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Ring, ring. As soon as you hear the ringing of your phone, you break out into a cold sweat. Is it a debt collector who is about to call you and harass you to pay your bills? You ignore the call. Later, you listen to a moment or two of the voicemail and delete it quickly when you discover it was the debt collector.

This scenario is all-too-common. Unfortunately, ignoring a debt collector is not very helpful and it can keep you from getting more credit and loans in the future. Here are some tips to help you work with debt collectors instead of fearing them.

1. Take thorough notes. A debt collector is often NOT the same person you worked with when you applied for the loan or credit card. They are just working off of the notes they have available to them, which might not contain much information. If you start getting phone calls from collections agents, the first thing you should do is gather all of your notes in one place — including receipts, invoices, past-due notices, and your own personal notes of interactions and commitments you’ve made. Include dates and names, and keep this log updated throughout your interaction with the agent. By doing this, I’ve seen debts reduced and even eliminated because a consumer was able to quickly prove that they have indeed made payments on time.

2. Keep your mutual goals in mind. Because of the delicate situation, it’s easy to feel like the collections agent is threatening you and judging you. But remember this: Both of you want the same thing! You both want to resolve the outstanding amount. You just have to figure out how. Keep that mutual goal in mind and take the approach of “let’s work together to solve this” and you’ll immediately feel like the discomfort melts away.

3. There are many options. Collections agents have several tools at their disposal to help you resolve the outstanding amount. They don’t necessarily have to have all the money up-front today. By asking what your repayment options are, you might be surprised at how quickly and easily you can repay that loan without a lot of hardship. Small amounts over several months will eliminate your debt and, if made on time, can even eliminate those collection calls.

4. Be proactive. Start tracking all your bills. This means co-pay at doctors’ offices you may get billed later for — and if you do not get a bill in the mail, follow up. You don’t want the medical office to send it to collections, and most times it can be as little as $20.00

No one wants to be sent to collections but it happens sometimes. If you find yourself in that situation, use these four tips to help you take control and work most effectively with a collections agency.

Image: Andres Rueda, via Flickr

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