How to Stop Debt Collection Calls
Did you know there are laws to protect you from being harassed by debt collectors?
From lying about your debt to pestering you repeatedly on the phone, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) says that certain tactics are out-right illegal.
You may feel powerless over debt collectors but understanding your rights can help you stop the harassment, verify if a debt is legitimate and even save money. And if you want help, a nonprofit credit counseling agency can walk you through all of your options for free.
Advantages of Getting Debt Collectors to Stop Calling
Excessive calls and threats can be part of a debt collectors’ strategy. When a collector puts pressure on you or scares you, you’re more likely to send money and overlook your rights.
Talking to a debt collector can also make your situation worse. For example, if you tell a debt collection agent that you’re going to send money, but then don’t follow through, you could accidentally extend the statute of limitations, which is the amount of time the collector has to sue you.
Using your legal right to end these calls can relieve your stress, give you a chance to determine if you really owe the money and even give you time to seek professional help from credit counselors.
Disadvantages of Getting Debt Collectors to Stop Calling
On the other hand, ignoring debt collectors can be a bad strategy. If you don’t answer calls or open letters regarding the account, the situation can get worse.
The debt collector might add interest charges to your balance or even attempt to sue you. If you ignore a court summons from a debt collector, you could lose a credit card lawsuit by default and have your wages garnished.
If a collector reaches out, the best strategy is to get as much information as you can about the debt without providing any personal information or acknowledging that the debt is yours.
How to Stop Collection Calls
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) received 121,700 complaints about debt collectors in 2021.
By far, the most common complaint was about attempts to collect debt that the consumer didn’t owe (56% ), but other top complaints revolved around inappropriate communication.
In other words, if you’re dealing with debt collectors there’s a good chance you’re experiencing some kind of misconduct. Here’s how you can advocate for yourself and put an end to intimidating calls:
1. Verify the Debt is Yours
Before you stop the calls, be sure to get some information. When you have a debt collector on the phone, make sure you go over the following points:
- Collect details about the debt. Find out who the original creditor was, when and how the debt was incurred and what the balance is, including a breakdown of interest charges and fees.
- Find out who you’re speaking with. Be sure to record the agent’s name and the company’s name, address and telephone number.
- Ask for a written validation of the debt. The collector is required to send a letter confirming the debt details within five days.
- Ask to be contacted in writing only. Ask the collector to stop contacting you except by mail.
Once you have the details, it’s time to do a little research. You’ll have 30 days after initial contact with the collector to check and see if the debt belongs to you.
You can verify this in a few ways. Try looking through your financial records, including bank statements, receipts and old bills. You also can pull your free credit reports to confirm where the debt originated.
If the debt doesn’t belong to you, send the collector a dispute letter (see the CFPB’s sample letters here).
Determine if You Really Have to Pay
If the debt is yours, you may still have the option not to pay. Under the following circumstances, a collector may not be able to successfully take legal action and get the money back:
- If the statute of limitations has passed. Once this timeframe passes, you’re no longer legally required to pay a debt. Time limits differ from state to state, but in most states the statute is between three and six years since your last payment toward the debt.
- You’re “judgment proof.” Debt collectors may not be able to if your income is limited to federal benefits (such as Social Security or VA) and you have the benefits directly deposited into your bank account.
- You’re already paying the maximum wage garnishment. Your employer can’t legally withhold more than 25% of your disposable income for a wage garnishment. In other words, if you’re already paying a debt via a wage garnishment, you might not have to repay the additional debt.
- You’ve recently filed bankruptcy. If you have a pending bankruptcy case, debt collectors can’t take any action to try and get money from you.
If you believe one of these circumstances applies, reach out to a professional, nonprofit credit counselor or an attorney for advice.
2. Negotiate Your Debt
If the debt is yours and you’re not exempt from legal action, the next step is to consider negotiating. Here’s the best way to proceed:
- Save up money. If you don’t have cash set aside, try to save about 40%-50% of the total debt balance. Be prepared to offer the money as a one-time, lump-sum payment if the creditor threatens legal action but avoid sending it in monthly installments since this can put you at risk of defaulting again and being sued.
- Call the debt collector. Don’t reach out to a collector until you have money to offer. Collectors pay very little to buy your debt, so you can start by offering as little as 20% . If the agent won’t accept 50% or less, try calling back and talking to someone else.
- Ask for the agreement . Once you’ve agreed on the amount, ask for a written statement showing that your offer will be accepted as “payment in full”.
- Send a money order. Instead of providing your financial account information, send a money order. Make sure to ask USPS for a return receipt so you have proof the payment was received.
3. Send a Cease-and-Desist Letter
If you want a debt collector to stop contacting you, the FDCPA gives you the right to make that happen. Putting your request in writing, via a cease-and-desist letter, is an easy and effective option to stop the communication.
Here are some tips for sending the letter:
- Use a from the CFPB as your template
- Send the letter by certified mail and purchase a return receipt
- If you have evidence that the debt isn’t yours, include it with the letter
- If you send the letter by mail, use certified mail and purchase a return receipt
- Keep a copy of the letter for your records
It’s important to note that a cease-and-desist letter will not stop a debt collector from taking legal action against you. After sending the letter, be sure to open any mail you receive from the debt collector since it could include information about a pending lawsuit.
Stop Collection Calls at Work
It’s hard enough to deal with personal calls and mail from debt collectors, but it’s even worse when they reach out to your employer. Fortunately, you have the right to tell a debt collector it’s forbidden to contact you at work and stop them from making the calls.
It should be noted that the original lender – a bank, auto dealership or credit card company for example– can contact you at work because they are not considered debt collectors. They can’t, however, discuss your debt with anyone other than you.
What’s the best way to inform a debt collector that calls are forbidden at your work? Notify them in writing. If they continue reaching out to you at work after getting your letter, they could face fines and you can take legal action against them.
What Is Considered Debt Collector Harassment?
The FDCPA and a number of other laws give you the right to stop debt collectors from harassing you. Your rights with debt collectors make it illegal for them to do any of the following :
- Use obscene language or threaten to arrest you or commit violence
- Contact you at work (if you tell them your employer disapproves) or visit your workplace
- Call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
- Contact other people about you (except to verify where you live and work)
- Reveal to others that you owe money
- Lie about your debt or lie about the consequences of paying or not paying
- Call you more than seven times in seven days
The FDCPA was passed in 1977, so it doesn’t have rules about certain modern forms of communication, but as of November 30, 2021, the CFPB added new rules to the law.
According to the new rules, a collector can reach out to you by text message, email or even social media, but they can’t harass you through any of these forms of communication.
What to Do When a Debt Collector Calls
It’s important to take collection calls seriously. But instead of letting a collections agent pressure you into confirming account details or offering money, you should use the call as an opportunity to take control of your situation.
The call is your opportunity to learn about the debt and gather as much information as you can. During the call, be sure to ask as many questions as you need to (see sample questions above), and record all of the details about the debt account and the collections agency.
Afterward, you can use the information to help you verify whether or not you owe the money and decide how to respond.
What Not to Do When a Debt Collector Calls
When a debt collector calls, it’s important to choose your words wisely.
If you’re not careful, you could accidentally confirm your ownership of an illegitimate debt or reset the clock on the statute of limitations.
Instead of providing information, follow these guidelines:
- Don’t offer “good faith” payments. A verbal offer can reset the statute of limitations and give the collector more time to take legal action. Don’t offer payments until you’ve done your homework and you’re prepared to negotiate.
- Don’t confirm that the debt is yours. Ask for written validation from the collector first. Agreeing to the debt limits your chances for a dispute.
- Don’t use hostile language. The call is likely being recorded. Aggressive language could damage your case if the call is reviewed in court.
How a Debt Management Plan Can Stop Collection Calls
Debt management can be another efficient and low-cost way of getting collectors to stop calling. If you go on a debt management plan (DMP) a credit counselor may serve as a liaison between you and your creditors and debt collectors, helping put an end to harassing calls.
If you’re interested in going this route, be sure to contact a nonprofit debt-counseling service that’s accredited by either the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) or the Financial Counseling Association of America (FCAA).
The Federal Trade Commission recommends avoiding for-profit credit-repair companies since they are often scams.
What About Settling with a Collection Agency?
Debt settlement may sound too good to be true… and it usually is.
Unlike debt management, debt settlement requires you to withhold money from your creditors, in hopes that they’ll eventually accept a small, lump-sum offer as payment in full. At the same time, you could be sending monthly payments to a debt settlement agency for as long as 2-3 years.
This strategy occasionally results in having some debt forgiven, but it always leads to badly damaged credit, new interest charges and late fees, and it can even put you at greater risk of being sued.
The Myth of the 11 Word Phrase to Stop Debt Collectors
Have you heard the rumor that there’s a magic phrase to stop debt collectors from pursuing you?
Deceptive ads and misinformation have perpetuated this myth, but the reality is that you can’t magically erase debt. The good news is, however, that you have the right to verify whether or not you owe the money and you can dispute illegitimate debts.
Plus, have the legal right to stop collectors from contacting you. When you put your cease-and-desist request in writing (see instructions above) the debt collector has to stop making contact.
How to Get Out of Debt
Hiding from debt won’t make it go away. In fact, hiding can make it worse. You might be racking up interest charges and late fees or even incurring legal charges while you ignore calls and letters.
Even if you can’t see a way out, there might be a solution to paying collections. Instead of hiding from debt, talk to a nonprofit professional and come up with a plan. Here are some options to consider:
- Debt Management Plans (DMPs): A nonprofit credit counseling agency can work with your creditors to get you on a new monthly payment plan at a reduced interest rate that eliminates debt in 3-5 years.
- Debt Settlement: For-profit debt settlement sounds too good to be true and it often is. During the 2-3 year period it takes to accumulate a lump-sum payment, your debt could grow substantially because of late fees and interest charges on the original balance.
- Credit Card Debt Forgiveness: With a credit card debt forgiveness program, creditors may agree up-front to accept 50%-60% of what you owe in exchange for 36 fixed monthly payments.
- Debt Consolidation Loans: If your credit is in good standing, you may be able to take out a debt consolidation loan to pay off high-interest debt or settle collections accounts that have pending legal action.
- Bankruptcy: Filing Chapter 7 bankruptcy or Chapter 13 bankruptcy can cause major damage to your credit, but it can also stop creditors from attempting to collect your debts and help you repay or dismiss debt you can’t afford.
Work With a Credit Counselor
Dealing with unpaid debt can be stressful and expensive. Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone. A certified credit counselor can review your financial situation and get you on the path to recovery.
About The Author
Sarah Brady is a Personal Finance Writer and educator who's been helping people improve their financial wellness since 2013. Sarah writes for Experian, Investopedia and more, and she's been syndicated by Yahoo! News and MSN. She is a workshop facilitator and former consultant for the City of San Francisco's Affordable Home Buyer Programs, as well as a former Certified Housing & Credit Counselor (HUD, NFCC). Sarah can be contacted via sarahcbrady.com.
- N.A. (ND) Fact Sheet #30: The Federal Wage Garnishment Law, Consumer Credit Protection Act’s Title III (CCPA). Retrieved from https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/WHD/legacy/files/whdfs30.pdf
- N.A. (ND) Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Retrieved from https://www.ftc.gov/legal-library/browse/rules/fair-debt-collection-practices-act-text
- N.A. (2022, March) Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, CFPB Annual Report 2022. Retrieved from https://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/cfpb_fdcpa_annual-report-congress_04-2022.pdf
- NA (2021, November) How often can a debt collector call me? Retrieved from https://www.consumerfinance.gov/ask-cfpb/how-often-can-a-debt-collector-call-me-en-2110/