Falling on hard times can be stressful enough. Late bills, missed payments and months of financial worry are almost too much to bear. A fading fortune can befall those from any walks of life at any economic level.
Enter the debt collector: the barely-literate, rarely-sober, scarily ignorant phone monger who is programmed to call you at least three times per day religiously.
Not only are these horror harbingers under the watch of militaristic eyes monitoring how every second of their day is spent, pounded into their brain is one instruction – one goal – to follow and succeed by all and any means necessary.
Collect as much money in as little time possible.
They are trained by director-level supervisors to use any lie imaginable, find any friend or relative that can point them to the debtors’ whereabouts, and to follow line by line every credit report to use as leverage in order to wrap every grimy finger around the last penny of the down-and-out masses.
Irrelevant is the fact that the debtor is jobless, that they have just been diagnosed with cancer, or that their spouse just filed for divorce. Debt collection is a heartless, soulless, spineless, and mindless profession.
An unfortunately necessary one.
However, the average consumer is not completely helpless against such ruthless tactics. Constant and stricter governing laws are ever-changing to reduce and eliminate harassment and lawsuits, though the average public is blithely unaware of how debt collection actually works and that laws are designed to protect the consumer.
Here are a few tips to keep the average Joe from completely falling prey to any slimy collector and hold their tricks at bay at least long enough to again establish some financial foothold:
- Tell the collector outright to stop calling – Any person who answers a debt collector’s call – be it a spouse, a parent, a child, or a work colleague – can instruct all calls to that number be ceased immediately. By law, in most if not all states, debt collectors are not permitted to redial any number once instructed not to by the receiving party.
- Block the number on your phone – Easily done. Collections systems are designed in accordance with fair practices laws against robot-dialing cell phone numbers. Landlines can have certain numbers blocked by working directly with the service provider.
- Ask to speak with a supervisor – Should the consumer find themselves engaged in any level of conversation with a debt collector, they feel everything but as though they have the upper hand. But they do. Little more rattles a debt collector – including lawsuits – more than having someone they’ve reached live on the phone asking to speak with a supervisor. A call such as this would be internally escalated, documented, analyzed by Quality Assurance teams, and seriously taken into consideration.
- The consumer won’t be able to resurrect the credit line once it reaches debt collections – People incorrectly assume that once a delinquent debt is settled or paid in full, they’ll be able to use the credit card/line again. This isn’t the case. Chances are, the issuing entity will never work with a debtor again. That could vary from case to case, but it’s a safe bet that plastic for future use will be sought elsewhere. Collectors are forbidden from sharing this fact with any debtor.
- Settling for a lesser amount isn’t always the best option – Debt collection agencies report paid debts to the IRS. Discounted debts are more likely to leave a larger hole in your credit report. And debt collectors are out to get more than 80% of what you owe only after they’ve haggled for the full amount due.
- File for bankruptcy – Recommended as a last resort, discussing this action with an attorney could be advantageous to help slow down or stop constant and additional late fees and interest charges from accruing on an unpaid debt. Once a debt collector is informed of initiation of bankruptcy proceedings, they will close the file and action through their office against the creditor will cease, yet the debt will remain to be handled differently. Taking this step sooner than later could potentially lessen the damage to a consumer’s credit, but that is for governing bodies to determine.
- Work with the debt collector on your terms, not theirs – Collectors are not the most intelligent humans on the planet. Usually far from rational. As mentioned before, they are programmed, punished if ever their feet find their way out of the box, and specifically trained to follow word for word written scripts. They can easily be backed down by a confident and rational consumer with the mindset of not allowing themselves to be bullied. The best way and time to do this is when a plan is set into place and a money source to pay the full amount due, or even a significant sum and plans of future payments, is available. Negotiations are more difficult if the consumer comes to the table with few chips in their pocket.
- Don’t lose your cool – Swearing at, engaging in defensiveness with, and volleying empty threats are like catnip to collectors. They thrive on the muck, as do most bottom-feeders. Refrain from falling to that level and understand that they are doing a job that strives to only one end – getting consumers’ money and that where none may be had. Lame excuses, denial of liability, feigned ignorance, and obscenities have no effect on a debt collector…they’ve heard it all before.
- Collection agencies cannot threaten a debtor or their property – This has not always been the case. As few as 30 years ago, debt collections agencies had the power to take possession of any material items that a debtor had as payment to satisfy a debt owed. Increasing numbers of lawsuits and complaints brought about firm regulations to prevent debtors from having their possessions and homes taken (this differs from foreclosures and repossessions), and leaving them more-tightly strapped or homeless. Should consumers ever be told by a collector that they are at risk for losing material objects, appropriate authorities should be alerted immediately.
- Chances are, collectors are more miserable than debtors – Collection jobs are stressful, thankless, pay very poorly, and employ low socio-economical classes that – most likely – are in financial straits themselves. Call centers are grist mills of misery that keep workers chained to desks (figuratively) and under watchful eyes required to account for every keystroke made on a computer and telephone. No one enjoys the job, the conversations required, or the complete absence of self-worth in which a collector wallows week after week.
Any consumer wondering how their next check will cover the mounting bills may be down on their luck, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they can’t make their own…by being informed about what’s behind that call they dread on a daily basis.