Learn How to Protect Yourself from Aggressive Debt Collection Practices
If you have fallen behind on some bills, or even innocently forgot about a certain bill that is now past-due, a creditor has probably contacted you. When these bills become significantly past due, you likely will hear from a collection agency who is working on behalf of the original creditor. In many cases, creditors and their collection experts of choice come at you with a tenacity that is better suited for a starving hyena going after its prey than a so-called “professional” business trying to resolve what they deem to be a delinquent account.
Some creditors will come at you with everything under the sun, including the kitchen sink; family members, employers, neighbors, alongside yourself, may be subject to harassing, threatening, or downright demeaning phone calls and letters. Whether creditors have pushed you beyond what you can emotionally bear, or you just want to get them “off your back” – here are a few things that you can do to handle creditors.
Know what you owe
In some cases, it is almost impossible to verify that you owe a debt based on a random letter that you receive unexpectedly. Sometimes companies will sell off their past due accounts, and in other cases your creditor will be bought out by a different company, whereby the name of your creditor will change. The first thing that you should do when you start to receive phone calls from a creditor, or letters in the mail, is to get a copy of your credit report so that you can validate these claims yourself.
Now, credit reports will not show debts which have not been reported to a credit agency, but this is the best place to start in the majority of situations when you are getting calls or letters from a creditor. AnnualCreditReport.com is the government-approved website setup by which individuals can request their credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion once every 12 months. This is a free service.
Verify the debt
If you cannot identify the money owed to a creditor who is contacting you, you need to contact the creditor in writing regarding your situation. Do not assume liability, and be sure to state this point, but ask for the company name, account number, and date of purchase that led to this debt. In some cases, you may need to ask what it is exactly that you owe money for as the actual product or service purchased may not be apparent based solely on the company’s name.
Keep records of all communications
If permissible by your state, keep records of your telephone conversations with creditors, and be sure to keep all letters sent to you by the creditor. If the creditor steps over the line and attempts to pursue debt in an illegal manner, you may be within your legal right to sue the creditor for their collection practices.
Stop harassing phone calls and letters
If you feel that a creditor, or collection agency, is harassing you, you have a legal right to tell them to stop. Creditors and debt collection agencies have very strict guidelines by which they can attempt to satisfy outstanding debts. While the list of guidelines that creditors must adhere when pursuing debt is well established, many individuals suffer at the hands of over-aggressive creditors who use measures above and beyond what is allowed by law simply because they tend to get away with it.
A sample cease letter, also referred to as a “Do Not Call” letter, can be found on the NEDAP.org website at nedap.org/resources/consumer.html#collection, under the heading “Sample Cease Letter”. While this website focuses on New York, the same principal applies for other US States as well. If you do send such a letter to a creditor, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
Do not admit liability for the debt – In fact, your letter should include wording similar to, “By sending this letter, I am not admitting to, or assuming liability for, this debt”. Verbiage can vary, but be sure that your point is clear and concise.
Send the letter certified – Certification proves that you sent the letter, and therefore can be used to your advantage in the future if you have the option to take the creditor to court over their collection practices.
Dispute invalid debts
If you have been a victim of identity theft, if you have already paid off a creditor, or the amount quoted as owed does not line up with your own records, ask the creditor to validate the debt. Furthermore, you may be able to prevent a creditor from placing a debt on your credit report, or get them to remove it from your credit report, while you are disputing the debt.
You can visit the aforementioned website (neadap.org) and download a sample debt collection dispute letter.
Talk with the creditors
If everything is on the up-and-up, and you acknowledge that you owe X dollars to X company, talk with your creditors. Do not go out of your way to avoid them; sit down, draw up a chart of your income and your expenses, and come up with a figure that you feel you can afford to pay on a monthly basis until your past-due balance is satisfied. If you simply cannot afford to pay a creditor based on your income at the time, let them know. Sometimes creditors can suggest services that will help you to consolidate your bills, and your debts, that will allow you to take care of your past-due obligations.
How to handle creditors
Creditors and debt collectors can be aggressive and can wreak havoc on your personal and professional life – if you do not know how to handle them. By following the steps outlined above, not only will you understand how to handle creditors when they come after you, but you will be protecting yourself from aggressive debt collection practices, harassment, and may even be able to save yourself some money in the long run.