How to Deal with Debt Collectors

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Debt collectors contact consumers through telephone, the mail, and email. There’s no right way to respond to debt collection communications, but there are things you can do to protect yourself when debt collectors contact you.

If you’re getting collection calls, letters, or emails, please contact BCJ Law for help. To get a free case review today from a Pennsylvania debt attorney, call 1-800-997-5561 or complete our contact form.

What should I do if I don't owe the debt?

You should do three things if you think you don’t owe a debt. First, request debt verification. Second, request that collection calls stop. Finally, provide accurate contact information.

I. Request debt verification:

A. General info on debt verification.

If you think you don’t owe a debt, or if you need more information to understand whether you owe a debt, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) gives you the right to request debt verification. To verify a debt, collection agencies must provide information that allows you to understand whether you owe the debt at issue.

B. Time-frame for requesting debt verification.

Debt collection agencies must disclose your right to verify a debt within 5 days of first contact. After that, you have 30 days to request debt verification. Your request must be in writing, should include your name, the account number of the debt at issue, and the date of first contact.

C. What to ask for when verifying a debt.

If you request debt verification, ask for documents and information that make the debt collector believe: 1) that you owe the debt: 2) that the amount it claims you owe is correct: and 3) that it has authority to collect the debt. 

If you need an example letter, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has good sample letters to request debt verification.

D. What happens if the debt isn't verified?

If a debt collection agency can’t verify your debt, it must stop collection activities. If it keeps collecting a debt it can’t verify, or if it ignores your verification request, you likely have a claim for damages under the FDCPA. 

II. Tell collection agencies to stop calling:

A. General info on stopping collection calls.

If you’re confident you don’t owe a debt, you most likely don’t want collection agencies to call or send you letters. The FDCPA allows you to tell debt collectors to stop calling you. Additionally, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) allows you tell tell collection agencies to stop contacting your cellphone, so long as calls are made using an artificial voice or autodialer.

B. How do I ask for collection calls to stop?

There’s no magic language required to get collection calls to stop and you can make your request in writing or over the phone. That said, you probably want to send a written cease communication request through certified mail and with a return receipt. This way, you have evidence that: 1) you asked the debt collector to stop calling, and 2) the debt collector received your request. 

If you need an example letter, the CFPB has good sample letters to ask debt collectors to stop calling. 

C. What happens if the calls don't stop?

If you ask for communications to stop, debt collectors must honor your wishes. When collection agencies fail to follow instructions, you likely have a claim for damages. To learn more about how to stop collection calls, read our post on debt collection robocalls.

III. Provide accurate contact information:

When consumers get calls, letters, or emails about debts they don’t owe, they often try to dodge debt collectors. There are a few reasons why it isn’t in your best interest to hide from debt collectors calling about a debt you don’t owe. First, if debt collectors can’t get ahold of you, they may contact your family, friends, employer, or co-workers. Second, collection agencies may file suit if you avoid or ignore them. Providing accurate contact information can prevent bogus lawsuits and harassment directed at family and friends.

What should I do if the debt is "time-barred"?

I. General info on "time-barred" debt.

“Time-barred” debts refer to debts past the statute of limitations. These debts aren’t legally enforceable, meaning you can’t get sued for them. Generally, Pennsylvania law prohibits lawsuits on debts about four years after your last payment. For more on “time-barred” debt, read our post on debt collection and the statute of limitations.

II. Debt verification for "time-barred" debt.

If you’re requesting debt verification for a debt you think is past the statute of limitations, consider asking for documents and information regarding the age of the debt at issue. This information can help you determine whether your debt is legally unenforceable.

You can use the debt verification process discussed at the beginning of this page to request documents and information about “time-barred” debts.

III. Should I request calls to stop for "time-barred" debt?

Since “time-barred” debts aren’t legally enforceable and debt collectors can’t sue you, there aren’t many downsides to telling collection agencies to stop contacting you. 

Nevertheless, you may want to keep lines of communications open if you want to get a “time-barred” debt off your credit report. Adverse credit information is reportable for about 7 years. If you need to get an old debt off your credit report by paying it off, you may not want to tell a debt collector to stop contacting you.

What should I do if I think I might owe the debt?

I. Make sure the debt collector has not violated the law:

You have many rights under the FDCPA, the TCPA, and other laws, like the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the Truth in Lending Act (TILA), the Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act (FCEUA), and the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (UTPCPL). If debt collection agencies violate any of these laws, you may have claims for damages that offset partially or fully any debt you owe.

To learn more about debt collection harassment generally, read our page on debt collection harassment. To read about specific unlawful activities related to letter communications, read our page on debt collection letters. Finally, to learn about specific unlawful activities related to debt collector calls, read our page on debt collection robocalls.

II. Tell the debt collector how to contact you:

A. General info on modifying collection communications.

The FDCPA allows you to tell debt collectors what times, places, and methods of communication are convenient for you. If you say nothing, collection agencies generally assume they can call you between 8am-9pm, or even call you at your place of work. If, however, you specify when and how a debt collector can contact you, the debt collector must honor your wishes.

B. How do I modify collection communications?

There’s no magic language required to tell debt collectors how to contact you and you can make your request in writing or over the phone. That said, you probably want to send a written modification request through certified mail and with a return receipt. This way, you have evidence that: 1) you told the debt collector how to contact you, and 2) the debt collector received your request. 

If you need an example letter, the CFPB has good sample letters you can use to modify how debt collectors contact you. 

C. What happens if a debt collector doesn't listen?

If you tell a debt collector how to contact you, the debt collector must honor your wishes. When collection agencies fail to follow your instructions, you likely have a claim for damages. For more on modifying the way collection agencies contact you, read our post on debt collection robocalls.

III. Am I obligated to respond to a debt collector?

You’re not obligated to respond to a phone call, letter, or email from a debt collection agency. So you have the right to ignore collection calls, letters, and emails. 

That said, whether you should respond to a debt collector is fact specific. If you can’t pay, ignoring collection calls may be your best move. If you call a debt collector on a debt you can’t pay, you may make damaging admissions or you may agree to an unaffordable repayment plan. On the other hand, if you can pay a large lump sum, you may want to contact a debt collector and negotiate a discounted settlement. Again, the decision to respond to or ignore a collection agency depends on circumstances specific to your case.

IV. Asking for debt verification when you owe a debt:

The FDCPA’s debt verification procedure is discussed at the beginning of this page. The utility of using this procedure when you know or think you owe a debt probably is low because collection agencies generally don’t have to produce much to verify a debt. If you’re seeking debt verification solely in an attempt to short circuit the collection process, that probably is not the correct or effective thing to do.

Things everyone should do when interacting with debt collectors.

I. Don't admit to owing a debt.

Never admit to owing a debt, even if you think the debt is accurate and owed. If you admit to owing a debt, you may have proved the debt collector’s case, and may be precluded from challenging the amount the collection agency claims you owe. Admissions also are unwise because debt collectors often attempt to collect debts in error. For example, a recent study by the CFBP found, among many other things, that “more than half of consumers contacted about debt said these contacts included at least one debt … in error.” Never pay a debt until you get evidence on the accuracy and authenticity of the debt you allegedly owe.

II. Don't disclose private information.

Refusing to disclose private information, like bank account information, social security numbers, or the identity of your employer, prevents two potentially damaging practices. First, it prevents identity theft. Second, it prevents aggressive collection tactics like bank account garnishments. If you don’t tell a debt collector where you bank or where you work, it will be harder for the collection agency to find your bank account or other financial assets. 

Hire BCJ Law to help.

If you’re having problems with debt collection agencies or debt collectors, please contact BCJ Law for help. To get a free case review today, please fill out our free case review form or call us at 1-800-997-5561

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