’Tis the season for consumers to get prepared for the two busiest and most expensive holidays of the year, Thanksgiving and Christmas. ’Tis is also the season when debt collectors begin the process of preparing their training plan and strategies for their busiest and most productive time of each year: tax season. For debt collectors, tax season spans from mid-February to the end of May each year, when the majority of income tax refunds are sent back to consumers by federal and state governments. And what do consumers do with their tax returns? Nearly 40% of consumers who were anticipating income tax refunds planned to pay down their debt with it, according to a National Retail Federation survey earlier this year.
This four-month time period presents a win-win scenario for both consumers and debt collectors. For consumers who receive an income tax refund and want to use it to pare down debt, tax season simply presents an opportunity for them to work with debt collectors and pay off their debt in full. For those consumers who might not be able to pay off their debt in full and want to try and settle their account for less than the balance owed, tax season also is an opportune time to negotiate settlements with debt collectors.
While debt collectors generally have the ability to offer settlements on accounts throughout the entire year, they are often provided with more flexibility during tax season when it comes to accepting less for a settlement. (However, not all debt collectors can accept settlements, and whether a debt collector can settle an account for less than the balance is pre-determined by their contract with their client.) But clients and debt collectors alike understand that almost half of those consumers who receive an income tax refund will use it to pay down debt, so it isn’t a matter of whether the consumer is going to pay their debt with their income tax refund, it becomes a matter of who they are going to pay. That is where the consumer has the upper hand and ultimately the consumer will pay the debt collector that is most willing to work with them and give them the best deal.
This is why tax season is debt collectors’ busiest and most productive time of year; they understand the unique challenge and opportunity tax season presents and they want to capitalize on it. From my experience, debt collectors on average will see an increase in production somewhere between 20%-40% compared to the other eight months of the year — in some cases even more. This increase is not just tied to pure dollars collected but across the board on all measurable metrics, the most important one being consumer contacts. This means consumers openly communicate with debt collectors an average of 20%-40% more during tax time, mainly because they have funds to pay their debts.
The challenge for debt collectors during tax season is trying to be one of the first debt collectors to establish contact with consumers and get the consumer committed to paying the debt once they receive their income tax refund. For consumers who have decided to use their tax refund to pay debt, their biggest challenge is trying to pay off or settle as much of their debt as possible.
It’s important to remember the credit consequences of unpaid collection accounts. Even just one unpaid bill that gets sent to collections can have a major impact on your credit score. (You can check your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com.)
Ultimately, however, tax season presents a mutually beneficial opportunity for both consumers and debt collectors to work toward a solution for paying the debt.
You can find the collection accounts in your name by checking your credit report, and you can get free copies of your credit report once a year under federal law.
More on Managing Debt:
- 5 Tips for Consolidating Credit Card Debt
- The Best Way to Loan Money to Friends & Family
- Top 10 Debt Collection Rights