If you’re facing debt collection efforts, you know how seriously it can impact your life. The thought of dealing with debt collectors can make every call, text message, or trip to the mailbox feel intimidating. Dealing with debt collectors can be an annoying, frustrating, and upsetting experience.
As a consumer, it’s important to know how to deal with debt collectors, so that you can manage your finances and protect your quality of life. Here are four crucial things to keep in mind in the event that you start receiving messages from debt collectors:
1.) Respond Appropriately
Broadly speaking, consumer protection experts and advocates agree: It is typically better to acknowledge and be proactive about debt collection, rather than attempt to ignore the collection efforts in the hopes that they will go away.
A few things to keep in mind? You are entitled to receive all of the relevant information about the debt collection effort in writing within five days of first contact. Request a written notice disclosing the amount of the debt owed, the name of the original creditor, the history and age of the debt, and the actions you can take in response.
Even more importantly? Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, or FDCPA – more on that below – consumers can delay debt collection efforts and limit their communication with a debt collector by responding, in writing, within 30 days. As the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) explains:
“You have the right to tell a debt collector to stop communicating with you. To stop communication, send a letter to the debt collector and keep a copy of the letter… If you don’t want a debt collector to contact you again, write a letter to the debt collector saying so.”
Generally, it is recommended that you send the letter via certified mail. The CFPB also encourages opting for a “return receipt,” so that “you also will have proof the debt collector received your letter.” After receiving this letter, the CFPB explains:
“… the debt collector may not contact you again except to: tell you there will be no further contact, or tell you that they or the creditor may take other actions they are legally allowed to take, such as filing a lawsuit against you.”
Broadly speaking, consumer protection advocates and debt collection experts encourage taking these steps before ever attempting to make a payment or attempting to negotiate a solution with the debt collection agency. Paying immediately (even a few dollars) can restart the statute of limitations on your debt, and prevent you from taking the time to dispute the debt, seek out help from an attorney, or find a more effective long-term solution.
2.) Know Your Rights
As a consumer facing the intimidating prospect of debt collection, it’s easy to feel like you’re unprotected, vulnerable, and all alone. When dealing with debt collection efforts from a third party, remember that you have a wide variety of rights and protections under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, or FDCPA.
FDCPA is intended to curb abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices, and offer debtors certain rights. In particular, FDCPA places limits on when and how a third party debt collector may contact you. For instance, a debt collector is prohibited from contacting you in an unusual time or place, and must make contact using a reasonably private form of communication. Debt collectors are also barred from using obscene, abusive, or harassing language or tactics. As noted above, FDCPA also states that debt collectors must furnish requested information within a set time window, and must stop communicating with you directly if you take certain steps, such as retaining an attorney or sending a written letter.
Want to get to know FDCPA in more depth? You can read some FAQs about FDCPA and debt collection here, via the FTC.
3.) Keep Detailed Records
As the CFPB puts it:
“It’s a good idea to keep a file of all letters or documents a debt collector sends you. Keep copies of anything you send to a debt collector. Write down dates and times of conversations along with notes about what you discussed. These records can help you if you have a dispute with a debt collector, meet with a lawyer, or go to court.”
Generally speaking, the more detailed the records you keep, the better. Oftentimes, debt collection efforts are intended to put pressure on you and create a sense of urgency, which can lead to oversights and poor recordkeeping. Taking time to gather the facts, pulling up your old personal records on the debt and any payments, and keeping track of all of your interactions with the debt collector may empower you to dispute the debt, file a complaint under FDCPA, or set off on more sound footing in the event of a collection lawsuit.
4.) Be Ready to Seek Out Help
It can be frustrating, confusing, and downright scary to face debt collection efforts alone. Fortunately, you don’t have to go through this daunting process by yourself. In many cases, an experienced attorney can be an incredibly important resource if you find yourself dealing with mounting debt collection efforts.
An experienced consumer attorney can help you in many different ways, from helping you respond appropriately to the debt collection efforts in writing, to understanding all of your rights as a debtor. Retaining an attorney can also offer you certain protections from creditors, under FDCPA; at the same time, a legal professional can help you understand the specific variables of your situation, allowing you to determine if you can dispute the debt, or helping you go into negotiations with the debt collector or creditor. An attorney can also be a vital ally if a debt collector pursues litigation against you.
Depending on your circumstances, an attorney can also help you weigh whether or not to consider bankruptcy as a solution for financial relief, while also providing guidance and counseling to help you manage your financial situation and avoid serious debt issues moving forward.
About the Gunderson Law Firm
Have any more questions about any aspect of the debt collection process? Want to discuss the details of your personal situation with an experienced Chicagoland attorney? If you’re seeking answers or want to get a handle on your unique circumstances, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Gunderson Law Firm to begin the conversation.
Whether you are a business owner, a wage earner, retired, or otherwise, we can address your specific situation with strategic plans to help put severe indebtedness behind you so you can enjoy life again. Our professionals possess unparalleled expertise and insight, bolstered by years of experience and valuable connections with many of the top real estate and financial professionals in Chicagoland.
Above all else, we are committed to providing the advocacy you need without the attitude you don’t. If you have found other lawyers to be more about their egos than about your case, talk to Gunderson Law Firm. Our attorneys are not only highly knowledgeable and experienced, but very down-to-earth. We’re all about great representation and timely results, tailored to your unique circumstances. Drop us a line whenever you’re ready to keep the conversation going.