If you’re in debt, one of the most important things to do is establish some lines in the sand when it comes to dealing with bill collectors. Without clear boundaries, they’re liable to keep the pressure so high you’ll never be able to think clearly enough to reorganize your finances.
You want to get out of debt, whether it’s by paying off the bill collectors or filing for bankruptcy. But when the pressure’s high, you’re not going to be able to think clearly.
Very few people know how to establish boundaries with bill collectors. Of those who do, many do it poorly or inconsistently. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and related state and federal laws are largely unknown.
The most amazing mistake I see is when someone tells a bill collector to stop calling but then does nothing to enforce their decision.
What should you be doing? Here are three ideas to get you moving in the right direction.
Demand That All Contact Stop
Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, a bill collector can’t contact you if you demand that they cease such activities. Once your request is received, the collector can call or write one time to let you know they won’t be calling anymore.
One trick to this is that you need to make your request in writing, and do so clearly. In other words, write, “Do not call or write me anymore.” Don’t say, “I don’t like you calling me late at night.”
The second trick is to get your letter into the bill collector’s hands as quickly as possible – and be able to prove it. I like to send these letters by fax or overnight mail on behalf of my clients because it is quick and establishes proof that we told the collectors to buzz off.
You get extra points by adding to your letter (if it’s true, that is), that you dispute the debt. That’s going to trigger the Fair Credit Reporting Act as well, though it will come in handy only if you need to take legal action later on.
Defend Collection Lawsuits
If you get sued, don’t sit around and wait for something to happen. You get only so much time to answer the complaint, and if you do nothing then a judgment will inevitably follow.
Defend the lawsuit using everything you can muster. It may lead to a settlement or, even better, the entire debt going away.
Either hire a lawyer like me or head down to court so you can protect your rights. This will hold the collectors at bay for at least a little while longer, and give you more leverage in negotiations.
Call A Lawyer
If you’ve done all you could to get the bill collectors to stop hounding you, it’s time to call a lawyer. If you’re in an area where I practice, reach out to me; if not, there are probably at least a few seasoned consumer protection lawyers near you.
Federal law dictates the rules of the collection game, as well as the penalties for failing to play by those rules. If bill collectors engage in improper tactics, you’ve got some powerful tools to fight back.
Image credit: akeg
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