Owing a debt that you are behind on can be a humiliating and frustrating experience. When your unpaid bill is well beyond being past due, it is written off and sold to a debt collection agency. The collection agency buys your debt for pennies on the dollar and any money they get you to pay above what they paid for the debt is potential profit. With your debt now being managed by a third party, the issue not only becomes more complicated, but the agency has a reason to do whatever it takes — legal or otherwise — to get you to pay the bill.
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Know and Exercise Your Debt Collection Rights
You owe the debt. You must pay it back, but you should not be forced to live with a life full of harassing phone calls. The key to fighting off harassing debt collection calls is to simply know and exercise your rights as it pertains to debt collection. By responding to collectors by the letter of the law you will not only protect yourself, but it also sends a signal to the company that you know how to handle the situation. If they break the law in trying to collect, you can use the documentation to sue the debt collection company.
Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
The Federal Trade Commission enforces this act, which prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect from you. The act covers your personal debts, so if you have business debts this specific act does not provide protection to you. If you find yourself dealing with a debt collector you should get to know your rights under this act quickly.
The act protects you from:
- Harassment. A debt collector cannot threaten violence, cannot curse at you, or publicly publish your name as someone owing a debt.
- False statements. Essentially, a debt collector cannot lie to you about the debt owed or who they are.
- Unfair practices. This prevents debt collectors from doing things outside of what they were hired to or to claim they can take your property from you (unless they legally are allowed to do so).
Steps to Take to Stop Debt Collector Calls
It is important to communicate effectively to ward off problems with debt collectors early. Here are two tips to consider.
1. Confirm or Contest the Debt
Your first concern must be the validity of the debt. You must get a confirmation it is your debt and not a mistake. If you do not believe you owe a debt, you must respond via certified letter asking for proof the debt is yours. If the debt is not yours, they are legally not allowed to contact you again unless it is to provide proof the debt is yours, to let you know there will be no further communication, or to inform you of specific action (like you being sued for the debt).
2. Communicate in Writing
Even if the debt is yours, all of your communication should be in writing via certified letter. Sending communication in a certified letter with a return receipt provides you confirmation when the letter was received, and provides you a timeline should you need to sue the debt collector for unlawful practices. The collectors know this and should decide to play by the rules once they see you are serious in your responses.
At the end of the day if you owe money and have not paid it, you need to pay back the debt. But just because you owe a debt that has been purchased by a debt collection company doesn’t mean you should have to suffer through illegal contact from the company.
Kevin Mulligan is a debt reduction champion with a passion for teaching people how to budget and stay out of debt. He’s building a personal finance freelance writing career and has written for RothIRA.com, Discover Bank, and many others.