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The Worst Ways to Deal With a Bill Collector

Dealing with a bill collector is never fun and it can be particularly stressful when you’re sitting on a mountain of debt. Sometimes debt collectors fail to follow the rules outlined in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. If that’s the issue you’re facing, it might be a good idea to file a complaint. But if you’re personally making any of these mistakes, your debt problem could go from bad to worse.

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1. Ignoring Debt Collectors

Screening calls and avoiding bill collectors won’t help you get your debt under control. Debts generally have a statute of limitations that varies depending on the state you live in. Once it expires, the collector might not be able to sue you anymore. But you could still be responsible for paying back what you owe in addition to any interest that has accumulated.

In addition to the potential legal consequences of unpaid bills, letting old debt pile up can destroy your credit score. Unpaid debts can remain on a credit report for as many as seven years. So if your debt collector is getting on your last nerves, it might be best to stop hiding and face him head on.

2. Saying Too Much Over the Phone

The Worst Ways to Deal With a Bill Collector

If you decide to stop dodging your bill collectors, it’s important to avoid sharing certain details over the phone. You never want to say that you’ll pay a specific amount of money by a deadline or give someone access to your bank accounts. Anything you say can be used against you and agreeing to make a payment can actually extend a statute of limitations that has already run out.

A debt collector’s No. 1 goal is to collect their missing funds. They can’t curse at you or make empty threats, but they can say other things to try and scare you into paying up. Staying calm, keeping the call short and keeping your comments to a minimum are the best ways to deal with persistent bill collectors.

Related Article: Dealing With Debt Collectors? Know Your Rights

3. Failing to Verify That the Debt Is Yours

When you’re talking to a bill collector, it’s also wise to avoid accepting their claims without making sure they’re legitimate. Debt collection scams are common. So before you send over a single dime, you’ll need to confirm that the debt belongs to you and not someone else.

Reviewing your credit report is a great place to start. If you haven’t received any written documentation from the collection agency, it’s a good idea to request that they mail you a letter stating that you owe them a specific amount of money.

If you need to dispute an error you found on your credit report, you have 30 days from the date that you received formal documentation from the collection agency to notify them (in writing) that a mistake was made. You’ll also need to reach out to each of the credit reporting agencies to get the error removed. They’ll expect you to mail them paperwork as proof of your claim.

4. Failing to Negotiate the Payments

The Worst Ways to Deal With a Bill Collector

No matter how big your debts, there’s usually room for negotiation when it comes to making payments. If the payment plan your bill collector offers doesn’t work for you, it’s okay to throw out a number you’re more comfortable with.

Sometimes, it’s possible to get away with paying less than what you owe. Instead of agreeing to pay back everything, you can suggest that you’re willing to pay back a percentage of the debt and see what happens. A non-profit credit counselor can help you come up with a debt management plan if you need assistance. Whatever you agree to, keep in mind that the deal needs to be put in writing.

Related Article: All About the Statute of Limitations on Debt

5. Failing to Keep Proper Documentation

Whenever you communicate with a bill collector, it’s a good idea to take notes. Jotting down details about when you spoke with a collector and what you discussed can help you if you’re forced to appear in court or report a collector who has broken the law. Collecting written notices from bill collectors and saving them in a folder can also help your case.

Bottom Line

Dealing with bill collectors can be a real pain. By knowing how to interact with them, you’ll be in the best position to get rid of your unpaid loans and credit card debt (that is, if you actually owe anything) on your own terms.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Steve Debenport, ©iStock.com/RapidEye, ©iStock.com/JJRD

Amanda Dixon Amanda Dixon is a personal finance writer and editor with an expertise in taxes and banking. She studied journalism and sociology at the University of Georgia. Her work has been featured in Business Insider, AOL, Bankrate, The Huffington Post, Fox Business News, Mashable and CBS News. Born and raised in metro Atlanta, Amanda currently lives in Brooklyn.
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