Paying off a debt can unfortunately be easier said than done. Usually the struggle is related to the debtor’s financial well-being. (You probably wouldn’t owe money if you could pay it back, right?) But there are times when a collector can gum up the works.
You’ll want to, of course, verify all collection accounts before paying. But if you do owe, here are a few worst-case scenarios you may run across when trying to repay a debt and what you can do.
1. They Won’t Accept Payments
There’s no specific provision in the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act stipulating that a debtee accept payment, said Troy Doucet, a consumer attorney in Columbus, Ohio — though you’ll rarely, if ever, encounter one who will give you a hard time about paying in full. “Most of them get a piece of the pie,” he said, so debt collectors will be more than happy to take the payment (and their commission).
It’s more likely you’ll run into problems when trying to pay a debt for less than you owe. And, unfortunately, “so long as the debt collector is asking for the correct amount of money, they’re not legally obligated to negotiate with you,” Doucet said.
You might up your odds of negotiating a payment plan by asking questions, taking notes, addressing issues calmly and seeking outside assistance from a reputable credit repair company. And if you are dealing with a rogue collector who for whatever reason won’t let you pay back in full, you may want to contact a consumer attorney. He or she could potentially file a claim against the party in question for violating other provisions of the FDCPA or for being in breach of contract, Doucet said.
2. You Can’t Track Them Down
Your credit report(s) should list any collection account reported to the credit bureau in question. A telephone number is also provided with each account when it’s available, so you might want to pull a copy from each credit reporting agency to start. If a number is listed, great. If not, you can try searching online for the phone number, email or address of the company on your report. You can also try contacting your original creditor, Doucet said. They may be able to verify who they sold the debt to and provide you with the proper contact information.
If the debt collector is not open to negotiating, the original creditor might still have an interest in the debt and be willing to work out or facilitate a payment plan, Doucet said. You can try disputing the information with the credit bureaus, citing your inability to pay, he added. They will kickstart an investigation and could incite the collector to settle or at the very least turn up some valuable contact information.
Remember, collection accounts can do big damage to your credit scores, so it’s in your best interest to get them resolved or, if they’re inaccurate, removed. You can go here to learn more about disputing credit report errors. And if your credit has suffered due to a collection account, you can improve your scores in the long term by making all future loan payments on time, keeping debt levels low and limiting new credit inquiries until your score rebounds. You can track your progress by viewing your two free credit scores each month on Credit.com.
More on Credit Reports & Credit Scores:
- The Credit.com Credit Reports Learning Center
- What’s a Good Credit Score?
- How to Get Your Free Annual Credit Report