Managing Debt

What Happens If I Ignore Debt Collectors?

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In 2010, a Credit.com reader lost his condo to foreclosure, leaving an unpaid second mortgage of $40,000. “I ignored their letters, never signed any of their notices, etc.” he wrote. While he may have hoped that debt would just disappear, it recently resurfaced. “Now it came (through) a lawyer to pay the amount,” he wrote.

If you can’t pay a debt, you may be tempted to turn a blind eye until you can figure something out.

But stonewalling a collector isn’t always the smartest strategy.

“Of course you absolutely have the right to ignore the debt collector, but the challenge is that it does not make the debt go away,” warns Mark Schiffman, vice president of public affairs for the American Collectors Association. “The process doesn’t stop.”

So what happens if you do decide to avoid a debt collector? There are a number of possible scenarios that can follow.

They Leave You Alone

This, of course, is what you are probably hoping for; that the debt collector will just give up trying to collect from you. Or you may hope they can’t find you, and quit trying to track you down. It may happen, but don’t count on it. Here’s why it is so hard to hide from bill collectors.

Your Credit Suffers

True, a collection account can appear on your credit reports regardless of whether you respond to attempts to reach out to you or not. But if there are special circumstances involved, such as a dispute over the original debt, talking with the collector will at least give you the chance to explain the problem and try to work something out.

The Debt Grows

Interest doesn’t necessarily stop just because you stop paying. Depending on the terms of the contract with the creditor and state law, the collector may be able to add interest and collection costs to the debt. “There is no national standard,” Shiffman says.  Some consumers have even complained that their debt has doubled over time.

You Bounce From One Agency to Another

If the first collector that tries to reach out to you is unsuccessful, your account can wind up at a different agency. And that may happen any number of times as long as the balance remains unpaid.

They Reach Out to People You Know

If a bill collector cannot locate you, it is allowed to reach out to third parties, such as relatives, neighbors or your employer, but only to find you. They aren’t allowed to disclose that you owe a debt or discuss your finances with others. Still it can be embarrassing if the person they called starts asking you pointed questions.

You Get Sued

Failing to communicate with a bill collector may leave the agency with no other option than to sue you. You can try to defend a debt collection lawsuit (here’s how) but if they are successful in court, a judgment will be entered against you. That, in turn, may allow the collector to garnish your wages or go after your bank account (depending on state law). This guide explains what happens when there is a judgment against you.

The Stress Mounts

Hate hearing the phone ring or going to the mailbox? Dodging debt collectors can leave you on edge. Yes, it can be scary or frustrating to talk with a bill collector. But the alternative — not talking with them — can be equally as stressful.

“Probably the most consumer-friendly aspect of debt collection happens when you call the debt collector because at that point they want to work with you to try to resolve the debt,” insists Schiffman.

If you have unresolved collection accounts, read up on the pros and cons of your options when dealing with debt collectors. Decide on your approach and then pick up the phone — or write the letter — so you can put it behind you.

Because collection accounts have such a serious impact on your credit scores, it’s a good idea to check your free annual credit reports to see if you have any outstanding collection accounts, and then to monitor your credit scores each month, which you can do for free at Credit.com.

More on Managing Debt:

Image: Stacey Newman

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  • http://www.coralseamercantile.com.au Coral Mercintile

    I don’t think we should ignore the debt collectors but if we will ignore then they will put more pressure on us as they will think that the debtor is double crossing us and he is not in mood to pay his debt. Therefore, we should communicate with the debt collector and tell them the genuine problems, if we can’t pay the debt.

  • http://www.credit.com/ Credit.com Credit Experts

    If the debt has been dormant for that long, it is almost certainly uncollectable as far as the law is concerned. It is beyond the limit for how long it can remain on her credit report. You ca find more here:

    Does Your Old Debt Have an Expiration Date?

  • kitty

    Twenty years is way over the statue of limitations, for example , it is only four years in California. You don’t have to worry about that, they legally can’t collect on something from that long ago.

  • Reighn9

    I had a collection agency come after me on an old debt that wasn’t mine. I kept telling the lady that, and I finally wrote the proper letter that the debt was not mine and to stop contacting me. So they sent the collection to another agency and I had to start the process all over again. As soon as I wrote this one, yes, the debt was sent on to a third collection agency. This was by far the nastiest of the group. They put a hard inuiry on my credit report, the first agent tried to say he was from the IRS and I had a tax lien. He wouldn’t give me any other information. We finally got around to a debt but he wouldn’t name the creditor. I knew I owed no taxes. He finally got irritated at my questions and gave me hi supervisor, which is how I found out this was the same debt that wasn’t mine that had been bouncing between companies. I wrote them a cease and desist letter also and haven’t heard anything more, but I couldn’t get rid of the inquiry. I wrote my state Attorney General and FDCPA and whoever else you report to, but never heard anythin back from anyone. How can you stop this snowball effect when you are trying to cooperate?

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

      First of all, if you are going to complain, complain to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. They are going to be the most effective in actually responding to complaints in most cases. (Include the names of all the collection agencies involved in your complaint. It shouldn’t have been sold after you indicated it wasn’t yours.)

      Second, I’d suggest you contact a consumer law attorney. The collection agency may have to pay you damages and pay your attorney’s fees if it is violating the law – and that certainly sounds like a possibility. Visit NACA.net to find one in your area.

      Good luck and let me know how it turns out!

  • http://consumerrecoverynetwork.com/ask-a-question/ Michael Bovee

    What is the interest rate on the loan?
    Who is the finance company?
    What shape is your credit in?

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

    It’s true – acknowledging the debt or making payment arrangements can restart the statute of limitations. However, it’s Ok to either request information in writing (if you haven’t already received it) and to tell the debt collector not to contact you again if you believe the debt is too old.

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

    This article is about the potential consequences of ignoring debts and I did not mean to imply that the only option is to pay. I’ve written other articles about how to fight debt collection lawsuits, such as this one: Seven Ways To Defend a Debt Collection Lawsuit

  • http://consumerrecoverynetwork.com/ask-a-question/ Michael Bovee

    Have you looked into refinancing the loan with someone else?

    Check with your bank where you have your checking and savings account first. If that is not an option, look at other lenders, and the interest rates available through them.

  • ANN

    yes, I’ve tried to refinance but I owe more than vehicle is worth so no one will touch it

    • http://consumerrecoverynetwork.com/ask-a-question/ Michael Bovee

      Do you have some additional money you can buy down the loan with? If you pay the loan down to a point where what you owe on it, is marginally less than the vehicle value, you could take another shot at refinancing.

      Short of restructuring the loan, you are looking at making tougher decisions.

  • Barb

    Can you please elaborate? How did you beat it in court? Did the original debt collector sell the debt to a third party debt buyer ‘after’ you won your court case?

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