Managing Debt

9 Ways to Turn the Tables on Debt Collectors

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If your phone is ringing off the hook with calls from debt collectors, it’s not likely that you feel in control of the situation. But letting yourself feel scared or intimidated isn’t a good option, either. Go down that road and you may wind up making promises you can’t keep, or payments you can’t afford.

What if there was a way to turn the tables on debt collectors so that you are in control of the conversation, and can actually come up with a solution to put those debts behind you? You’ll find nine approaches to doing just that here.

Note, however, this is not about trying to get out of paying your debt if you can afford to do so. What we are talking about here are legitimate ways to deal with aggressive or relentless collectors who continue to pressure you to pay debts you owe but are impossible for you to pay right now. If you suspect the callers aren’t on the up and up, though, you’ll need different strategies for stopping debt collection scammers; and if you are getting calls for someone else, you’ll want to read about what to do if you are getting collection calls for the wrong person.

Don’t Wait for Them to Call

Consider picking up the phone and calling the debt collector yourself. “People I have worked with over the years find they have a different mindset when talking with a debt collector when they have made the call themselves,” insists Michael Bovee, founder of the Consumer Recovery Network where he provides free information about how to talk with debt collectors. “You are better able to prepare for the call and are dialing with a prepared strategy and purpose. Most people feel they are more in control of the call when placing it themselves.”

Check Them Out

By the time a bill collector calls you, he probably knows a good deal about you. He probably has reviewed your credit reports to see what other debts you owe. (You can check your own free annual credit reports at and you can get your credit scores for free on He may have checked out your employment using The Work Number database. He may have even checked out your Facebook profile.

You, on the other hand, are getting a call from a company you’ve probably never heard of before. And even if you know you owe the debt, it’s reasonable for you to check out the collector.  At a minimum, you want to make sure you are dealing with a legitimate company and not a debt collection scammer.

Ask for the agency’s address (you are entitled to this information) and check them out with the Better Business Bureau. Call your state’s attorney general office to find out whether collectors must be licensed in your state. If so, confirm whether they are. Most states provide an online look-up tool for checking the licensing status of a business.

What if the collector won’t tell you who is calling? If you have caller ID, type the phone number of the company that’s calling into a search engine, suggests Sukhman Dhami, founding partner of The Dhami Law Firm, adding, “You can learn a lot online.” You may find the name of the agency as well as learn about complaints from other consumers.

Dump it Back in Their Lap

If the debt collector is trying to collect on a debt that you don’t recognize, or you think the amount is wrong, or you think it’s too old, ask them to validate the debt. You have the right to do so under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. “Asking for proof how the debt was calculated and to demonstrate it is a valid debt you owe will put you back in the driver’s seat by asking them to support their claim,” says Steve Rhode, a.k.a. “The Get Out of Debt Guy.” At a minimum, requesting validation of a debt gives you time to research the debt to determine if it is legitimate and figure out what you can afford to pay toward it. (If a debt collector refuses to verify the debt after you’ve requested it, the company may be breaking the law.)

Stick to Business

You may feel guilty or embarrassed that you couldn’t pay your bills. The collector knows that and may try to use that to his advantage. “There is a great deal of psychology used by debt collectors to create feelings of guilt and obligation on the part of debtors,” warns Atlanta bankruptcy attorney Jonathan Ginsberg. They key is to try not to get swept up in the emotions. “When the debt collector calls, people panic, and when they panic they don’t think clearly. This leads to more stress, fear, intimidation, and loss of control,” agrees Rhode.

A couple of years ago, Ginsberg interviewed Kenny Golde who was able to settle $250,000 of credit card debt for less than 50 cents on the dollar and went on to write a book about his experience. In that interview, Kenny explained that the key to his success arose from treating all interactions with debt collectors as business dealings, understanding that their focus is on collecting funds as quickly as possible, and knowing he had a certain budget he had to stick to.

Show Them the Money

Reached an impasse? You may want to send the collector a payment, such as $100, suggests Ginsberg. “In some situations, collection agencies lose their commission if the file is referred to a lawyer so they will be less likely to turn the file over to the lawyer if they are receiving money,” he explains. Keep in mind that making a payment could extend the statute of limitations on an older debt and it doesn’t prevent a collector from suing you to collect. However, this could be one tactic to try if your other attempts to make good on a debt aren’t working.

Ask to Speak to a Supervisor

If a collector is trying to scare and intimidate you, write down those threats immediately and ask to talk with a supervisor. Make a note of the supervisor’s name. If you end up suing the debt collector for breaking the law in its collection efforts, “that’s how you get punitive damages,” says Florida consumer law attorney William Howard. “If it’s just Billy the crazy collector threatening you, then they’ll just fire him,” he explains.”But if you complain to their supervisor, now it’s not just their collector (that’s the problem), but their internal procedures.”

Call Their Bluff

If a debt collector is threatening to take legal action, don’t panic. It may not make sense for them financially to sue, or they may not have a strong case if you fight the lawsuit. They are counting on the fact that you don’t know that. “If the collection agency is based out of state they will almost certainly have to retain local counsel, so use that knowledge to your benefit and turn the tables on them,” Ginsberg suggests. “For example, you can say, ‘If you have to sue me, your company will have to hire a lawyer and you’ll lose out on your commission — why not accept my proposal of $XX.”

Tell Them to Take a Hike

Under federal law you have the right to ask a debt collector to stop contacting you. It’s best to put this request in writing, either by mail or by fax. “They can still sue if they want,” warns Howard. “But the majority of debt collectors aren’t set up to sue, they are set up to set you up on their autodialer and keep calling.” He notes this strategy can be particularly effective with smaller debts as many debt collectors aren’t set up to sue consumers for small amounts.

Talk With an Attorney

Don’t be afraid to reach out to a consumer law attorney or bankruptcy attorney for help. Many offer a free consultation. A consumer law attorney can tell you whether the collectors’ actions to collect from you are legal. And a bankruptcy attorney can explain what they can and cannot do to collect from you. Some attorneys offer both services.

Image: Holger.Ellgaard

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

  • Dona Collins

    I once had a debt collector tell me – in a very nasty manner – that it was “people like me” who had caused the government to use tax money to bail out the credit card companies/major banks. I told him that I was still a taxpayer and wanted to know if they’d credited my account for my portion of the taxes used towards their bailout.

    Thankfully, life is a lot simpler now!

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Yes the old shaming/guilt trip approach. Wonder if it ever works for them? Glad you’re doing OK now.

  • Steve

    Just joined My income is judgement proof. This is short version of situation. Hurt at work permanently disabled. Due to company not reporting accident I did not recieve workers compensation for months. Income went from $80,000 a year to zero. In court for over six months. Relied on very small award for next six months. I no longer could pay credit cards. I read every bit of advice on collections, bankruptcy (there is a reason for not doing this) and whatever. I started making settlement deals with collections companies and it worked right up to paying taxes on debt cancellations.The only thing I did was I started paying smaller debts first working my way up to larger debts. I have one more account that my credit report proves exists, which I am dealing with. After that there is a collection company claiming I owe money on 2 other accounts. There are no other companies claiming I owe money, just these mysterious accounts that could possibly exist but the original holder is not on my credit report. What should I do?.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      It sounds like you’ve been diligent about learning your rights. Congrats on the progress you’ve made so far.

      Have you asked those two companies to validate the debt so you can figure out if it is legitimate?

  • Pingback: A Debt Collector Came After Me for $8.97 | Best Credit Repair()

  • Credit Experts

    Glad we could help, Mr. Trujillo. We do actually have a checklist — in the form of an infographic — that walks you through the steps on what to say and do when a debt collector calls. You can find it here: What To Do If a Debt Collector Calls

    Although, it looks as though the image isn’t loading properly at the moment so we’ll have someone on the tech side look into it. Def. bookmark it for your records, it’s a nice checklist to have.

  • Credit Experts

    It depends on whether or not you live in a community property state. What state do you live in?

    To explain, if you live in a community property state, you’re typically liable for your spouse’s debt regardless of whether your name was on the credit card or not. In these cases, the collector could come after you if they’re not able to collect payment from your spouse. Community property states include Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. (Alaska has an optional community property provision for couples who choose to opt in.)

  • Credit Experts

    PJ – if the debt has reached the statute of limitations, you can inform the collector (in writing) that the collection is no longer legally collectable.

    To clarify, the statute of limitations (SOL) is the length of time a creditor or debt collector can file a lawsuit against you. Typically, the statute of limitations starts when you miss your first payment and go delinquent on the debt.

    Be careful though, as many consumers confuse the credit reporting statute of limitations with debt collection statute of limitations. While most negative information is reported in your credit reports for 7 years, the statute of limitations for collectors to sue and collect a debt can actually be much longer. For example, in the state of Kentucky the SOL to collect is 15 years.

    To find a state by state listing on the statute of limitations to collect a debt, this resource may help:

  • Credit Experts

    Terry – it’s true, making a token payment is a bad idea unless you plan to settle and clear the debt for good. Agreeing to a payment plan and then defaulting on that agreement again, will restart the clock and the 7 year period starts when you stop making payments again. That’s where consumers have to be careful.

    We’d also advise against the advice of ‘waiting it out’, or at the very least, making sure you’re aware of the possible repercussions if the collector decides to sue.

    To explain, if the lender decides to sue (which many collectors do), it could make the collection much worse. For one, the collection could turn into a judgment, which gives the collector more legal recourse to collect — wage garnishment (if it’s legal in your state), and/or bank account seizures. Secondly, the statute of limitations on a judgment is much longer than a regular collection, often spanning 10-20 years — and they can be renewed. In which case, it’s not a matter of them “expiring” and waiting it out. Once a debt makes it to judgment status, the only way out of the debt is to pay it or file bankruptcy. These are worse case scenarios but they do happen. The key is to know your rights and understand the process. In the end, it’s better to resolve the collection debt –settling it for less if you can– to avoid what I’ve just explained here.

    To learn more about judgments and what happens if a collector sues you for a debt, the following resources should help:

    Seven Ways to Defend a Debt Collection Lawsuit
    Help! I Found a Judgment on My Credit Report
    Creditor Gets a Judgment Against You — Now What?

  • Credit Experts

    VCS – Not having anything in writing limits your options but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck paying $12,000 for a $1,500 debt. If a third-party collector is attempting to sue you for the debt, we’d urge you to read the following resource so that you’re aware of your options and take the appropriate steps to fight or resolve the debt:

    Seven Ways to Defend a Debt Collection Lawsuit

  • Credit Experts

    Mark – if the hospital has agreed to a settlement, make sure you get the agreement in writing. This is very important. When you settle a debt, the data furnisher (or the entity reporting the debt) is legally obligated to report it accurately. If they don’t, you have the right to dispute it directly with the credit reporting agencies. Keep in mind, however, that settling a debt won’t remove it from your credit reports. The account will be updated to reflect that the debt was “settled” and it will remain in your credit reports until it expires, which for collections, is generally 7 years from the date the account first went into serious delinquency status — typically at the 180 day late mark.

  • Credit Experts

    The U.S. Department of Education recently released new regulations that make it easier for consumers to discharge student loans due to disability. The new regulations went into effect on July 1, 2013. To find out more about whether or not you qualify for a total or partial discharge, you’ll want to contact your loan servicer to apply for loan forgiveness. (You can read more about loan forgiveness qualification guidelines here:

    Keep in mind that there may be tax consequences (in the form of a 1099) for any forgiven or cancelled student loan debt — even due to disability. This means that you may be responsible for paying taxes on the forgiven debt unless you qualify for an insolvency exclusion.

    You can read more on these topics in the following resources:
    Disabled Student Loan Borrowers Get New Options
    The Ultimate Guide to Student Loans
    Cancelled Student Loan Debt Creates Tax Nightmare

  • Credit Experts

    DLW – While you cannot stop a hospital from reporting a delinquent hospital bill, does offer several resources that help consumers understand their options when dealing with medical collection debts. The following resources, while extensive, should tell you everything you need to know about medical debts and your best options for handling them:

    The Ultimate Guide to Solving Your Medical Bill Problems
    How to Fix Your Medical Bill Problems
    How to Negotiate Your Medical Bills
    Is It Ever Too Late to Negotiate a Medical Bill?

  • Matt

    My last bank had lost 2 of my paychecks, a third that they lost was located.Any the first 2 were supposedly deposited to my account with receipts, and since I mostly live off tips and only use my pay checks for stuff like rent so I never noticed that the deposits never finished completely. I tried to pay rent and they bounced the check back. My account had been nearly a grand over drafted, I took in the deposit receipts they took them from me and said they’ll look in to it, told me not to worry. A week ago I got a letter from a debt collector saying I owed the bank over 1500 bucks, I dropped the bank after the pay check incident and said I was finding another bank.
    Any suggestions?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      You can certainly dispute it with the debt collector, but they aren’t likely to get involved in trying to sort out the specifics of this situation. You’ll need to go back to the bank and ask them to pull it back from collections. Then try to get it resolved. If the bank is uncooperative, consider filing a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and/or consulting a consumer law attorney.

  • h2oelemental

    I had lost my job and was struggling to pay my bills. I was on unemployment which is a fraction of what I normally make. I was applying for any job I could (sad part was that I could make more on unemployment than working full time). I explained the situation to the collection agencies that called and told them that I would be making payments when I had a job and could make payments. One collector got very rude with me and accused me of being a thief. I never had so much satisfaction as the day that I called up the agency and asked how much I owed. The guy on the other end got very excited and asked if I was paying off the whole amount. I said no and that I was filing bankruptcy in 45 min.

    • Fetus Sandwich

      Thank you for making something ordinarily very unsettling and anxious to research and deal with into something hilarious.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I am confused. The Abstract of Judgment comes after someone has been sued, not before…??

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Great! Thanks for sharing your success story.

  • Gerri Detweiler


  • Gerri Detweiler

    That’s an amazing success story, though it’s not typical. It depends on a lot of different factors. Still does show that some great deals can be had.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    It may depend on the interest rate they are charging. However, that’s not to say collection agencies never overcharge consumers. You may want to file a complaint with your state attorney general and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or talk with a consumer law attorney.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Don – The judgment should have been included in the bankruptcy in order to discharge it. Did you file with the help of an attorney? If so, please contact your attorney asap for advice. If you filed on your own, then you may be stuck. Again, the only way to know is to talk with a consumer bankruptcy attorney.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I think it’s a great story and will be very encouraging to others who are going through financial problems and it’s terrific that you are helping others through difficult times!

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Thanks so much – and I am really glad to hear that the CFPB helped. Thanks for continuing to share your story.

  • KC

    I am at odds over paying for a debt that was turned in to a collection agency by a communications company. The debt had to do with about a years worth of phone bills ($118.00) for a phone line that was installed. I will try to make this short by giving you a brief summary of what happened.
    1) I asked for a phone line/number to be moved from a previous address and was told they could do it.
    2) Later I discovered that in fact they could not move the line and I told them that I didnt want it.
    3) The line was installed anyway (at a condominium where all wiring is there they just need to turn the line on) and started billing me to the wrong address without my knowledge. I never used the line as I thought it had been cancelled by my call. Of coarse, I have no proof of this because at the time I didn’t know I needed it.
    4) I did not discover that they were billing me until I was contacted by a collection agency because of the unpaid balance for a year. That is when I discovered that the billing went to the wrong address and was returned to the comm co.
    5) I tried getting the communication company to stop the collection but they said they could do nothing since they sold the debt.
    6) I explained all this to the first collection agency and I was not contacted again though they turned it into the credit bureaus which I successfully had removed.
    7) I am now being contacted by another collection agency asking for payment for same.

    What can I do to get this handled once and for all, in your opinion. Should I just pay it and be done with it or send them a letter with this explanation and hope they sympathize (which is a laugh I am sure.)

    Thanks for any advice you can give.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      KC – How old is this debt/when was the last charge assessed? What state do you live in?

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I asked because I was hoping maybe it was old enough that it would fall off the credit report soon anyway. Unfortunately that doesn’t appear to be the case.

    The only option that will really help your credit is to get the communications company to pull it back from collections so it comes off your credit reports.

    I’d suggest you look into taking them to small claims court. Make sure you prepare yourself with as much documentation as you can gather – copies of your credit reports, your credit score showing the damage, and anything else you have. If your only request is that they eliminate the balance and pull it back from collections so it no longer affects your credit scores, then hopefully they’ll decide it’s easier to work with you than to fight it.

    Let me know what happens if you decide to go this route!

  • Credit Experts

    Certified checks protect both the business and the consumer by certifying that at the time the check was written, the account contained sufficient funds to cash the check. The bank then puts those funds aside until the payee cashes the check (thus, the check can’t bounce). Certified checks are frequently used when making down payments on vehicles or homes, and they are sometimes used in situations where the payee wants proof that the check will not bounce. And yes, it is legal for a creditor to request certified checks for payments.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    You shouldn’t. I can’t say it doesn’t happen – we wrote about that here. If it does. here is what we have written about it: Credit Report Double Jeopardy Means Double Damage

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Brittany – I don’t know how willing they are to negotiate. You can always try filing a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to see if that helps.

  • Help

    I owe 2,400 in Hospital bills for a trip to the hospital I never even consented to, but since I was intoxicated they decided to do so on my behalf. It’s been two years since the fact and the bill was already sent to a collection agency. They threatened to take civil action against me in 30 days around 24 days ago. I am already in debt from student loans and I’ve been unemployed for the past 3 years to boot. This would cripple me financially and basically ruin the next 5 years of my life. What should I do? They know I am unemployed and have had trouble finding a place to live recently. Should I double check the bills from the hospital? Would any unnecessary charges be redeemable at this point? Should I tell them to take a hike? Is the amount small enough? It seems really large to me. . . .

    • Gerri Detweiler

      It sounds like this is not going to go away. I’d suggest you talk with a consumer bankruptcy attorney. It’s true the amount is very small but you need to know what your options are if they decide to sue you. If you haven’t already reviewed a detailed bill do that to make sure it is accurate. Also, were you unemployed at the time? You may have been eligible for financial assistance. Did you ask about that?

  • Rachel

    I have a credit card that has been turned into collections. I have continued to make the $100 monthly payments to the original creditor. The creditor is the bank that holds my mortgage and they have accepted each payment and applied it towards the balance. The collection agency still has the debt and said that they cannot guarantee they will not proceed legally if I do not increase the payment amount. Can they sue me if my bank is accepting payments every month? I was under the impression they could not get a judgment against me up if there has been a payment in the last 90 days.

    • Michael Bovee

      Rachel – Did you miss a payment? If so, for how many months? Are you paying less than the minimum amount due, and for how long?

      If you have not been making the required minimum payment, it is not uncommon for your account to get assigned out to collections. You would need to bring the account current, or make an agreement with the bank to pay less monthly (interest rate break), and after a time, they may bring the account current. That would prevent collection actions like you are experiencing.

      There are instances where you cannot get an account pulled back from collections. I may be able to offer more feedback if I knew the creditor and collection agency you are dealing with.

  • patti garcia

    I have just received a letter form a collection agency. I
    called the number and requested information, as I had no idea what this was
    for. I was told it was a Citibank credit card opened in 1993 and last payment
    made on 2003. I still have no idea what this is for. Why would they be contacting me nine years
    later on a $351.00 debt? I have checked
    my all three credit reports and have nothing on such a credit card, nor any
    type of blemish for this debt. Can you
    advise me on what my next course of action should be? I’m in California.

    • Credit Experts

      Yes. Ask the collector to verify the debt. This should be written confirmation that you actually owe the debt. Definitely do not panic and pay money you don’t believe you owe because someone is threatening to ruin your credit. This resource may be useful: The Ultimate Guide to Debt Collection. Good luck to you.

      • patti garcia

        Thanks for your response. However, it is my understanding that under the FCRC, collection accounts may be reported for seven years and 180 days from the date you first fell behind with the original creditor. How is it that 10 years later the’re calling me about it? Is there no statute of limitations for this debt?

        • Credit Experts

          You’re right . . .The statute of limitations is four years for most consumer debts in CA. And there is no way it should be on your credit reports at this point. You can either ignore it or send the collection agency a letter telling them not to contact you again. If they do, you should talk with a consumer law attorney.

  • Credit Experts

    Is this money that your friend actually owes? Your friend can ask the collector for verification of the debt if that is in question. But yes, collectors do get to set the terms of repayment. Here’s a resource that might be useful to your friend:
    Can I Pay a Creditor Less Than I Owe?.

  • Sim298

    Hi I am from Jamaica and I am in the USA attending school. The plan was to get a private loan to pay back after I leave college. My brother was going to co-make the loan, so that I could finance my schooling and take care of personal expense as an international student. Things has changed and that is not available anymore. Well my school does not assist international student to get loan Sad.
    The problem is that I owe a debt back home and the creditor threaten to send collector to me. I really don’t have it. I am struggling to go to school now has all my income is finish and I am depending on scholarship for the winter term.
    I told the creditor that I am not working and is unable to pay. They still threaten to give my name to a Collector. What can the Collector do to me? and what can I do?

  • Credit Experts

    We are consulting an expert on your behalf and hope to have some ideas for you late next week.

  • Anna


    I cant get a collection agency to give me verification of debt.

    A few years ago I had 3 roommates who walked out on a lease. I did not want to do that but I had no choice. Last year I tried to rent another apartment and I was turned down. Thats when I found out about the collection agency. I contacted them June or July 2013. I told them I want to settle this.

    The guy was very nasty to me (I have a speech disability and he was rude and insulting to me) and I called at least 20 times, he would never answer the calls, and I even tried several times to leave a message.

    I let it go for a few months and in January 2014 I gave the CA permission for my mother to talk to this guy because it is almost impossible for me to talk on the telephone. Many times he was very rude to my mother.

    She tried to find out the amount I owe. I sent a fax 2/22/14 as he told
    us to, no reply. He gave my mom 2 different amounts by phone but he said we let the deadline go by (we didnt know about a deadline) and he said he would not put the amount owed in writing. My mom asked to speak to his supervisor, he said “You want to speak to my supervisor ? – Oh, you’d better get ready for this.” My mom was shocked by the nastyness so she hung up.

    On 3/3/14 my mom called to get the mailing address, the woman refused to give her the address. We sent a certified letter to 2 addresses listed online, we asked the owner of the company to tell us the amount or for him to assign another person to talk with us.

    We did receive the certified mail receipt, so we know they received the letter.

    Six weeks has gone by and still no reply.
    Last week I received a predated letter (with no postage or postmark)
    stating they need more time to work on my account.

    So what do I do if they will not verify the amount I owe? I really want to clear up this problem.

    Thank you for any help you can give me.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Please talk with a consumer law attorney who regularly handles collection complaints. There is a federal law that collectors must follow – it is not optional. If they break the law they may be required to pay damages and the attorneys fees. You can find a consumer law attorney at

      The other option is to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

      But I have to warn you that paying the collection account won’t take it off your credit, or even improve your credit score. Make sure you understand the statute of limitations for this debt. This article may help: Does Your Old Debt Have an Expiration Date?

      • Anna

        Thank you for your help.

  • Charlie

    We were renting an apartment and we left it sparkling clean at the end of the lease but the managment charged us with carpet replacement charges for no reason. We told them that you did not have us present at the time of walk through inspection of the carpet and even though, we know the carpet was spotless. It was very un ethical for the management to charge us that amount, we did not pay and they sent it over to debt collectors who eventually put it on our credit history. We now want to take new loans and our credit history is affected. What can we do? It makes us very angry having to pay that amount for no fault of ours just to remove that bad credit history record. Any suggestions?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      It’s a very tough situation. In most states landlords cannot charge you for normal wear and tear. Do you have any evidence or even witnesses who can attest to the condition you left it in? We’ve recently published an article about this kind of problem: How to Stop a Landlord From Ruining Your Credit

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Often if you default on a loan, they can accelerate the balance and demand it immediately. That may or may not be true here, but it’s a matter of landlord tenant law in your state, which you are going to have to research. You may want to start here:

  • Credit Experts

    What does the lease agreement say?

  • Michael Bovee

    Sometimes they cannot settle with you, or will not reduce the amount to something you can afford to pay.

    Have you talked about an affordable monthly payment? Talk to them about any financial hardship options that you might be able to qualify for.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    My first suggestion is that you talk with a consumer law attorney. In some cases the judgment creditor may be liable for damages for failing to take care of this in a timely manner. Another option would be to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

  • Liz

    We have been paying off hospital bills for my husband, we have one final bill and the credit collection agency is refusing to let us make payments because we were making payments on another bill that we just paid off and they are stating we can’t make payments on the final bill because it has been in their office too long. that just doesn’t seem legit to me.

    • Michael Bovee

      It sounds like a convenient excuse to get you to try to come up with all of the money. How long has the account been in their office?

  • Gerri Detweiler

    File a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or consult a consumer law attorney. Let us know what happens.

  • Jean

    I need some advice, I has a default on a Wonga loan payment, the Wonga loan was handed over to collection agency/attorneys, once I found this out, I immediately phoned the agency and arranged payments with them. The first month the payment has gone through successfully, the second month I ran into a bit of difficulty again, I emailed them asking for banking details, knowing that the debit order will not go through but I will make the payment about a week later myself. They tried contacting me on my cell phone regarding this however I was busy and could not answer, about 10 min later, they phoned my employer for a garnishing order against my salary. Is this even legal to do, I have not received a summons yet, I have not received any judgements against my name. All that I have received now is embarrassment with my employer at work now and him interfering in my personal life. Is this company allowed to take such action when it was one missed payment which I was willing to pay just a bit late? Thanks in advance Jean

    • Michael Bovee

      Are you in the Unites States?

  • momgoober

    JDB Slayer…is there anyway I could get an email to contact you? I could use some help as I have just started getting calls from a lawfirm.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I am so sorry Kat to hear what you and your son are struggling with, but generally medical providers can turn you over to collections if your bill is delinquent. There are some exceptions for non-profit hospitals to give you time to apply for financial aid, but generally if you can’t afford to pay the bill by the due date you can be turned over to collections.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    It may depend on the laws of the state in which you live in. Where do you live?

  • Credit Experts

    Our moderators are not available 24/7, and, as a result, comments are not always reviewed immediately, as was the case with your comments over the weekend. Thanks for reaching out to us.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I agree with your point that there may be nothing that the creditor can come after, but I disagree with the idea of just ignoring the debt. That can result in the creditor or collector getting a judgment against the consumer. If the debtor goes back to work, inherits property or otherwise comes up with the means to pay, the judgment creditor may then be able to garnish wages, seize funds from bank account etc. In the meantime, the debt may have become larger. That’s why when someone can’t pay their bills I urge them to at least talk with a bankruptcy attorney (the first consultation is usually free) to find out what will happen if they ignore the debt.

    Thanks for weighing in!

  • Guest

    I had a judgement against me in 2010. What is the statue of limitations in Virginia to get it removed? It was filed by a bill collector and not the original issuing credit card company. thanks

    • Michael Bovee

      Can you be more specific with what you mean by getting the judgment removed? Do you mean vacated or set aside (undone in a sense)? Are you referring to credit reporting?

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I’m sorry to hear about the difficulties you are going through. I would really encourage you to meet with a consumer bankruptcy attorney. They can answer your questions about what will happen when the credit card company gets a judgment against you and how to protect yourself. In some states, a judgment creditor can go after bank account or other assets so you want to be prepared. And if you are struggling with other debts, then bankruptcy may be your best option at the moment. Good luck and I hope you’re able to find a way out of this mess.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Are you sure you are dealing with a legitimate company and not a scammer? 9 Signs You Are Talking to a Debt Collection Scammer

  • Michael Bovee

    They can still call and send you collection notices, but the statute of limitations to legitimately sue you in Washington has passed, and so has the limit to this appearing on your credit reports. Have looked at your credit reports lately?

    You can stop the calls and letters if you like, but lets make sure your credit is clear of this first.

    • John Hirsch

      They are saying that if I don’t pay on the agreement that the company will take me to small Claims court..

      • Hugh Briss

        Tell them to go for it. Then you can counter-sue them for knowingly filing suit in violation of the statutes of limitations.

  • Tree

    I am being garnished and I do not know who the original creditor or creditors are

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Have you contacted the collector who is garnishing your wages? What type of debt is this? Do they have a judgment?

  • Gerri Detweiler

    If there is a judgment then they are likely able to garnish your wages. If you think the judgment was improper then you will need to get legal advice. Similarly if you can’t afford the debt or want to try to get the garnishment reduced you will want to talk with a consumer law attorney. A bankruptcy attorney should be able to advise you on your rights. Unfortunately now that it is at that point.your options are somewhat limited and you really need to get legal advice.

  • exaag

    Be very careful about acknowledging the existence of a debt or offering any sort of payment. Some companies purchase old debts for pennies on the dollar and then try to collect even though the statute of limitations for suing on the debt has expired. If you acknowledge the debt or, worse yet, send money you can actually revive the cause of action. The companies will lie to you and claim the debt is still valid and enforceable. Do not get sucked into the trap.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    You are not overthinking this at all. If this winds up on your credit report as a collection account it’s going to significantly affect your credit for up to seven years. Get something in writing from them before you pay them. It should state that this item is not in collections and will not affect your credit reports negatively. Make sure you also monitor your credit.
    Here’s how to monitor your credit score for free.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I am sorry but I don’t really understand the scenario. Can you try explaining it a little more clearly? Generally if you don’t pay a debt it may be sold to another collector or they may try to sue you, depending on whether they think it is worthwhile for them to do so.

  • Credit Experts

    It should be five business days after the request is received.

  • Shonna

    I received a bill from a collection company on a debt that I owed from an apartment after losing my job. I called to make payment arrangements and they informed me that they couldn’t take payments I had to pay the full amount. They would not even give me an address to where I could send the payment until I gave a cc or debit for the full amount. Now here you have someone willing to make payments to settle and they gave me a hard time. So I told them that I wasn’t able to to do that and hung up. They have only called me twice since then which I find odd.

  • Linda g

    I have a situation where a debt collector is saying I owe them from back in 2004 for advance America ( cash advance) they have called my workplace and now found my cell phone number. Can they sue me even though its been over 10 years and the amount they say was $700.00???

    • Credit Experts

      Linda —

      What state are you in? You can check Statute of Limitations On Debt Collection by State to see whether this is still a collectable debt. If you don’t already do so, we urge you to check your credit reports for this collection. Here’s how to get your free annual credit reports. If there has been no activity on this account for 10 years, it shouldn’t be reported. (It can be reported for seven years and 180 days after it first went late.)

      As far as whether you can sued, it will depend on laws in your state.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Angelina – Have you spoken with a bankruptcy attorney? If not, I suggest you do so so that you can understand your legal rights and options.

  • Pam

    I was refused medical care at an emergency walk-in clinic because of a medical bill from 2001 for $126.00 that suddenly surfaced (I had been there 3 times already this year, twice for poison ivy). I had never been told about this before and don’t remember it at all and I think I’m being scammed. Its really stupid of them to do this because they would have made more off my visit that day than that. Whoever made the decision to refuse care in these matters is an idiot because they are also losing my future business over $126.00.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    It is always a possibility. I am not aware of any law that would prevent them from sending a delinquent debt to collections just because you are making payments on it.

  • Hugh Briss

    In some states, third party debt collectors are barred by statute from filing a debt collection lawsuit against a debtor and only the original creditor is considered to have legal standing to sue. This is the way it ought to be everywhere. In such states, any collection agency that even remotely implies they MAY sue you (using loaded weasel phrases like “pre-legal status” or “out of court settlement”) have already violated the FDCPA and likely violated numerous state debt collection statutes too.

    If you threaten to counter-sue a debt collector that continues to pursue you at the bottom of your dunning letter and cite the statutes they’re likely to have violated, they tend to go away. Remember that a typical lawyer’s retainer fee is at least $10,000 and they have to sue you where you live which is rarely where they are located. Even if they have an on-staff salaried attorney, they’ll still have to pay another firm to go after you, with no guarantee they’ll be able to win in court, no guarantee that you have sufficient statutorily unprotected assets to go after, and they’ll still have to do a lot of extra legwork (read: spend more money) to locate and seize your unprotected assets even if they obtain a judgment against you.

    tl;dr: if the debt is below $10,000 you’re probably not worth legally pursuing. I am not a lawyer, I am just a practical person.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Reveal to whom?

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Alan – anytime you are contacted by a collection agency, you have the right under federal law to dispute the debt and request validation. Have they sent you anything in writing? If not insist they do so – it’s your right under federal law. Once you get a letter from them, you have 30 days to dispute the debt in writing. It sounds like you don’t believe you owe it, so I would suggest you do that and send your dispute letter certified mail. Keep a copy for your records. In the meantime, you can then contact the medical provider (hospital) to find out what’s going on. If you were never properly billed in the first place, I would suggest you try to and avoid a damaging collection account on your credit reports. We talked about that approach in this article:
    Reader Stops Mysterious Medical Bill From Damaging Her Credit

  • Gerri Detweiler

    You have a receipt showing you paid (good thing!). You still have the right to dispute the debt. You can send the collection agency a certified letter stating you are disputing the debt because you already paid it. Include a copy of your receipt. Tell them that you are not aware of any further charges and ask them to validate the debt. That may take care of it. If it doesn’t, you may have to get the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and/or a consumer law attorney involved.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    You don’t need to discuss your financial situation with the debt collectors. At best they may try to tell you why that’s a bad move or try to make you feel worse, or try to tell you why you can’t or shouldn’t file. You can either ignore them or send them a cease contact letter telling them you can’t afford to pay the debt and instruct them not to contact you. They can still proceed to sue you (or they might move on to greener pastures!) but if they do you can still proceed with bankruptcy. Of course, this isn’t legal advice and if you’ve spoken to a bankruptcy attorney already you should consult them for legal advice about dealing with collectors.

  • missy

    question:(do i have to answer letter or no,if so do i send them a letter of validation even know they are already know they are suing me ?)i have already been to court 2 times now on debt of a credit card,they have an attorney,i get in the mail a letter from company saying i have 30 days to reply to letter or they are assuming the debt is mine, i only have until dec 26 to resond.

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I assume you are responding to the letter that states that they are collecting the debt? Yes you have to respond if you want to dispute the debt or request verification. If you don’t then you don’t. If this is a notification of a lawsuit (such as a summons and complaint) then you definitely want to follow the instructions on the letter. If you fail to show up in cour they will get a judgment against you.

      Have you thought about talking with a consumer bankruptcy attorney? If you are being sued for multiple credit card debts please at least talk with the attorney so you understand what can happen if you don’t pay these. Your wages and bank accounts may be at risk depending on your state’s laws.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Please get her an appointment with a consumer law attorney and try to join her at the appointment (even if over the phone). You need to figure out what her rights are here to dispose of it. You also need to find out whether their calls are violating any laws. You can find an attorney by visiting the website of the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Jennifer – Are these federal student loans (nor private)? If so I would really urge you to get out of default and out of collections. The collection costs you are paying are likely large and will keep you in debt much longer.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Unfortunately since you are in a legal proceeding I can’t help here. I am not an attorney and not familiar with the procedures in all states. I certainly wouldn’t want to steer you wrong on a legal matter.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Missy – Please consult with a consumer law attorney familiar with the process in your state. The consultation will be free or low cost, and if you can’t afford it, you may be eligible for Legal Aid. As much as I’d like to help, you want to make sure you are getting advice from someone familiar with the process in your state.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    Some debtors do challenge the “chain of title” on the debt successfully.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    As much as I’d like to help you, you really need to get legal advice from an attorney n your area. Please do so asap. If you are having trouble finding an attorney I suggest you use the search function on the websites of the National Association of Consumer Advocates or the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    It is illegal for the credit reporting agencies to re-report that same information without verifying it and notifying you first. You can contact a consumer law attorney (you may have a case for credit damage) or file a complaint with the CFPB. We wrote about that her:

    Credit Deja Vu: When Negative Information Keeps Showing Up on Your Credit Report

  • Gerri Detweiler

    It doesn’t sound like it was accurate, but it’s hard to say exactly. Is this the date on the collection account? If so then there should also be an “original date of delinquency” or something similar reported. If not, you can always dispute it.

    A Step-By-Step Guide to Disputing Credit Report Mistakes

  • Gerri Detweiler

    It should be settled. Do you have anything in writing from the company you settled with? If so you can send that to the new collector and tell them not to contact you again. We’ve written more about that here: The Loophole That Lets Debt Collectors Come After You Again & Again & Again…

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I am not sure what you are asking. If a debt collector is collecting a personal debt they are required to follow the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, whether that debt is secured or unsecured.

  • Jan

    We had a judgement for medical bills. It was for six months. After that, I called and made arrangements to do an automatic payment of $125.00 out of my checking. It has been six months. I called to ask to temporarily lower it and they said they could lower it a little but if I took it off of automatic payment, they would go back to court immediately and garnish my wages. Is there anything I can do. I thought I had the choice of the payment amount.

    • Credit Experts

      Jan —
      It must be frustrating to think you could choose the amount and then be told otherwise. It would be unusual for the person in debt to be allowed to determine the payment amount, but you are not alone in thinking you have that choice; it’s a common belief. You can read about that issue here:
      Can I Pay a Creditor Less Than I Owe?

  • deanmike

    I wonder how many people who borrow, then not repay (intentional or unintentional), go bankrupt, only to borrow again? It would make me feel bad to screw people over in general even if “it wasn’t my fault”. I just don’t borrow in general. I did buy a house but I bought small, borrowed low and paid extra until that thing {mortgage} was out of my life.

    I am college educated and worked (a lot) my way through school but I did eventually borrow some but paid that off ASAP and never looked back.

    I read the stories here in the comments and a lot of people seem to have borrowed with no way to repay, then they look to blame someone/something like the economy, sickness, etc, but that also could mean you didn’t think it through. Have some money stashed away for that rainy day. That used to be common sense.

    I always buy used cars, sometimes clothes. I bought a leather jacket for $75 at a thrift store and it was like new. It was easily a $300 jacket. I shop at Goodwill and other thrift stores to find deals on various items and sometimes those items are brand new. I don’t need a brand new cell phone every time a new one comes out; I don’t have 10000mbit of internet and I don’t pay monthly fees for anything besides electric (and internet). Live within your means people! It is much better and less stressful that way.

    I sold cell phones a long time ago and it amazed me how many people blew off their student loans. I was required to run their credit and they would pretend like they were surprised when it came back with a deposit requirement. I wanted to ask them why they were in the market for a cell phone with a $60-$100 monthly fee when they could be paying off their debts. It would frighten me to no end to borrow $100,000 like some do these days to go to school. There are ways to do it on the cheap or to pas as you go but if you borrow you will be paying it back some day. Don’t listen to all of the ‘normal’ people out there who tell you to borrow, they just want to OWN you! There have been people who committed suicide over various debts. I read a good article on that on huff post dot com about “The Ones We’ve Lost: The Student Loan Debt Suicides” and it makes you wonder if they were always told that borrowing is the way to go. So sad for them and their families.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I doubt that trying to sue him is going to prove worthwhile but you can certainly talk with an attorney if you really want to go that route. Even if you successfully sued him you’d still have to try to collect and my guess is that would prove fruitless.

    You can certainly file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and your state consumer protection office and leave it at that. (Keep copies of your email in case he continues to threaten you of course.)

  • Gerri Detweiler

    I’d still suggest you file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And Congresswoman Maxine Waters is trying to shorten the time period. I wrote about your question “Why 7 years?” in this article:

    Why Does Negative Info Stay on Credit Reports for 7 Years?

  • Gerri Detweiler

    You have the right under federal law to dispute a collection account. You should put your dispute in writing immediately to the collection agency stating that you don’t believe you owe this debt and asking them to provide verification. Send your letter by certified mail. They may not be interested in trying to pursue a disputed debt – at least to help not.

  • Credit Experts

    There may not be one — and fees can make a debt several times what it was originally. But debts under $10 have been pursued. See A Debt Collector Came After Me for $8.97.

  • Shannon Y .

    I got a text from my stepmom last night that they had a message on their home
    phone from someone looking for me (gave my name) and left a phone number and
    “file #” for me to call. I called today and it was a place called Turning Point
    Solutions LLC and he had the last 4 of my ssn and said they were collecting on a
    debt from 2007 through a Capital One medical revolving account that I last made a payment on in 2009.

    We did
    have major credit issues several years ago. I thought I had them all paid. I
    have received NOTHING in the mail about this debt, at least not in the last 5
    years. He said it was $600 but now with fees it is up to $1600 and they wanted
    me to pay immediately. I said no, I am not giving you any kind of payment over
    the phone- I want something in writing. He wouldn’t take my address to mail me
    anything, said he could only email. I said no. He said then you will be
    contacted in the next 5-7 days through your employer (threatening wage

    Don’t they have to sue me first, or get a judgment or
    something before they can just go and garnish my wages? I checked and my statue
    of limitations is 6 years and Capital One state (Virginia) is 3 years.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    If there is a judgment is its another matter. There is a different statute of limitations for judgments and they can often be renewed. I recommend you check out this article: Creditor Gets a Judgment Against You – Now What?

  • Ali

    Hi Gerri,
    I was recently contacted about an old school loan. It is either close or very close to the statue of limitation and has never showed up on my credit report. I thought maybe the school charged it of years ago. It is now with a collections company who made their first phone call to me yesterday. I did not pick up and they did not leave a message.
    Will this debt go on my credit report now? What are their credit reporting options since the debt is so old? If I settle with them would they be able to get this debt on my credit report?

    • Gerri Detweiler

      What do you mean by old school loan? Is it a federal or private student loan? (If you are not sure check the National Student Loan Data System which lists most federal student loans.)

      At any rate, collection accounts may only be reported for seven years plus 180 days from the date you first fell behind with the original creditor.

      But if this is a federal student loan then the default can remain for seven years and if you continue to be in default that reporting can stretch out.

  • Brian

    So i have an intriguing problem, a work mans comp doesnt follow through, a hernia surgery wasnt paid for (unknowlingly by the patient) when i was 19 and out of the house, the debt collectors did not contact me directly (ever), yet was on the phone with my mom, was given the my number, wasnt told to stop calling, and was actually given all the information needed to clear the original issue up. Now im not one to really complain all that often but this screwed with my mental state as well as my credit. The debt collector told me is was too late to do anything and that the debt is now mine to own. Would i have grounds to sue because of the damages now done

    • Gerri Detweiler

      How long ago did this happen Brian? What state do you live in?

  • Gerri Detweiler

    We are working on a response. Will post a link when it’s available. Thanks!

  • Ann

    I did try all those things and they keep calling and want give me any info. and the cursing, I was a nervous wreck…972-715-3291..I googled the number and reviews come up as a scam..and they still call. I have not a clue who this could be?

  • Credit Experts

    Barbara —
    We are not lawyers, and we can’t give you legal advice. We can, however, tell you that many bankruptcy attorneys offer free or low-cost initial consultations. There, you should be able to get those questions answered.
    Good luck to you.

  • Gerri Detweiler

    File for unemployment as soon as possible to find out. (Whether you are a single parent is not a factor in unemployment eligibility.)

    In addition, you may be eligible for other benefits as a union member. Visit

    This article may help:
    How to Get Unemployment Benefits

    • Jcorona2009

      Hello, I had a quick question regarding a debt that I’m currently disputing. I have tried everything I can, but I have nowhere else to go. Can I ask you through here?

      • Gerri Detweiler

        Go ahead and we’ll try to answer.

        • Jcorona2009

          Thank you.

          So I was involved in an accident this past April. The officer who took the report concluded that based on the information, he was not able to conclude who was at fault. However, since I was driving my dad’s car and I wasn’t under his insurance, the other driver’s insurance placed me at 100% fault and said that if I didn’t begin payments for the damage they would have my license suspended. I have insurance now (learned my lesson), but I was wondering if I should pay them a settlement that was recently reached or if I should just attempt to dispute this in court when and if they decided to sue.
          I honestly feel that the whole accident was not my fault, but I don’t know if I’m fighting a losing battle here.

          • Gerri Detweiler

            I wish I could advise you but I assume you are talking about a large amount and that it could affect your license. I would strongly encourage you to consult an attorney yourself…

          • Jcorona2009

            Sounds good. Thanks very much for your help.

  • Credit Experts

    We’re not aware of creditors having to turn anything over to a debt collector within a certain time limit. And yes, it can go to collections without a judgment. (A judgment is an even more serious negative on your credit report than a collection.) If you are not already checking your credit reports, we urge you to do so.
    Here’s how to get your free annual credit reports. You can check to see what was reported and when, and you can dispute errors if you find them.

  • Dee

    My husband sustained a motorcycle accident in 2012 was in the hospital eight days, the bill are 300 thousand we had no insurance and did not have a job, but did not qualify for govmt ins. do if have to pay that bill? they settled for 80K but that’s still alot, they have a lien with the attorney but by the time we pay out everybody we are left 50K of of 320K what an injust, everybody made more money out of this aweful tragedy…but thank God my husband is fine…

    • Gerri Detweiler

      I am glad your husband is OK. Have you talked with a bankruptcy attorney? If not, I’d suggest that be your next step.

  • J

    I was price gouged by a large propane company. I paid double the rate for propane after being told it would be in line with average price per gallon. I tried to get a reduction, I tried to find out how to get out of the contract but they bullied and arm twisted and it was a bitter, bitter northeastern winter and I was not confident I could switch companies because they auto filled and charged massive fees for emptying a tank and for breaking contract. In the warm weather I had a company come and transfer the propane to a new tank and I began service with them at just about half the price per gallon. The company came and got the empty tank. My 500 dollar debt has gone to collections. The debt collector originally told me she was in the home office of the propane co but I the phone # proved otherwise. I asked if she was a debt collector or in the propane co. – she said a bunch of legal stuff really fast and then got super impatient and aggressive- tho I thought it was fair to ask who I was dealing with. I explained the situation, said I had been massively overcharged for a year and didn’t want to continue to be strong armed, but offered 200 dollars to be done with the whole mess. They are hostile and uncooperative and I am not sure what to do next. Pay it all, ignore them, wait and see if I get sued. I am sick to my stomach and angry. I have an extremely tight budget and def cant afford legal counsel. Any suggestions? J in Maine

    • Gerri Detweiler

      Have you tried contacting your state or local legislators to find out if there are consumer protections that may help? The regulations vary by state and locality so it’s hard to know specifically what your rights may be with regard to the price gouging.

      • Gerri Detweiler

        You can find information about what happens if your income increases while in IBR in these IBR FAQs.

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