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Handling a debt collector’s call

By Lucy Lazarony ·
Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Posted: 3 pm ET

Are you receiving call after call from debt collectors about some unpaid credit card bills?

Take a deep breath, stay calm and get focused on your rights.

When it comes to dealing with third-party debt collectors, you’ve got plenty of rights, thanks to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

And those rights apply to every single phone call you receive from a debt collector about an overdue or forgotten credit card bill.

When it comes to collection calls, the debt collection act says there's a lot that collectors cannot say or do, including:

  • Using abusive or obscene language.
  • Harassing you with repeated calls.
  • Calling before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you consent.
  • Calling you at work if you have asked them to stop.
  • Talking to anyone but you or your attorney about the debt.
  • Misrepresenting the amount of your debt.
  • Falsely claiming to be an attorney or a law enforcement official.
  • Falsely claiming to be a credit bureau representative.
  • Threatening to sue unless they actually plan to take legal action.
  • Threatening to garnish wages or seize property unless they actually intend to do it.

Be polite but brief when a debt collector contacts you by phone. Be sure to take notes.

"Make sure you're keeping a record of every conversation with a debt collector," says Gerri Detweiler, co-author of "Debt Collection Answers: How to Use Debt Collection Laws to Protect Your Rights."

It's a good idea to make note of the day and time of the call, the name of the collection agency and the dollar figure of the debt being collected. You'll also want to include a brief summary of the conversation.

"You're just taking notes and fact-finding," Detweiler says. "Keep it short and brief."

If you believe a debt collector is treating you unfairly, don't be afraid to fight back.

Interested in negotiating a settlement with a debt collector or disputing a debt in writing?  Be sure to follow these tips.

Need help organizing your credit card bills and managing your budget? This calculator can help.

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A Guy in Georgia
November 21, 2010 at 10:15 am

Don't forget an important right under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act... you can require the debt collector to provide a copy of the original bill that they claim you owe. I was called many times about a supposed electrical bill that I allegedly didn't pay 5 years previously in another state. They were rude but I remained polite, and told them that under advice from my attourney, I was, under the Act, requiring the collection agency to send me a cretified copy of the bill from the electric company that they claimed I owed. Never heard from them again.
Another IMPORTANT thing. DO NOT pay 'just a little' on your debt. The agencies try to get you to do this using many sweet-sounding reasons. They want you to pay them even 50 cents because this does two things for THEM. 1) It resets the statute of limitations on the debt (if there is one) and 2) It implies legally speaking that you agree that you owe them money (i.e. it gives them more leverage over you).
While I do not recommend that anyone blow off a legally incurred debt, these are tough times and sometimes you can't pay everything. If the debt is more than a few years old, find out what the statue of limitations on debts is in your state. For example, in my state, it's 4 years. If the debt is more than 4 years old, and you haven't paid anything on it (see above about resetting the statue of limitations), you can't be sued over the debt. Keep in mind that a collection agency won't tell you any of that, as it kind of hurts their business.

November 08, 2010 at 2:05 pm

First thing I do, is that I don't verify personal information for someone who calls ME. I don't care if they say it's the pope calling.
Second, I thank them for reminding me that I owe whatever, and that I will verify the amount and pay the company in question. They usually say that the account is in their hands and that the company won't accept the payment. That is when I tell them that if the company sends the money back to me, then that's another story. Chances are, they never will.
Third, I won't argue with them. When they start to threaten or get abusive, they are then listening to a dial tone.
Finally, I pay the bill, either in several parts or in one.

yvonne hunter
November 07, 2010 at 12:52 am

A creditor actually called my neighbor and harrassed him until he brought me a message about an upaid credit card balance. She never specified why she was calling just insisted he give us the number She told him "You live right next door.You can take them the info". I'm pretty sure this was not legal.

Frank Van Schoten
November 04, 2010 at 5:27 pm

Diana, don't go off on the Credit Union. They are just applying the laws your Gov't has set forth. Privacy Act. Look it up. The Credit Union can't give out information on your husbands account even tho you have the information. You are not on his account so it is not something the credit union can give out freely. Get mad at the Gov't. Did you vote this year? I hope so!

Diana Lukasiewicz
November 04, 2010 at 11:39 am

I want to know if a credit card company can legally withhold information on a spouses card, such as the payment amount, when you just want to make a payment on the card so it won't accumulate late fees. On two separate occasions one teller at the credit union has denied me the right to pay on my husbands account because my name is not on his credit card. I have access to the bill at home and my husband gives me the information. I'm sick of Miss Attitude and am angry that she caused a major blow up in our household because I did not make the payment. I have even made payments with the bill in hand and she blanks out the balance. HELLO I have the bill in my hand, I can figure it out, YOU TWIT!