You’re sitting at the dinner table enjoying a scrumptious meal when the phone rings. Instead of answering the call, you continue chowing away as if the phone never rang in the first place. But a minute or so later, it rings again and you slowly begin to lose your appetite. By now, everyone at the dinner table is silent and a strange aura is permeating the room.
It’s the debt collectors, again. For the past few months, they’ve been contacting you non-stop about accounts that became delinquent when you lost your job several months ago.
The good news is you’ve recently found work, so you’ll be able to start paying bills again. The bad news is you’re unsure of how long it’ll take to get back on track and get current on those delinquent accounts.
It’s no secret that Americans are saddled down by debt. In fact, the 2016 American Household Credit Card Debt Study from NerdWallet revealed that the average household debt is around $133,000.
And unfortunately, some of these debtors are forced to deal with collection calls on a daily basis. Whether the calls are at work, on their cell phone or in the comforts of their own home, the debt collectors seem to follow them everywhere they go.
If only the calls could stop. Well, they can. However, the end result may be detrimental to your credit. Here’s why:
The First Step
Before requesting that all forms of contact come to a halt, consider having a conversation with the debt collector to determine if the account(s) even belongs to you. An easy way to do this is by asking for the middle initial and address of the person they’re trying to contact or the name of the account it’s in reference to.
By doing so, you may quickly discover that it doesn’t belong to you. But if it does, refrain from revealing too much information until you get additional information in writing as statements can be used against you in the court of law.
How to Stop the Calls and Letters
All it takes is a letter to stop collection agencies from bugging you.
Says FTC.gov: “If you send the debt collector a letter stating that you don’t owe any or all of the money, or asking for verification of the debt, that collector must stop contacting you. You have to send that letter within 30 days after you receive the validation notice. But a collector can begin contacting you again if it sends you written verification of the debt, like a copy of a bill for the amount you owe.”
If you decide to send a letter, it should include the following components:
- Header with your name, return address and date
- Second header with the debt collector’s name, address and account number
- Opening paragraph stating that the letter is in reference to a debt the collection agency contacted you about. Feel free to include the date and time of contact, along with any information you have about the debt.
- Statement formally requesting that all contact be stopped
- Closing paragraph notifying the debt collector that the account has been disputed (if applicable). You can also request that they notify the credit bureaus and company that initially turned the debt over that it is now in dispute (it’s a good idea to attach any supporting documentation regarding the dispute to the letter).
Be sure to send the letter via certified mail with a return receipt to confirm it actually reaches its intended destination. Also, keep a copy of the letter on file for your records. Here’s a template from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to get you started.
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Once the debt collector receives your letter, they can contact you one more time to inform you of their next steps, whether it’s a lawsuit or simply a courtesy call notifying you that they’ll be no additional contact.
The Dangers of Stopping Collection Calls
For starters, stopping collection calls only provides temporary relief from the annoying letters and phone calls. If the collection agency decides to report the account to the credit bureaus, your credit score will take a dive. Since collection accounts will remain on your credit report for seven years, the impact of having a low score can be much more painful than picking up the phone and hashing it out with the debt collector until you reach some sort of agreement to settle or at least bring the account up-to-date.
Paid vs. Unpaid Collections
In a perfect world, debtors would enter into payment arrangements with collection agencies until the balance was paid in full. But the reality is some can barely afford to make ends meet, yet alone pay on collection accounts. And others have so many debt collectors calling that they simply ignore them altogether. Both scenarios will almost always land you in the hot seat with debt collectors, and chances are the account(s) will end up on your credit report.
But there’s an even bigger problem: even if you decide to pay off the collection account(s) once it’s been reported, the impact on your credit score will be the same since the status will be updated to a paid collection. That’s unless you sign a pay to delete agreement with the creditor stating that they’ll remove the item if the terms of the agreement are met.
However, “Some lenders may want to see that you are paying off collections before approving your loan [and] paying off collections could very well improve your credit-worthiness in the eyes of a lender,” says myFICO. So, you may want to pay off those accounts to appease prospective lenders, even though it won’t necessarily help you credit score.
A Final Thought
When communicating with debt collectors, be sure to keep a log detailing all forms of contact. That way, you’ll have proof to substantiate your claims if you find yourself in court later on down the line.
How did you get collections off your back? Share with our readers below!