Today I was reminded of a story of a real family man in Tampa, Florida who somehow got into trouble financially. He found himself plagued with debt collector calls and some of them were downright unscrupulous. One collector actually threatened that he would call the Child Welfare Services office and have them take his children away. As you can imagine, sometimes the situation can get beastly depending on whether the collector woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Maybe your finances have taken a downward turn and you’ve already had the unexpected pleasure of dealing with debt collectors. In this case you should know that all of them know their limits of harassment as set forth by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act but these limits are easily forgotten. In order to stop your life from collapsing around you, it’s necessary to know the FDCPA rules and some basic strategies to protect yourself.
Let’s start with strategies from your end. If you begin to receive collection calls and are confident that you can immediately make monthly payment arrangements, talk to the collectors as soon as possible. However, if you believe that it will take a few months before you can make payment arrangements, you should avoid talking to them until you have the financial wherewithal.
Does this strategy of sticking your head in the sand sound silly? It’s actually not. If you can stretch out the time between collector calls this will give you more time to parlay enough cash on your end and it also will subdue them from referring your debt to their legal department. When a collector looks at your account on the screen and sees 10 verbal contacts in the history, there’s little difference between a time span of 2 months and 3 months. And no matter which strategy you choose to address the situation, DO NOT tell them that you have a job. Some debt collectors who learn of this just refer the debt to their legal department by default. They know that if they sue, they can get a judgment that’s worth 6 times more than the original debt. This total sum will then be garnished from your wages.
Typically, the referral of a debt to the legal department doesn’t happen until 120 days have passed. Perhaps the critical point comes around the 135 day mark. Know that if you do choose to wait to address your debt problem, interest is still accruing in the meantime. And by the time you can talk to the collectors, you’ll have racked up a debt of maybe several thousand dollars more (a result of banks raising the interest rate).
In my opinion, if you are unable to address your debt problem with collectors in the beginning your best solution is to talk to a debt counseling service which will bargain on your behalf for a lower rate and help make payment arrangements. This counseling service may even consolidate your debt into one bundle which will give you the privilege of an extremely low rate. This rate will counter the excessive and unfair rates that you’ve recently been yoked with at your credit card companies’ discretion.
Studying the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
Know that the collectors who call you are going to make stringent demands on you. So you have to keep them at the same level of accountability. By studying the details of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act you will know when they are crossing over their boundaries. In fact, if you have multiple debts there’s a good chance that this will happen. When they do this you can use this information against them if they want to pursue legal action. So how do you log what is said? The best way is to record all phone conversations and save them. The catch is that you have to confirm what state each collector is calling from. If one is living in a 2 party consent state, you must ask permission first. As of this writing, there are 12 such states which are Connecticut, California, Florida, New Hampshire, Maryland , Illinois, Massachusetts, Montana, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Washington.
The basic rules of debt collection as set forth by the FDCA are as follows:
1) All calls must take place between 8 AM to 9 PM.
2) Using profane or abusive language is not permitted.
3) Collectors may not threaten to sue or have you arrested if debts are not paid.
4) Third parties may be contacted but no information about the debt may be disclosed.
5) Deception may not be used to collect a debt. This includes posing as an attorney.
6) There may be no communication between you and the collector for 30 days if you have requested them to validate a debt that you supposedly owe.
7) Collectors may not seek unjustified amounts. If you suspect that they are demanding an exorbitant amount to cover you debts, validate their claim.
8) You may not be contacted if you state that you are being represented by an attorney.
9) Calls with the purpose of harassing are illegal. This includes causing the phone to repeatedly ring.
10) Contact through embarrassing media like postcards is illegal. As for envelopes, the name of a company may be put in the return address area if it is not recognizable as a collections agency.
11) Your name and address may not be posted to a “bad debt” list on the internet.
12) You may not be contacted at any number that you inform collectors not to use.
It may come as a surprise but there are some debt collectors out there with good hearts. These are people who consistently bridge the chasm of sensitivity and effectiveness and as a result are able to keep stores profitable and inflation down. You also have to realize that in a bleak and stressful atmosphere like a collections office, personalities tend to change. I’m reminded of a friend who worked as a collector straight out of college. In the beginning he was a lamb but after a couple months a debtor contacted his boss and complained that he sounded like he was from the mob. My friend told me that’s when he knew he had crossed the line.
So with this backdrop of the industry in your mind, hopefully you will be able to address collection calls from a different perspective. And with a thorough knowledge of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act you stand a better chance of squelching the fear that debt collectors try to transmit through the phone. I kid you not when I say this; if you take the time to study the FDCPA, you have a good chance at stopping the collectors in their tracks during the first call. By firmly showing them that you know what you’re talking about you can put them on the defensive so that they have a healthy respect for you. And they will document their perception of you in their notes so that other collectors know not to pull any of their devilish tricks. But of course the best plan of attack is making payment arrangements with them from the get go and faithfully sticking to them.