Dealing with debt collectors

via Dealing with debt collectors | Consumer Watch, clarionledger.com, 1/24/2013

In uncertain economic times, debt collection is a booming business. A report released in April showed that the debt collection industry is worth $12.2 billion, and possibly as much as $17 billion. The industry is not without its problems, though. Fierce competition, increased scrutiny from regulators and bad players have tempered growth. Still, that’s cold comfort to the consumer who is on the business end of a collection company’s efforts.

Many people aren’t aware that debt collectors are usually paid on commission, meaning that there is a lot of pressure to get a payment out of you. This means that they can be pushy and even obnoxious. But it also means that you have the power to make that happen, or not happen.

If you are behind in paying your bills, it is not a good idea to ignore the collectors. They can and probably will drive you to distraction, and ignoring them could mean trouble later. As a rule of thumb, when they call, make them tell you exactly what you owe, and if you don’t owe it, immediately challenge it. Demand to get something in writing. If you prefer to be contacted by mail and not telephone, make your expectations clear. Remember, bill collectors are just people trying to make a living, so be polite but firm.

Often, there are cases of mistaken identity, in which collection agencies’ records indicate the wrong person owes the debt. For example, if you have a similar first name of another family member (i.e., Jr., III), it is easy to get these people mixed up. This frequently happens to families living with the same or similar addresses. In such cases, you should immediately get the collection company’s mailing address, and send a certified letter (return receipt requested) to the company and state your case.

Debt collection is covered by a federal law called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The law specifies what bill collectors can and cannot do. They cannot, for example…
…Harass, abuse or threaten you in any way.
…Call you at work, if you have told them not to.
…Call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. (unless you have agreed to it).
…Lie to you about what can happen if the debt is not paid.

The FDCPA also requires that collectors verify the debt within five days of first contacting you, including the name of the creditor, how much you owe, and what to do if the claim is wrong.

If they violate any of these rules (plus many others), it is important to document everything. Note the date, time and Caller ID of every call made, as well as every letter. Then follow up with a complaint to the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office or the Federal Trade Commission.

Regardless of whether the debt is legitimate or not, collections experts advise that you proactively write a letter to the company from which you incurred the debt, or the collection agency. Specify exactly what your understanding is of the amounts you owe, and what you intend to do. Sending even a fraction of the amount owed may help to forestall more aggressive techniques, such as lawsuits. And whatever you do, make sure you live up to the promise you made.

Dealing with debt collectors can be tricky, but you may have more power than you think. For more information on Debt Collection from the FTCt, click on this link:http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0149-debt-collection.

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