Managing Debt

The Dos and Don’ts of Paying a Debt Collector

Comments 53 Comments

 

Photo by sleepyneko — Slide 1 of 10

Editor’s note: This story was updated February 28, 2014

When you’re trying to put a collection account behind you, the biggest hurdles are coming up with the money to pay the debt and negotiating a payment plan or settlement that you can afford. Once you’ve accomplished that, however, the next question is, “How do you pay the debt collector?”

It may be trickier than you think. Some payment methods are riskier than others. The debt collector is likely to try to get you to pay using a method that’s best for him, but not for you.

[Infographic: What to do if a Debt Collector Calls]

“When dealing with the subject of paying debt collectors, many experts will always look to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA),” warns financial consultant Damon Day. “While I agree it is important to know what collectors can and can’t do, I rely more on Murphy’s Law when advising clients about the best options for paying debt collectors. For those unfamiliar with Murphy’s Law, it is typically stated as: ‘Anything that can go wrong will go wrong’.”

With that in mind, here are the pros and cons of various methods for paying debt collectors…

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  • DMC

    I’d love to read this but you don’t have a view as a single page option. Fail.

    • RST

      I agree. Whenever I see that an article is broken into slides without a single page view available, I close the tab on my browser.

      • Kevin

        I can third this sentiment. I came here to read this article, as I thought it’d be interesting, but when I saw there was no single page option, I simply left this comment and closed the page without reading a word.

        Intentionally forcing your customers (readers) to jump through ridiculous hoops for a few extra cents in ad revenue is insulting, and I’ll be no part of it.

        • Steve

          Wow, it seems making a comment on here is more of a pain than just simply clicking a single link to go to the next slide at the bottom. But some people will complain about anything I suppose.

    • Jay

      The reason most sites use this type of navigation is to increase the number of hits on their site. I don’t find it takes more than a few extra seconds to read a review like this, and this one was especially worth it.

      • denko

        Anything at all to do with ANY credit bureau is BOGUS and NOT good for your financial health. If you just stay away from all cr/bureaus BALONEY and their B/SHT you will no doubt be better off. They all lie and distort the truth anyway.
        I no a person w100 Plus K a year, no bills, no real estate loans, no car loans never ever had ANY money problems of ANY kind but according to 3 CR/B they ain worth a POOP creditwise. Now then, tell me how GOOD/GREAT/WUNDRA-FUL the big three FOOLS are then?
        Yaah thats what we think too.

  • question

    I have a debt collector calling me, but won’t tell me what the debt is regarding. They ask me to verify my name and address, to verify I am who I say I am (when they call, and when I call them back).

    Should I provide this information to them, or should I stand ground and refuse to offer any personal information unless they can tell me what it is regarding?

    • http://www.Credit.com Gerri Detweiler

      It’s probably OK to give your name to them – they are probably trying to make sure they don’t discuss the debt with someone else, which would be illegal. But I wouldn’t provide them with any personal information (like Social Security number). Especially with the payday loan debt collection scam that’s sweeping the country, you want to be very careful.

      Insist that they send you something in writing. If the debt belongs to you, their notification should reach you. You can probably verify your zip and that should be enough to confirm they have the right address. (Unless you’ve moved recently.)

      You are entitled to written notification of the debt under federal law. Tell them you won’t discuss the debt until you receive the written notice to which you are entitled.

      I recently discussed this specific scenario on my radio show with attorney Michael Forbes. You can download the podcast here:

      http://gdetweiler.audioacrobat.com/download/TCR_Your-Rights-If-Debt-Collectors-Call.mp3

      Good luck!

    • dog lover

      In my personal experience, DO NOT give anyone any personal information over the phone.
      If they have your phone number and the numbr is listed in your name then they should already have this information.
      2—You know if you have debts that are outstanding, so they can, without breaching confidentiality laws give you at least the account of which they are inquiring about, without revealing the nature of the call. You then will know right away if you had a past relationship with the institution or company in question. If not then hang up immediately.

      • Wayne

        Thats fine and dandy, but so many will sit there on the phone and play the game of, “Well if you have my info then you tell me what it is”. If a debt collector were to do that without knowing who in fact answered the phone, then that would be the first step to a lawsuit. Debt collectors have no clue who answered the phone, anyone can say they are the person the call was intended for. Playing games like that is something people use to end the call to get away from paying on a debt. ( I would know, I’m a debt collector )

    • Wayne

      I’m a debt collector and we use verification like date of birth, address, and even the last four digits only of a social. We do this so we do not get sued for disclosing information to any other person claiming to be the debtor. It is very important to keep information confidential because noone should know other peoples business in matters like this, so that is why we ask for two types of verification.

    • P.J.

      Article was very informative. You all just kill me, (lol). Reading others comment’s is a good way to start your day with a laugh. Could you put a little cream and sugar in my coffee please? Thanks.

      • JK

        I second that P.J. Life is too short to be negative, rude and complain about the simplest things..let’s all be grateful for the little things such as this blog for instance..very informative and a good resource for people who are facing such situation.
        Instead of whining about going on page 2 or 3 or whatever..just lift your little finger and do it already.
        It takes the same if not more amount of time, effort and energy to complain, whine and be negative than just going to the next page! People! change starts from one’s self before we can change the world.
        I am not a lawyer nor a debt collector.
        I’m just an average normal citizen.
        Thanks .

  • Dennis

    I agree word for word with the person who said “I’d love to read this but you don’t have a view as a single page option. Fail.”

    Slideshows are a nuisance.

  • Sanjay

    I’d love to read this but you don’t have a view as a single page option.

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  • Michael

    Personally, I always use U.S.P.S. Money Orders. Primarily because you are not giving a collector any information regarding your bank relationship(s), i.e. name, account number(s) routing number(s). Of course, photocopy the money order and keep the stub safe.
    Moreover, do not admit to a collector that you even have a bank account. They will most certainly attempt to garnish it once they find out your institution.

  • diamondsmiles

    What’s the big deal with reading one page at a time? Are you all that impatient or so important? You obviously don’t want to read it that badly. It was interesting.

    • Nick

      Amen, seems like folks are getting lazier and lazier. I have absolutely no problem with going through a slideshow. It’s not too hard!

      • ShortTime

        On the contrary, I stay kind of busy. I think slide shows are typically designed to advertise. Some elements of this article may be of a tutorial nature but I don’t think I need to see pictures to grasp the concepts being presented. I used to read slide shows but after comparing it to the time I spent reading one-page articles, I refuse to do so.

        • denko

          ST, … those folks no thaa= Monkey see, monkey du! You are not a monkey, but there are TONZ of um in the usa, or meximerica here and that is one easy way to capitalize on the people from thaa zoo.

  • Jim Myers

    …I worked in the collection department of a major retailer for a decade. It was an honest company that followed the law as written for collection agencies even though it did not apply to the original company.
    …A tip that I wanted to leave is not to try to “buy time” by mailing in an unsigned check. We had a rubber stamp and would mark the check… words to the effect that we would guarantee any refunds if it turned out that the customer did not write the check. *Most* banks accepted this and we would get frantic phone calls from customers because their rent check just bounced…
    …One other warning… If we got a check returned to us for NSF and we figured that it was deliberate… we had a couple of options. We could deposit it again, but if it were again to prove NSF the bank would puch a hole in it and we could not deposit it again… we were left with what amounted to a promissory note.
    …The second option was (for a small fee) to place it with the bank for collection… which meant that the moment enough funds were in the account we would get payment… and again rent checks would bounce…
    …Above all, never write a check that you have reason to know has been written on an account that has been closed. In most states that is a crime and judges take it far more seriously than NSF…

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Good tips Jim! Thanks for weighing in.

  • Rhonda

    I loved reading this article. I just received an offer on a credit card that they will relieve half the debt if I pay the other half in three months. I will receive a 1099c on the hald relieve. Glad I read these payment senerios before I agree. I’m curious what the 1099c inmpact would be on my taxes and is there a penalty with the IRS. Also will this debt write off linger on my credit report.

    • bobbywo

      Rhonda:

      The 1099 that is sent to you will be for the amount not paid in your settlement–in your case half of the credit card’s total balance. So if you settled a $5000 credit card debt for $2500, you will receive a 1099 for the remaining $2500. All of this money is considered income and taxable at whatever your tax rate is. There is no “penalty”–this “income” is just taxable. Generally a credit card company will report this on your credit reports as “paid in full for less than amount due.” This is generally considered a negative mark on your credit, and can remain there for up to 7 years. Another note–do not accept a settlement agreement over the phone–ask for the settlement agreement in writing so that you may have a record that this was in fact the agreement. You don’t want to scrape together money only to have a creditor tell you months later that you still owe on a debt you thought was settled. They should also send you a letter acknowleding they have received your payment and noting that the debt has been settled.

  • http://www.myestateguide.com Mike Fisher

    By a phone with a voice disguiser and have some fun… also caller ID! We get calls that do not belong to us over and over. We have told them we have had our number for 5 years and no one by that name lives here. They say they will do something adn dont. So nothing else to do then say let me get them and push your voice disguiser and get a good laugh. Its just some poor sap trying to make a living and at least I am not cursing him or her out and losing it… LOL

    • bob

      this is just as bad as cursing them out. in fact worse. at least if you curse them out and hang up you dont waste their time. time is money. the time they waste dealing with you messing with them they could be talking to someone who actually wants to pay their bill and therefore they can make their goal so they can keep their job. its not their fault the number is wrong so why dont you do the right thing and tell them and if it doesnt get fixed then contact the right people if it doesnt get taken out. why do people always have to mess with people.

  • Anna

    If a creditor turned a debt over to collections and then a consumer filed for bankruptcy, can the debt still be collected on? Due to circumstances beyond my control, I had to file Chapter 7. I tried working out payment plans but most creditors were not willing to budge. I went to a credit conseling service and they were unsuccessful as well. Now, I have a collector calling about a debt that my credit report shows is closed and charged off. I told the collector that but they continue to call.

    • Felicia

      You need to tell that debtor that you filed for bankruptcy and it was discharged on such and such a date (if it has already been discharged) and send them a copy of that page. Then you need to contact the attorney who handled your bankruptcy becauce sometimes it might take a letter from them to make it stop. I believe in most states it is illegal for a debtor to have ANY contact with you once you have filed bankruptcy. So refer it to your attorney. That is part of the fee you pay them for filing.

      • Gerri Detweiler

        Felicia is right. If you included this debt in your bankruptcy the debt collector must leave you alone.

  • Charlie

    For those who are visually impaired and use screen readers, having to flip through page after page IS A HASSLE. There is =no= justified reason why this can’t be merged into one page of information. @Nick: lazy my ass. When you’re going blind (from glaucoma, diabetes, old age, or whatever), get back to me and we’ll compare notes about “lazy” …. Until then, shut your ignorant pie hole.

  • Charlie

    To the moderator: If you delete my message, then what you’re saying is: disabled people don’t deserve fair consideration. I’m documenting any changes (every 10 minutes) and will file suit if I believe you’re taking such actions.

    • Steve

      Apparently because you’re disabled means you can come on here and be a complete douche…WOW. Talk about someone needing to shut their ignorant pie hole.

  • donna

    Is it not illegal for a debt collector to contact my sisters with different last names or my brother or my my parents everyday and leave harrassing messages with them or on thier machine
    I would like to know how to stop this Its not fair to my family and I want to resolve this

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Have you found out if this is a real collection agency trying to collect a debt you owe? Or do you suspect this is one of the fake payday loan debt collectors?

      Generally, unless your relatives cosigned the debt, these frequent calls are likely illegal. (And if the debt collector knows how to find you then they definitely should not be calling your relatives.) If this is a real debt collection agency, then you should contact a consumer law attorney right away. If you think it’s one of the scams coming from overseas, then you should report them to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

  • John Martin

    Watch out for Banks such as Discover Card. if you miss the payment a three times or more they will turn you into a law firm, who is nothing but a parasite debt collector. They will charge their own interest rate, jack up fraudelent fees, and then ask you to stop feeding your family and paythem. You can pay them for years to come, but the principal hardly moves. then they send you more and more letters using legal language to scare you. these parasites are poping up all over the place. The law does nothing to stop them. Minnesota is the worst State, when it comes to debt collectors. Attorney General’s office is swampt will residents calling in but very little has been done to curb their advances…

  • http://credt.com Chris Hitesman

    I hasve a sister who used to worl for a collection agency years ago but gave me a form for when a debt collecter called or sent me collection notices called the THE FAIR DEBT COLLECTION ACTcease and desist any and all attempts to collect the above debt. It is a Federal law that protects those that are not able to repay a debt. Is a provisions of Public Law 95 – 109; Section 805-XC I hope this will help those who have deby collectiors hounding to repay a debt. You will still have to make arrangements with the originaal company you owe the debt but by the time it goes to collections the debt has been written off but will re,ain on your credity report for 7-10 yrs. I know I am talking rom personal experience

  • http://credt.com Chris Hitesman

    in my previous comment I stated it was Public Law 95-109 Section 805-XC. It should read Public Lsaw 95-109, Section 805-C

  • DoughBoy

    Slides are a pain… Why is this done like this? To show different ads on each slide?

  • rick

    Charlie,
    one word…….RELAX!

  • Terrence Urbanis

    I sent for one of the annual free credit reports and the form I got back to fill out required more information than I had to give in the navy to get an ultra top secret clearance. I don’t think congress had this in mind when they passed the “freebie” law.
    Also, I let the phone use the “leave a message” option. These people are like the Nazis who wanted to know if your grandparents were Jewish. The people who lived in my apartment get a lot of calls but the amusing thing is when I playback the recordings and they say “press one” or “press two”, etc. Never hear on the phone who is calling for the individual and I don’t care to let them know they are being recorded. You are not authorized to give any person or company any of the above information.

  • Mary Riley

    I have AT&T as my internet provider, so you know it is slow and I hate to call them because I worked for a sub of AT&T and know Customer Assistance is the worst. So my new laptop is getting very slow service. That means it takes several minutes for these pages to download. I don’t want to be stretched out to 17 screens not to mention the rest. This is a waste of my time and has does not have anything of importance.

    so

  • no name

    In texas you can tell debt collecters to go where the sun don’t shine…They cannot collect unless you want them to…also, if it’s a very old debt and you make one payment, then it becomes a new debt and you are in deap poopoo…dtheonly ones that can legally collect in tx is the IRS, homemortgage holders, cars, ………the collecters can ruin your credit but which is bad anyhow………..lot easier to rebuild your credit than to pay those leaches off

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I am not sure where you are getting your information but it is not true that collectors cannot collect unless you want them to. While it’s true you can send them a cease and desist letter, they can still take legal action to collect.

      There is a statute of limitations, which is four years for most consumer debts in Texas, so it’s a good idea to find out if the statute of limitations has expired before you pay an old debt. You are correct in your warning that making a payment on an old debt can revive the statute of limitations.

      Overall, my personal philosophy is that you should try to pay off debts you’ve incurred if possible. But there are situations where that no longer is possible, and that is what our bankruptcy laws are for.

  • http://msn Judy Prange

    Thank you for your article. I found it very informative and useful. Those who didn’t read it because you didn’t have it all on one page, well, it’s their loss!

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Thanks for the kind words Judy. That’s what we are here for!

      • Lee Wik

        Gerrie, I’ve always had a pretty fair fico score (730 – 780 range). However, four years ago, I became permanently disabled (worked in the trades for 50 years) and since then, I’ve been hit with several events that have drained all my savings and put me so far in the hole, it almost seems hopeless. I’ve incurred debt that now exceeds $30,000. My one out is the equity in my home which should amount to approx. $400,000 (Mortgage=$145,000, estimated value=$550,000). My wife is also disabled and our combined income is around $3,000 a month. All my debts are legitimate and I believe in paying what I owe.
        The problem is, my credit is falling like a rock (I had a guy check it as he was offering to refinance my loan from 5.625 to 3.75 and he said it came back at 675). He has since stopped calling which tells me that the numbers are still dropping. I might add that I’ve got a couple of collection agencys after a small amount ($200.00 and $150.00). Sadly, due to an injury I had 5 weeks ago, I haven’t contacted them yet, although I plan to the next business day. Our monthly expenses eat up most of our income, but I could probably put aside a few hundred. Of course, that doesn’t begin to pay the juice on the credit cards alone. Do I have an out? (I’m afraid that if I wait any longer, I won’t be able to get those low points – oh also, one of the collection debts is bogus. My insurance plan has double billed me before and I have statements to back myself up). I’d appreciate any advice.

        • Gerri Detweiler

          Lee,

          I am sorry to hear about all the difficulties you are going through. I am not sure what you mean by an out…? It sounds to me like this would be a good time for you to meet with a couple of financial professionals to find out what options you have for stopping the credit problems from getting worse and then trying to get your credit back on track. You need someone to go over your situation in detail to help you figure out what your options are.

          I’d suggest you talk with a credit counseling firm and a bankruptcy attorney. You may also consider debt settlement if the major portion of your debt is unsecured debt like credit cards. I know you don’t even want to consider bankruptcy, but you need to find out what you own (including your home equity) is safe from creditors and what’s at risk if you continue to fall behind.

          As for the medical collection accounts, that’s a whole other can of worms. I wrote about that medical billing problems here.

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  • Vin

    Don’t EVER pay ant debts! Accept your mistakes and move on. Even if you pay, the money will just go into a money pit. Your credit will still be ruined. You will be no better off after 7 years than if you just stiffed them. By not paying, you can keep ALL your money and set it aside for when you will need it, since you won’t have any money if you pay them. Every dollar you pay creditor is one dollar less in your pocket. You made some mistakes. Don’t compound them NEVER PAY BACK!

  • JK

    People! Stop the negativity, the whining, the complaints! Geesh! Just go to the next page…it takes more time, effort and energy to whine than actually going to the next page…
    Just be grateful for this good, informative resource.
    And move on with your lives…by doing something positive like appreciating life itself.

  • http://QuestiontoGerri JK

    Hi Gerri,

    A debt collector faxed a debt settlement offer to my office fax that my co-workers saw.
    Is this breach of confidentiality law? What can i do? I feel so embarassed that my co-workers now know about my debt. Please advise. Thank you!

    • Gerri Detweiler

      JK – Yes it very well could be a violation of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. In that case, you would likely have no problem finding an attorney who would represent you for free. That’s because the attorney’s fees would be paid by the other party.

      Do you know if this is a legitimate debt collector? I say that because so many of our readers have been contacted by overseas scam debt collectors. If it’s the scammers who are trying to collect from you, then you are going to run into difficulties because they don’t care if they break the law.

      Have you done any research to find out whether this collection agency is a real collection agency?

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  • CSA

    What happens when you pay a bill collecter money and stop when you find out they arent licensed to do business in our state,you write to them to validate the debt and themselves BUT they fail to do so and its turned over to another collection agency 18 months later.Does that last payment start the statue of limitations for suit all over again? It’s 3 years for openended credit.

    • http://www.Credit.com Gerri

      What happens is you call a consumer law attorney who regularly represents consumers in lawsuits against collection agencies to find out what your rights are here. :) Normally the statute of limitations does start when you last paid on the debt but in this case you may have additional options.

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