Tips for Handling Debt Collector Calls - dummies

Tips for Handling Debt Collector Calls

By John Ventura, Mary Reed

Part of Managing Debt For Dummies Cheat Sheet

A call from a debt collector can be intimidating to say the least. The following tips will help you stay in control and calmly handle a debt collector so you avoid saying something that could create more problems. Keep this list close to your phone so you’re ready when you get a call from a debt collector:

  • Never engage in casual conversation with a debt collector. You may give the debt collector information that could be used against you.

  • Don’t answer any questions that you don’t want to answer, and never share personal or financial information. Don’t give a debt collector your Social Security number, the name of your bank, or your bank account number.

  • Ask the debt collector to send you a written accounting of exactly how much you owe. Ask that the accounting itemize the original amount of the debt plus all interest, fees, and collection costs.

  • If you think that the amount the debt collector says you owe is incorrect, or if you do not agree that you owe any money, dispute it. However, don’t expect to win this argument on the phone. Put your dispute in writing and send it to the debt collector no later than 30 days after the collector contacts you for the first time.

  • If you don’t have the money to pay the debt, just say so, and tell the debt collector not to call you again. Send a certified letter making the same request as a follow-up. Your debt won’t go away, but the debt collector should stop bothering you.

  • If you agree that you owe a debt, but you can’t afford to pay it in a lump sum, try working out an affordable payment plan. This process can start on the phone, but be sure to get the terms of any agreement you reach in writing before you make your first payment. Another option is to settle the debt for less than what you owe on it. Don’t ever agree to pay more than you can afford!

  • If a debt collector threatens you, is verbally abusive, uses profane language, or calls you repeatedly during one day or day after day, take notes. The debt collector is violating federal law with these actions. Write down each violation, including the date and time it happens, the name of the debt collector or debt collection agency, and the specific debt you are contacted about. If things get really bad, share your information with a consumer law attorney: You may have grounds for a lawsuit.