Let’s face it… dealing with debt collection calls is frustrating, annoying and downright scary. When a debt collector calls, you better know what to do – and what NOT to do – or you can find yourself in serious financial and legal trouble.
Here’s our top 10 tips for what to do when a debt collector calls:
1. Stay Calm
Take a deep breath and focus. Debt collectors are difficult to deal with under the best of circumstances. If you are tense or angry, they’ll use it against you and try to trip you up. Remember, the voice on the other side of the line is just another human being. Just don’t forget that he or she is probably highly trained in extracting money from unprepared and uninformed consumers. It is in your best interest to be calm and focused.
2. Look at the clock
By law, a debt collector cannot call you before 8 am or after 9 pm in YOUR time zone. It doesn’t matter where they are calling you from. If you are in New York and they are in Nevada, they can’t get away with calling you late at night because they are three hours behind you. If it is outside these legal calling times, make sure you note the time carefully before you go on to step 3.
3. Answer the phone!
This may sound obvious – but too many people think that they are better off if they don’t answer. But, not answering can be far worse for you. If you ignore an attempt to collect a debt, you forfeit your legal right to fight the claim. Left unchallenged, the collection could go to court and result in a judgement and very costly garnishments on your wages. Bottom line: don’t Ignore collection calls! Answer the phone and deal with the situation.
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4. Record the call if you can
As soon as the caller states that the call is an attempt to collect a debt, ask for permission to record the call. If you have the ability to (either with another phone, a tape recorder, or some other device)… do it! Even if you do not have the ability to record the call, you should still ask for permission. It alerts the caller that you may be more savvy than most consumers and will (hopefully) put the collector on his best behavior – possibly saving you from coming up against collection practices that bend the law.
If they say that you cannot record the call, move on to step 6 and then hang up. Follow up immediately with a call to the collection company asking to speak with a different representative. Then ask again for permission to record. If denied again, report them to the FTC here: https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#&panel1-8
5. Listen for the Mini Miranda
According to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, a debt collector must recite the Mini Miranda to you during your first communication. It’s called a Mini Miranda because it is similar to the Miranda rights read when someone is arrested. They’ll say, “This is an attempt to collect a debt and any information obtained will be used for that purpose.” This goes for mail and phone communication. If it is the first contact you’re having with this particular collector, or the first time this company is calling you about this specific debt, they must use the Mini Miranda or they are violating your consumer rights. If you don’t hear it, make a note for later reference.
6. Ask for all the facts
Before you let the debt collector say another thing, ask for these key facts:
- The debt collector’s full name, and agent ID# if they have one
- The name of the company they are calling from
- Their business phone number
- The mailing address of the collection company
- The name of the original creditor
- The date and exact amount of the original debt in question
Write everything down and keep it safe for future reference.
7. Make detailed notes
After you have the important facts down, keep making detailed notes about what the debt collector says. Pay careful attention to threats of being sued, threats of arrest, abusive or profane language, or threats of violence. Your notes are your only evidence if you are not able to record the call.
8. DO NOT make a good faith payment
So-called “good faith” payments are a debt collector’s favorite tactic. They say that if you make a small payment, even only $10, it will show “good faith” on your part and they may be able to “work something out” with their boss.
Well, that’s a load of crap. You see, each state and each type of debt has set time limit for how many years the debt is able to be collected through the courts. The time is calculated from the date of LAST ACTIVITY – not the original date of the debt. So, if you have an older collection and you make a “good faith” payment, you restart the clock all over again. This gives the debt collector another 6 or seven years to hound you.
9. Stay Quiet
Do not answer any questions about your income, account balances, retirement accounts, property you own, or anything about your finances. Chances are, the debt collector is just fishing for stuff to seize in court. They’ll tell you that it is to see if you “qualify” for a discount or special repayment plans, but that’s almost never the truth.
If the debt collector asks you to “verify” your address, ask them to read what they have on file. If they can’t provide you with a correct address, that’s a warning sign that you may be a target for fraud or identity theft. Hang up immediately! If it is a fraud attempt, they probably won’t waste any more time on you.
Remember, the debt collector is most likely recording the call, too. So watch what you say. Any profanity, promises to pay, or admissions that you do owe the money can come back to haunt you.
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10. Mail a validation request letter (and a “do not call” letter, if you want)
Legally, a debt collector must provide verification that you do, in fact, owe the money in question. Ideally, you are supposed to request verification within 30 days after your first contact from the debt collector (via phone or mail), but even if you are outside that 30-day window, many companies will provide verification.
You can get sample letters from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau here: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/askcfpb/1695/ive-been-contacted-debt-collector-how-do-i-reply.html to cover debt verification and communication requests. You can choose letters from among these options:
- I do not owe this debt.
- I need more information about this debt.
- I want the debt collector to stop contacting me.
- I want the debt collector to only contact me through my lawyer.
- I want to specify how the debt collector can contact me.
Why send a verification? First of all, the debt collector is not allowed to contact you for at least 30 days (or until verification has been sent). That will be a nice break from the annoying calls. Secondly, if the debt collection company cannot provide the necessary information to prove you owe the money to them, they may leave you alone and let the debt expire from collectability. And, one final note, the 30-day break will allow you time to investigate credit restoration. Very often, a challenge from NCES carries more muscle than one from an individual consumer. When we break out the big guns, the debt collectors tend to pack up and go home!
If you have any questions, please give us a call at 770-952-5168 or contact us online.
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This information is intended for informational and educational purposes only and not as legal advice. If you have concerns about your credit report, harassment, identity theft, illegal collections activity, garnishments, or property liens, you should consult an attorney who specializes in consumer rights and defense.