How to Stop Debt Collection Calls
You can stop debt collection calls yourself. The process requires attention to detail, an ability to follow instructions precisely, and action.
Or you can recruit someone, such as a professional from a nonprofit credit counseling agency, to carry out the task on your behalf.
Either way, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) puts the law on your side and all but takes the telephone out of the debt collector’s hands. The FDCPA prohibits repetitious phone calls that are intended to annoy or harass the person answering the phone. It also provides ways to stop collection calls at home and at work, something both absolutely legal and completely attainable.
But you must do it by the book: Validate the debt, don’t accidentally reset the statute of limitations on your debt, make your communication preferences and needs known in writing. And if you want help, contact a nonprofit credit counseling agency and ask about enrolling in a debt management program.
How to Stop Collection Calls
Everyone knows an aggressive debt-collector story. Thirty million Americans are in collections or subject to collections, many of them bombarded with calls, letters, and even threats from debt collectors on a regular basis.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau lists debt collectors as the largest source of complaints each month, racking up 200,000 complaints in a single year. What’s worse is that 65% of those complaints were from people who did not owe the debt the collectors attributed to them and another 27% were from people who had already paid their debt!
Obviously, some care and attention is needed when dealing with debt collectors. Here are some suggestions that should help.
First Things First: Verify the Debt is Yours
Errors in the debt-collection business are common. Similar names, similar addresses, and similar birthdates are just some of the problems that create confusion. In most cases, it’s the consumer who has to sort things out so keep these suggestions in mind:
- Even if you think a collection agent is right, you concede nothing. Ask to be presented with the evidence of each debt.
- Find out who the original creditor was, when and how the debt was incurred and how much the balance is, including a breakdown of interest and fees. Also, be sure to secure the debt collector’s name, address, and telephone number.
- Ask to be contacted only in writing. Additionally, ask the collector to stop contacting you, period. When you do it in writing — as you should — it’s called a “drop-dead letter.” And collectors are required to comply. (The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a great sample letter on its website.)
- Ask the creditor to send written validation of the debt to you. They are required to send it within five days.
- When you receive written validation, you have 30 days to challenge the accuracy or dispute the debt. If you don’t mount a successful challenge, the collector has the right to conclude the debt is valid.
Once you are sure it’s your debt, make certain the claim is being made within the statute of limitations. Time limits differ from state to state, and for different types of debt, but it’s between three and six years in most states.
If enough time has passed, a creditor cannot secure a court judgment against you. This does not mean you no longer owe the debt. You still do. It just means the debt collector can’t go to court and force you to pay, unless you don’t show up for the court appearance. If you don’t show, they win the case by default.
So the Debt Proves Valid: What Then?
This is no time to pull into your shell. Failing to communicate will not cure your debt problem, and it could lead to legal trouble. Instead, be open and honest about your situation. Maybe your cash crunch is temporary because of an emergency expense, or you’ve been laid off. Whatever the situation, being proactive can work only in your favor.
Attempt to negotiate the terms of your debt. The earlier you lay out your plight, the more likely you are to find creditors willing to cut you some slack.
If you’re so far behind you’re hearing from third-party collectors, you might even be able to negotiate an amount that is only a fraction of the original amount owed.
Stop Collection Calls at Work
It’s bad enough to have your personal phone ringing, but it’s worse when the calls come to work as well.
You have the right not to be contacted at work, and some local and state laws make it illegal for creditors to contact your place of employment if they have “reason to know” those calls are forbidden.
What’s the best way to give them reason to know? Notify the creditor, in writing, that collection calls are forbidden at your place of employment.
Once they receive that notification, they are prohibited from contacting you at work in the future. Failure to cease these calls could mean fines for them and potential civil damages awarded to you, if you take the case to court.
It should be noted that the original lender – a bank, auto dealership, department store credit card, for example – can contact you at work because they are not considered debt collectors.
However, if the original creditor calls you at work, they can’t discuss your debt with anyone other than you.
Debt Collector Harassment
Debt collectors have to follow rules laid out in the FDCPA. For example, they cannot:
- Call you outside of the hours of 8 a.m.-9 p.m.
- Come to your workplace.
- Use obscene language.
- Use threats of violence or arrest.
- Make the debt public or threaten to make it public.
- Repeatedly call.
Knowing your rights and what constitutes harassment can help put you back in the driver’s seat when dealing with debt collectors.
What Not to Do When a Debt Collector Calls
Certain actions can reset the clock on the statute of limitations or accidentally validate the debt. Some care is required when dealing with debt collectors.
- Don’t make “good faith” payments on unvalidated debt. This can reset the statute of limitations of the debt giving the debtor another three to six years to take you to court and get a judgment against you.
- Don’t agree that the debt is yours. Ask for written validation first. Agreeing to the debt limits your chances to dispute it.
- Don’t use hostile language — the call is likely being recorded and could come up if the debt lands in court.
How a Debt Management Plan Can Stop Collection Calls
Debt management is among the quickest, most efficient, and least complicated ways to get collectors to stop calling. In a nutshell, a debt management plan — DMP — puts a reliable, professional, experienced liaison between you and your creditors, and, because the creditor knows action is being taken, the calls stop.
The trick is finding the right credit counseling agency for you.
For openers, the Federal Trade Commission recommends avoiding for-profit credit-repair companies. Instead, seek a nonprofit debt-counseling service, one accredited by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Financial Counseling Association of America such as InCharge Debt Solutions.
Typically, debt-management companies work with creditors on behalf of clients to shrink monthly payments and interest rates as well as getting penalties waived or shaved.
The aim of a DMP is to reorganize unsecured debt so payments are affordable and predictable for the consumer, and acceptable and reliable for the creditor. Oftentimes, it’s debt consolidation without the debt consolidation loan.
In short, everybody wins.
What About Settling with a Collection Agency?
Occasionally, creditors are willing to accept less than the total amount owed as full payment. Sounds good, right? Who wouldn’t like to get out from under debt for a fraction of what is owed?
But be careful. Despite what the radio commercials say, you don’t have an absolute “right” to force a creditor to accept less. And the debt settlement process, though genuine, is a minefield.
For starters, do not confuse debt settlement with debt management.
Under debt management, debts are restructured into a single, predictable, stable payment. Clients who stick to the program pay back their debt over time with no additional damage to their credit ratings. In fact, credit scores can benefit from steady, on-time payments.
By contrast, whether you arrive at a debt settlement on your own (assuming you have a lump sum of cash equal to about half what you owe) or you go through a third party, the result will hammer your credit score.
Under debt settlement, companies direct you to stop making payments to your unsecured creditors — credit card issuers, personal loans, medical bills — and instead have you set up a savings account into which you make regular deposits. When the balance reaches about half the debt owed, the company attempts to get the creditor to accept that amount as payment in full.
Each situation is different, of course, but, depending on the debtor’s circumstances, debt settlement typically takes three years.
Meanwhile, you’re still getting collection calls and mail; late and, possibly, over-limit fees and interest are mounting; and as your delinquency ratio surges, your credit score plummets.
Even if you’re able to settle — some creditors will not negotiate — there’s more to worry over. Debt settlement companies do not work free; you’ll have to pay a fee equal to some percentage of the debt, or the debt settled, often between 18%-25%.
Wait — there’s more. Uncle Sam will take a keen interest in whatever amount of debt is forgiven. Under IRS rules, that amount is considered ordinary income, and will be taxed at your highest marginal rate.
In short, with all its pitfalls, debt settlement is only for worst-case scenarios.
What About That Secret Phrase to Stop Collection?
Lots of desperate folks have performed the “11 word phrase to stop debt collectors” search, in hopes of having their burdens magically erased. There’s even an infomercial hosted by Larry King that lays out the claim, and Larry wouldn’t steer us wrong … right?
Mostly, such searches lead to someone wanting to sell you a book or a system. The old advice about being wary of anyone who offers to help if you pay them up front applies here, too.
It’s not that there isn’t a so-called magic phrase. In fact, we addressed it a bit at the top: Make the collector prove the debt is yours.
Reporter Jake Halpern lays out the special circumstances in episode 532 of This American Life, with host Ira Glass: A Georgia couple answers a court summons about a debt, perplexed about its origin. So they ask the lawyer representing the collection agency: Can you show us how you got to the number you say we owe? Do you have any account statements? Do you have a copy of our original contract with the credit card company?
When the lawyer can’t produce any of that, he drops the case. So, why doesn’t everybody do that? Because most debtors don’t show up for court and lose by default. Earlier, they don’t press debt collectors for details.
Even then, a debtor is rolling the dice. What if the debt collector has done its homework?
Here is a magic phrase that isn’t a gamble. It has eight simple words: “I have enrolled in a debt-management program.”
Debt collectors who hear that, know they’re going to start seeing regular payments, and they’ll call off the dogs. Problem solved. You’ll never again fear the sound of your phone ringing at dinnertime.
Wesley, D. (2019, Feb. 5) How To Permanently Stop Debt Collectors From Calling You. Retrieved from: https://www.debtconsolidation.com/stop-debt-collector-calls/
Hayes, M. (2018, October 26) The Dos and Don’ts for Handling Debt Collection Calls. Retrieved from: https://www.magnifymoney.com/blog/pay-down-my-debt/handling-debt-collection-calls/
Williams, F. (2018, June 13) 10 tips for dealing with debt collectors, collection. Retrieved from: https://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/help/10-tips-debt_collectors-6000.php
Fralick, K. (2018, September 9) Is Debt Settlement a Good Idea? Retrieved from: https://www.fool.com/credit-cards/2018/09/09/is-debt-settlement-a-good-idea.aspx
Halpern, J. (2014, August 15) Magic Words, Prologue. Retrieved from: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/532/transcript