Keep cool with debt collectors

How to verify and identify the debt as yours. Plus other important tips.

Debt collection is the top complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It accounted for 27 percent of this agency’s contacts by consumers. Many complaints were specifically about repeated attempts to collect debt the consumer did not owe. When a debt collector calls, it is important to face the situation and deal with it. Denying or ignoring debt collector calls may make matters worse.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act states that debt collectors cannot harass, oppress or abuse you or anyone else they contact. Some things they cannot do are:

  • Repeatedly call intentionally to annoy, abuse or harass you
  • Use obscene or profane language
  • Make threats of harm or violence
  • Call you without telling you who they are

If this happens to you, here are the three steps you can take according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. First, be sure the debt and the debt collector are legitimate. This step will help you know the debt is yours before you agree to pay the debt or try to negotiate.

  1. Ask questions to find out the name of the person you are talking with (write it down), their company name, address and phone number.
  2. Ask the debt collector for the amount owed, the name of the creditor, and how you can verify or dispute the debt is yours. If the debt collector does not tell you this information verbally, ask for it in writing.

Second, decide which action you need to do next to respond.

  • If you recognize the debt, you can contact the debt collector to work out a repayment plan that fits with your budget. Review your monthly spending plan to determine how much you can afford to pay. Use powerpay.org to figure out how long it will take to pay off the debt.
  • If the debt is several years old, check on your state’s statute of limitations for filing a lawsuit to collect the debt. In Michigan, it is six years. You may want to consult an attorney.
  • If you are not sure the debt is yours, write a letter asking for formal verification of the debt. You can use this sample letter template to inquire about the name and address of the original creditor, the amount you owe, and proof the debt is yours.
  • If the debt is not yours, use the Do not owe this debt letter template to write the debt collector and state that the debt is not yours and to stop contacting you about it.

Third, keep copies of the letters you send and keep the letters you receive in case you need proof to dispute the issue later.

A word of caution is to beware of debt collection scams. Some debt collectors attempt to collect even though they do not own the debt or it is old and beyond the statute of limitations to collect. That does not mean that you do not have to pay the debt. It means you have to be cautious about who and when you pay.

Paying off debt takes time, patience, and discipline. It can be less stressful when you use some available tools and resources. Find more information about financial management and housing at MIMoneyHealth.org

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