Receiving a notice from a debt collector is generally unpleasant. Getting two such notices is even less enjoyable. Getting two collections letters from different companies regarding the same debt? Not only is that frustrating, it can be extremely confusing.
If multiple companies contact you about a single debt, there are a few things you should do. First, if you’ve interacted with the collector on the phone, you’ll want to ask for written notification of the collection action. Once you’ve received that, ask for a verification of the debt (proof that you owe it).
Debts often change hands. Sometimes, a creditor will place a debt with a collector, and if that agency doesn’t collect the debt within a certain amount of time, it goes back to the creditor, either to be placed with another agency or sold off entirely. You’ll want to make sure you know whom to pay.
One consumer had the experience of interacting with a collection agency, only to be told the agency no longer had the debt. Later, he heard from another agency trying to collect the debt. Confused, he posted to Reddit about his situation:
“About two-three months ago, I had received a letter for a collection for about $2,000. I sent them back a letter in certified mail to confirm the debt, and received a letter from them saying ‘we have returned the debt to the original creditor’ and nothing else. I didn’t follow up from then, and now have a different CA letter for the same debt. What should be my next step?”
In this instance, it seems the first agency is no longer collecting the debt, and the original creditor either sold the debt or contracted another agency to collect it. He should certainly write the new agency to request written validation of the debt, but he should also hold onto the correspondence from the previous agency. Whenever you’re dealing with a debt collector, you want to document your interactions, because the process can get messy.
Multiple collection agencies often contact a consumer about one debt, said Gerri Detweiler, Credit.com’s director of consumer education. When more than one agency is actively collecting the same debt, it’s crucial for consumers to keep track of these communications, even if that’s just maintaining a file of handwritten notes on the interactions.
“It’s tricky because sometimes these debts get sold and resold,” Detweiler said. “If you’re being contacted by two agencies, you can tell them that, ‘I need to verify who has this debt,’ and it doesn’t hurt to do that in writing.”
Sometimes, it’s not that easy to straighten things out. You may see multiple collections accounts on your credit report regarding a single debt, which can hurt your credit score, and if you can’t figure out who rightfully owns the debt, you may need to seek professional help. Detweiler said to contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or a consumer finance attorney in the event that collection activity on a single debt has multiplied beyond control. Whenever you’re dealing with debt collectors, keep an eye on your credit to make sure your accounts have been properly reported to the credit bureaus and are updated accordingly as you pay them by checking your credit reports (which you can get for free once a year). You can see your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com.
More on Managing Debt:
- 5 Tips for Consolidating Credit Card Debt
- Understanding Your Debt Collection Rights
- Top 10 Debt Collection Rights