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Dealing with debt collectors is never fun. That sick feeling in your stomach when the phone rings. The fear that the collectors will track you down — at work, at home, through social media… you just never know. And it’s even worse when their persistent efforts cross the line into debt collector harassment.
Sure, we can make the case that the debt collectors are just doing their job. And for the most part, this is entirely true. After all, if you truly owe someone money and have not paid, it is your responsibility to work with them to find a way to pay their bills.
Sadly, however, some debt collectors cross a line. Or sometimes, their records are incorrect and you don’t actually owe the money they claim you do.
In both of these circumstance, laws are in place to protect you from debt collector harassment. Here are some tips on how to deal with debt collectors. The first step is to know your rights, and to know what they are permitted to do and not do.
Reputable debt collectors may work to assist you in paying down your debts. Don’t try to avoid their calls or be nasty on the phone. This will only add more stress to your life. Being cooperative and willing to make reasonable payments will help you out in these situations. Follow through on any agreements you’ve made regarding payments, as it will enhance your credibility.
If you are doing your part by taking the collector’s calls and making payments, you are fulfilling your end of the agreement. However, there is one fundamental dynamic at work between you and a debt collector. You may be embarrassed about your debt and you are essentially in a one-down position. It won’t feel like a balanced relationship; it may seem like he is the one with all the power. Often, debt collectors will abuse that perceived power.
As in any business, there are honest, fair people and there are people who aren’t trustworthy. If the collector is doing his job, he may be calling you numerous times and asking for payments. But you do have rights as a client; if the calling and tone of the calls becomes abusive or harassing, you have recourse.
Your best protection against harassment and abuse from a debt collector is to know your rights. The Federal Trade Commission oversees the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which prohibits debt collectors from using “abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect from you.” Regarding calls, some of a debt collector’s actions that are prohibited include:
- Calling you before 8 in the morning or after 9 at night, unless you’ve agreed to it.
- Contacting you at work if they are told orally or in writing not to
- Threats of violence or harm
- Using obscene or profane language
For more detailed information, check out the FTC’s FAQ.
If you’re a victim of debt collector harassment, you do have some recourse including:
Documentation – One effective tool you have is documentation. Document everything – keep a phone call log, save any letters or notices you receive in the mail, including envelopes. When logging phone calls, make notes as to what was discussed. If the collector has called other people and discussed your debts (there are very strict limits regarding with whom the debt collector can share information about you), ask them to make notes about those calls.
If you are disputing the debt (say an error from a credit reporting agency), and you put that in writing to them, they can’t continue to try to collect the debt until they provide verification of that debt.
Hire an attorney – Although many actions you take against harassment by debt collectors are things you can do yourself, there are times when it makes sense to hire a lawyer. This may be especially applicable if you are disputing the debt. There are attorneys who specialize in this area and you can call your local Bar Association to get referrals. Because of your financial situation, they may be able to work out a payment plan for their services.
Report abuses locally – You should report problems with debt collectors to your state Attorney General’s office in addition to the FTC. Many states have their own debt collection laws that differ from the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
Get credit counseling to help you get out of debt. – You can find a reputable credit counselor through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling.