Advice for dealing with debt collectors
Don’t tell a debt collector where you bank or work.
This information is very valuable to a debt collector because bank and wage garnishments are easy and cheap ways to collect debts. Never voluntarily give this information to a debt collector. A favorite trick debt collectors will use to get you to tell them this information is to say “I already know you bank at ABC Bank.” Surprisingly, many people will reply “No I don’t. I bank at XYZ Bank.” Don’t fall for this trick.
Keep accurate records of all communications with debt collectors.
If you talk to a debt collector on the phone, immediately after hanging up, write down everything that was said during the conversation in as much detail as possible. Sign and date these notes. If a debt collector violates the FDCPA, your notes can be used as evidence of the violation. Similarly, be sure to keep every letter sent to you by a debt collector, including its envelope.
Demand that the debt collector confirm any agreement in writing.
If you agree to a payment plan or settlement with a debt collector, before sending any money, demand that the debt collector confirm your agreement in writing. It’s not unheard of for debt collectors to try to back out of payment agreements. Also, if a debt collector gives you an extension of time to make a payment or to respond to something, make sure they confirm that agreement in writing.
Avoid long, open-ended payment plans.
Debt collectors will usually agree to monthly payment arrangements on the full balance, plus accrued interest. If possible, avoid this type of payment plan. With the high interest charged by most credit card companies, you will be paying the debt back forever. If possible, negotiate a fixed amount and term. This way you know exactly how much you’ll be paying and for how long.
If you are sued, talk to a consumer lawyer immediately.
A debt collection lawsuit is serious business. Unless you are well-versed in the rules of civil procedure and have a good understanding of the deadlines involved in litigation, you should strongly consider getting advice from a consumer lawyer. I’ve seen many cases where consumers chose to represent themselves, had strong defenses, but ultimately lost because they failed to follow a court rule or meet a deadline.