Debt Collection: Escalation Options that Help

When you’re dealing with a debt collector, you may arrive at a sticking point and recognize that the person you’re speaking with doesn’t have the authority to do what you’re asking. Instead of stopping at that frustrating dead end, you’re better off tactfully suggesting that you’d like to take your situation to a higher authority who’s empowered to make decisions. This is known as escalating the issue.

Ask to speak to a manager

Collection representatives may have several reasons for not warming to your proposed payment plan. They may

  • Not believe that you’re offering your best effort to repay

  • Have a quota to fill, and your offer won’t do it

  • Have strict rules regarding permissible payment options

  • Be having a bad day and just don’t feel like being helpful

A manager has more flexibility and may even see the bigger picture of a best offer. By asking to speak to a manager, you take the pressure off the little guy and free him to move on to another customer while you and the boss work things out. If you look at the situation as though you’re helping everyone, you may have an easier time escalating the problem to management.

You can say something like this:

I understand that you’ve done your best to try to resolve this issue satisfactorily. Thank you for helping. But I’d like to speak to someone who has the authority to make exceptions/waive policy/take my offer to a higher level. It’s not fair of me to ask you to go against company policy and take the payment I’m offering, so please let me speak to a manager.

If the collector refuses to let you speak to a manager, say that you’ll call back on your own and ask someone else. Thank the collector for trying and say good-bye, nicely. Going over the same ground with the same person quickly wears thin.

Approach the creditor

Believing that what’s done is done may be a good way to handle many things, but credit may be an exception. Your original creditor may be willing to cut a deal with you even after sending your bill to an outside collector. Much depends on how you left things with the creditor.

If you left with bad feelings or you lost it with a customer service representative, you may not be welcomed back. But if the transition from inside collections to an outside agency was just a migration and not a stampede, the creditor may still be willing to talk with you.

So why would you want to approach the creditor directly? If you’re not getting anywhere with the debt collector, the creditor may be willing to work something out with you. After all, the creditor just wants the money you owe.

Creditors either place a debt for collection or sell the debt outright. Collection is more common unless your debt is really old. If your debt has been sold, calling the original creditor won’t help. But this has a silver lining. You may well have room to negotiate in a debt-sale situation because debts aren’t sold at full value, so a smaller-than-owed payment may still be very profitable for the collector.

Fighting harassment

Getting harassed by a collection agency? You’re not alone. If you complain to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which watches over the collection industry, you’ll be among the more than 80,000 people who lodge collection complaints each year. Some consumers have even taken collectors who overstep the law to court, and some of them have won very large settlements.

To file a complaint against a collector who is harassing you, contact the FTC online or call 877-382-4357. The FTC won’t follow up on your specific case, but your complaint helps others by allowing patterns of possible law violations to surface. Enough complaints against the same collector and the FTC may act.

Here are some other things you can do about harassment or abuse:

  • Keep your cool. Always be professional and as calm as you can manage, and never raise your voice.

  • Take notes during each call. Be prepared with facts and dates, and know what you’re going to say before you say it. After all, collectors do!

  • Get a name. Always get the name of the person calling you, and ask for full contact information, including the name of the company and the office manager. Do so before things get out of hand.

  • Just say no. If a collector goes over the top or breaks a rule (threatens, yells, uses obscene language, and so on), you can tell the collector to stop and call back when he or she can act in a businesslike manner. Keep a record of the call and the behavior.

  • Complain to the original creditor. Even though you aren’t in good graces at the moment, a complaint here can result in action. No business wants an abusive collector scaring away past or future customers. The original debt holder may take the debt back and deal with you directly if you make a good case.

  • Complain to the boss. Remember, you were smart enough to ask for the manager’s name when the collector first contacted you, so use it. Your complaint may be the one that gets the abuser canned. No collection agency wants to be sued because of a bully who can’t be professional.

  • Tell the collector to deal with your lawyer. This is a double-edged sword. After you tell the collector to contact your attorney, all contact with you ends. Usually, the collection agency sends the debt to its own lawyer.

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