paid in years, don’t allow debt collectors to intimidate or manipulate you. Read on for tips on how to fight debt collectors…
- Develop a thick skin. Some collection companies are actually law offices. They will use this status to intimidate you, and are pretty good at doing so. However, if you are struggling to keep a roof over your head, then you need to worry about keeping the roof over your head, period. The collector is not your friend, or responsible for providing you with shelter or food, and may be blowing hot air when trying to scare you with legal jargon. They are not your priority regardless of what they tell you. Never forget this, because you will need to remind yourself of it often.
- Are you sure that you owe the debt? Make sure that you owe the debt that a collector claims that you owe. Now, in most cases, you’ll probably be familiar with a debt that a collector attempts to get payment for. But what about a debt that doesn’t seem familiar? Get in touch with the collector – in writing – and demand that you receive debt validation. If the debt is legitimate and you are the party who actually owes the debt, then the collector should have this validation (proof that you owe the debt). If they don’t, then you may not be liable for the debt at all. In fact, you could even be dealing with a fraud situation, which is a growing problem. Make sure you are dealing with a verified, actual debt.
- You’re dealing with a third party, not the original lender. Always remember: while the collector legally has the power to collect the debt from you, your debt was in fact purchased. This means that the collector is not the original party that you owed money to. Yes, you are still obligated to pay the debt. However, if you are having any morality issues because you simply can’t pay the debt at this time, then realize that this is now a game of sorts. The collector is dealing with dozens if not hundreds of other folks just like you. They realize that they will never be able to collect from all of these folks, and are going after the “low hanging fruit”, as it were. If the collector determines that getting the money you owe exceeds a certain amount of time and effort in relation to the amount owed, then that collector will go after “bigger fish” with more vigor.
- Some debts (not all) will fade away with time. If the amount you owe is relatively small, the charged-off debt will simply remain on your credit report until it is either paid or seven years elapses. Larger amounts, however, can result in a judgment being filed against you in court. It seems that around $2,000 – $3,000 is the amount that may or may not trigger the filing of a judgment, although every collector is different. So, if you owe under $1,000, then yes – a collector can legally pursue you in a court of law. However, the potential of this happening for such a minor amount is pretty low. Keep this in mind when dealing with debt collectors. While some debt collectors may threaten you with legal action for smaller debts, they are likely bluffing, and won’t spend the money necessary to file a judgement in a civil court if the amount owed is small. After the statute of limitations elapses for debt collection in the state where you claim residence, the collector will not legally be able to file a judgement (whether they claim they will or not).
- The “judgment” is what is meant by “legal action”. Most of the letters you’ll get from the Law Offices of Dewey, Cheatem, and Howe will threaten legal action. Blah, blah, blah, *yawn*. The “legal action” will be the filing of a judgment, if this ever happens. Most of the time, it won’t (see above). If you owe a few grand, then a judgment may be filed. You can never really be sure, however. The less contact you have with the collector and the less information that they have about you lowers the odds of them ever pursuing you. Again, unless you are “low hanging fruit” and easily manipulated by phone (plenty of people are), you may just stay at the bottom of the collector’s pile. If you’re getting calls from numbers that you don’t recognize, then simply don’t answer them. Any important calls will go to your voice mail. After all, that’s what voice mail is for, remember? Of course, you could always…
- Change your phone number. There is really no reason to have a phone conversation with any collector. You should be communicating by snail mail anyway so that you have a paper trail. Furthermore, what use is any type of communication if you simply can’t pay now? If you want to pay your old debts after you land an oilfield gig, then by all means you should pay them. Until then, however, all you’ll be doing by discussing your situation with a debt collector is allowing more grief into your life. Most collectors are simply cubicle dwellers trying to make a few bucks (hey, maybe they should be looking for fracking jobs, too!) Remember that most debt collectors use false names, probably break the law on a regular basis in pursuit of old debts, have likely been trained in intimidation tactics, and/or will try to befriend in order to get you to cough up a few clams. (The befriending part seems to work with women the best, based on anecdotal evidence.) Collectors are sometimes paid a commission on the old debts that they collect, and this can intensify their efforts to squeeze money from you. If your current phone number is being flooded with calls from collectors, then get a new one and save yourself an immense amount of frustration.
- Got a new phone number? Give it out sparingly. Pass on a new phone number only to close friends and family, and instruct these people to never give out your number, period. Some unscrupulous (is there any other kind?) debt collectors will use whatever contact information that they have to get in touch with your neighbors (while falsely identifying themselves as relatives) in an effort to get your new phone number. So be careful about who you give your new number to. If someone truly important needs to reach you, then have those closest to you give out an e-mail address instead, since collectors use phones to intimidate. Again, even if you have the money to pay an old debt, you can pay it without ever talking to some stranger on a phone. Snail mail is better.
- Know your rights. Where the law is concerned, you should familiarize yourself with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). The links featured here are straight from the Federal Trade Commission. These are the unabridged versions (sorry). At least skim through them both, and know something about the law. It’s a sure bet you’ll then know more than any collector who contacts you. As mentioned above, most collectors break these laws with amazing regularity.
- Never pay a collector with a check drawn on your account. Issuing a payment for a debt to a collector via personal check is a big mistake. The collector will then have all the information needed to drain your account in an attempt to get a debt paid in full. So, if you write a check off an account that also provides your grocery money, you may be out of luck. Even a cashier’s check purchased from your bank or credit union is risky, since a collector can use various tricks to get your account number from an unsuspecting bank teller once that collector knows who you bank with. Instead, pay any collector that you deal with via a money order or cashier’s check purchased at a random grocery store or package shipping store. Keep track of all payments that you make to collectors. Don’t expect them to accurately track your payments. Keep your money order and/or cashier’s check stubs stored somewhere while you pay off the debt.
- Be careful with what you post on Facebook, Twitter, or other social networking sites. These days, collectors are using these sites to track down debtors. Block out where you live on these sites, since those who are “friending” you should already know where you live anyway. Those whose names you don’t recognize don’t need your “friendship”. Keep your social networking accounts free of persons you don’t know personally.
- Pay the debt if you can, but negotiate for a lower amount. Every collector trumps up every old debt to the stratosphere. You don’t owe what a collector claims that you owe 9 times out of 10. You owe the principal. The additional fees, interest totals, or other crap charges that have been added to the original amount are not part of the original debt. If big banks can get bailouts for incompetence and mismanagement, then so should you. So, try to negotiate the amount that a collector claims that you owe down to a smaller amount (preferably in writing). Start with about a third of what they say you owe, and negotiate from there.
Yes, you are morally obligated to pay your debts. However, make sure that you and your family are your main financial priorities when funds are tight. While debt collectors may believe that they engage in the worthy pursuit of “lowlifes” like you who don’t pay their debts, you should realize that most of the dishonorable behavior in the debt collection world comes from collectors themselves.
Are you currently in debt and want to find lucrative work to pay it off? Or, maybe you’re stuck in a dreary debt collection office yourself, and want to make a change? Find a fracking job today…