Dealing with Debt Collectors Debt Help

What Should I Do When Debt Collectors Contact Me?

In the course of life, anyone with a debt account may have at least one account go into delinquency as a result of life circumstances. Many situations, from a medical emergency to losing a job, can force Americans to make difficult decisions about who gets paid when. Those facing this situation should remember they are not alone. In a 2014 study completed by the Urban Institute, 77 million Americans – or one in three people – had at least one delinquent account.

While a minor delinquency can result in an account being closed, a major delinquency of 180 days or more can result in the debt being sold to a collection agency. If you are contacted by a debt collector for a delinquent balance, there is no reason to panic. Instead, everyone can get through a debt collection activity by staying calm, understanding their rights, and making a plan to get through the collection.

Collect the Facts: Who, What, When and Why

When a debt collector first contacts an individual, they may attempt to use many tactics to either coerce the individual to admit responsibility for the debt, or commit to making any payment on a debt. When an individual commits to either action, they could ultimately be responsible for that debt until it is satisfied.

Before engaging in any conversation with a debt collector, it is important to collect all the pertinent information about why you are being contacted about the debt. The facts should include who the debt is from, what the debt is for, when the debt became delinquent and why you are being contacted today by the debt collection agency. From there, request a written statement on the debt before engaging in any further discussion.

Request Debt Information in Writing

Under federal law, debt collection agencies must provide a debt validation letter within five days of the first telephone contact. If a debt collector calls before a debt validation letter is sent, the first conversation should start with a request for this information.

A debt validation letter will provide in writing all the details of the alleged debt, including the bank it was purchased from and the amount owed. With this information available, individuals who are facing collection on a delinquent account have several options as to work with collectors moving forward.

Make a Plan to Handle the Debt Collectors

Of all the financial inconveniences Americans face on a daily basis, the most inconvenient of those may be dealing with debt collectors. However, there are several options everyone can take in order to mitigate their contract with debt collection agents.

First off, every individual who is facing collection on a delinquent account has the right to challenge the alleged debt in writing. Under federal law, individuals are allowed to contest the debt in writing within 30 days of the first contact from a debt collector. During this time, a debt collector is not allowed to contact the individual until all disputes on the alleged amount facing collection is complete. Although individuals can contest the debt after the 30-day contact mark, the debt collection agency is still allowed to seek payment.

To contest the debt, individuals can use their bank records and payment history to negotiate the amount being collected. Furthermore, without continual contact from a debit collector, individuals have more time to determine a plan of action to handle the debt.

Know Your Rights Under the Law

While debt collectors and debt collection agencies can be difficult to deal with, consumers have more rights than they often know about under local, state and federal laws. Through understanding these protections, everyone can best manage their relationship with debt collectors.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, passed into law in 1977, governs individuals’ rights when it comes to attempting to collect a debt. Under the law, individuals can dictate when and how debt collection agencies contact them. Furthermore, under the act, those who have the alleged debt can ask the collectors to not contact them at all by phone.

In addition to how debt collectors contact those with delinquent accounts, federal law also provides guidelines on when collection agencies can contact individuals. Debt collectors can only make phone calls between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. local time, unless the individual gives expressed permission otherwise. Contacting outside of these hours can result in penalties for the debt collection agencies.

The law also provides guidance on how debt collectors can represent themselves during a phone conversation. A debt collector cannot misrepresent themselves or their motives, nor can they claim they are from a government agency. A debt collector are also limited in how they speak with individuals, and cannot use threats of arrest, violence, or other forms of intimidation to collect a debt.

Many states and counties also have individual laws governing the collection of debt. If you are facing a debt collection attempt on a delinquent account, be sure to contact your state Attorney General’s office or law aid society for assistance in understanding local laws.



Your Options

Finally, it is important to understand all the options for paying the alleged debt off. Although paying the balance in full is one option, other options exist to help individuals get through this difficult situation.

First, individuals can attempt to negotiate a settlement of the debt. When a debt is transferred to a collection agency, it has oftentimes been purchased for a fraction of the amount owed. As a result, debt collection agencies can negotiate on the settlement. While this may be an easy way to pay less than the owed amount, a settled amount can still stay on credit reports, or have tax implications.

Another option is working with the collection agency is to set up a payment plan to pay off the debt. Through a payment plan, individuals can pay off the debt they owe, without facing the possibility of wage garnishment or other penalties. Those who can afford to pay off the debt entirely can also negotiate a “pay-to-delete” agreement, where the debt collection agency agrees to delete the collection from a credit report for a full and final payment.

Before agreeing to a negotiation or submitting a payment, request the agreement be provided in writing. Through a written agreement, individuals can prevent any problems moving forward, or future attempts to collect on the same debt.

If paying off the debt is not an option, there are other remedies individuals can pursue. Additional remedies to prevent collection include credit counseling or bankruptcy. By entering into a credit counseling agreement or going into bankruptcy, individuals can stop the debt collection process and end future collection attempts. However, each of these options can have negative effects as well, including adding negative marks on a credit report for up to seven years.

While working with debt collection agencies can be difficult, you are not alone in the process. By understanding all your rights and options, the process of debt collection can be an easier and very temporary process.

About the author

Joe Cortez

Joe Cortez is an award-winning journalist focused on credit and personal finance management. His content has been featured by CNN, The New York Post, The Sun, and USA Today, and has been quoted as an expert by The Street, Bravo TV, and The Weather Channel. In his spare time, he can be found traveling the world on points and miles. For more, follow him on Facebook and Twitter.


  • My husband has a judgement on his credit report for a old credit card debt. The company Arrow Financial who is no longer in business placed the judgement against him. The judgement states in the court docket that the case is closed the attorney for Arrow Financial also stated the case is closed and is no longer being pursued. But when we spoke to both the court and the attorney they said neither one of them could remove it from the credit report. I have wrote a letter to the court asking them politely to please have them remove it, I also contacted the BBB and filed a complaint, Neither one of these have been very much help. HELP what can I do next to have this judgement removed? As a consumer I’m at my wit’s end on this one it seems very unethical how they can get away with this.
    Any assistance you can give me on this would be very appreciated.

    • Hi,

      Unfortunately there isn’t much else you an do if the court system and creditor will not agree to remove the judgement from your report, even if it is paid. The amount of time a judgement stays on your report varies from state to state, however they generally remain fro 10 years.


  • Is there such a thing as a creditor breaching a contract. In the event that they do not follow the agreement. What happens then? Who to contact when this happens?

    • Hi Jessica,

      You can check to see if the creditor has a dispute process in place for issues like this. This information can usually be found on their website. If you feel that a creditor is violating the law, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or the Better Business Bureau.


    • A basic Google search should give you some samples and templates to get you started. Whatever example you follow, make sure you tailor it to your particular situation.

  • I offered to pay for any merchandise, shipping and taxes and they would not negotiate on any of their fees period.

  • I recently had a bad experience with Commenity Bank about a store credit card. Unauthorized they switched me over to electronic statements. I never asked for this. My woman within card which I had paid in full in February became two months overdue due to my husband ordering from King Size on it in march. I never received a paper statement. If I had it would have been paid. When they contacted me I asked about why I had not gotten my usual paper statement. And explained that I had not authorized a switch to electronic stayements. They would not drop any of the interest or overdue fees despite the error being on their end. I am considering chopping up my woman within and catherin’s cards and cancelling both accounts. Both of which had been kept paid entirely up to this.

    • Hi Ginger,

      If you no longer want to use a store account, feel free to cut up the card or put it away in a drawer, but it is not the best idea to cancel the account. The reason is that the age of your credit account and the number of accounts you have both factor into your credit score. If you have these accounts open and in good standing, they are helping your score–if you close them, they will negatively affect your score.

      If you have been a good customer up to this point with Commenity Bank, you may want to try again to have the late fees dropped. Like any other business, they likely do not want to lose a loyal customer. Try talking to a supervisor and letting them know that this issue is causing you to consider canceling your account altogether. With this information, they may be more willing to work with you on the fees.


  • I had two experiences with debt collectors. The first one was nice and when I asked her to tell me who was the original debtor, I recognized it and yes I did make arrangements to pay it off. Generally they are nice enough to work with you and make a deal to reduce your debt.

    The second call I received, the person on the other end was very snappy and rude. I asked her who is the original debtor. All she gave me was a go around with initials and never told me who it was. She then said if I am refusing the debt. I did not say yes and before I continue, I must know who I owe the money too. Now, I am certain that this may be reported as a negative on my credit report. It is low anyway.

    Thanks for reading.


  • a credit card company wrote me a letter that said they were going to sell my home.can they really do that

    • Hi Stan,

      If your debt is still within your state’s statute of limitations, your creditors can sue you in court for the amount that you owe. If you lose the case, they will be granted a judgment against you, which they can use to put a lien against your property. This can potentially lead to them forcing the sale of your property to recoup the amount that you owe.

      Luckily, there is something called the Homestead Exemption which protects a portion of the equity of your home in the case of a judgement. The amount of protection varies from state to state.

      In many cases, it’s not worth the creditors’ effort to complete this process, as they can only collect money if there is enough equity in the home to cover the mortgages against it, the amount protected in the homestead exemption. foreclosure costs, and other fees and liens associated with the property. Still, if you think that this letter is legitimate you should consult an attorney to figure out your next steps.


  • I wanted to ask a question, I personally don’t have any debt collectors calling me. I do however have a scam person calling me at home and work stating that I owe a loan and that legal action has been taken against me. This has been going on for over 3 months now and I have never taken out a loan period. Some how they got a hold of my information so how. What can be done?, they will not give me any information or their company information, pretty sure it’s some sweet shop or at someone’s home. This is frustrating and I don’t have time for this, trying to repair my credit.

    • Hi William,

      If you are being harassed or don’t want to talk to this company over the phone, you don’t have you. You can tell them that you want to communicate only in writing–if they don’t comply, you can hang up. If you don’t engage, they can’t get any money from you, and they are more likely to move on to someone else. Second, you can ask them to verify this debt. You can insist that they send you evidence in writing proving that you owe this debt. Legitimate companies will comply with this, as they are required by law to do so.

      You can also call their bluff: If they tell you that legal action is being taken against you, ask them for the specific case number or court that the claim is being filed in. Let them know that you are prepared to contact the law enforcement agency directly to confirm this information. If the calls still come in and you are sure that they are not collecting a legitimate debt, you submit a claim to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau here:


  • @Beautiful Rose Can you explain in simple terms how that works? I’m just not undetstanding how it’s not on your credit report.

  • I have a debit collector calling me about a debit I alredy paid 2yrs ago, I faxed the information to them but then a new collection office calls for the same debit this has happen at least 5 times.

    Then another debit I paid is on my credit, paid to original creditor but its still beeing passed aroung to different collection agencies. The original company I owed sent me a letter saying its paid but when I fax it to the collection agency they pass my account to yet another collection agency and its on my credit.

    Please tell me how to get rid of these two problems.

    • Hi April,

      The burden is not on you to prove that you have paid a debt–it is on the creditor to prove that you owe them what they claim you do.

      Request that they verify this debt and provide you with sufficient information proving that you owe the amount the claim, and that they have the right to collect it.

      For the second debt, you can inform the credit bureaus that it has been paid in full by providing the letter showing paid in full status. They may take 30 days to investigate your claim, but they are required to remove it if there is not sufficient evidence that the debt still exists.


  • Extremely helpful. I have been threatened with arrest by a collection agency at my job. It scared me so badly that I borrowed money to pay it.

    • Hi RJ,

      If you are unsure that you actually owe a debt, you should absolutely contact the company trying to collect the debt and ask them to provide evidence that you do in fact owe the amount they are claiming and that they have a right to collect it. You can request this information in writing if you don’t want to deal with them on the phone.

      As far as paying off older debts, there are a lot of factors to consider. Depending on the statute of limitations in your state, you could be at risk for being sued and having a judgement against you if you fail to pay. If the debt has not gone to collections, it is a good idea to pay it in full or set up a payment plan–a collections account on your credit report can be very damaging to your credit score. You also may want the peace of mind of not having to deal with calls from collection agencies. The decision is up to you, but whatever you do, don’t ignore the problem entirely.


  • I had a couple years ago a lady that called my phone claiming she is from a law firm and that they were going to sue me for a debt that I tried to explain to her that I did not owe. She claimed she had a copy of my Drivers License and has me on video coming into the store. I knew it was not me because at that time I was unemployed and on workers comp, also that was a time when I did not leave my husbands side unless going to the courthouse for my Step son. I ask them how they knew if it was me considering they have no idea what I look like. I also told her that the company that she is collecting for I had never got a loan from. Also told her that I did not have a bank account at that time where I had checks. I stayed away from checks back then. She threatened me in ways that I could not have imagined. She threatened to have me arrested and was going to sue me for thousands of dollars for a couple of hundred dollars. After a while of her rants, I pretty much told her to go F*$% herself and that was when she told me that a judge will hear how I am talking to her. After about 15 minutes of fighting with this woman, I was crying and that was when my husband took the phone from me.

    • Hi Darlene,

      Even though these harassment practices are illegal, some unscrupulous companies still use them. You should know that you are not required to speak to debt collectors on the phone; in fact you can request that they communicate with you only in writing to avoid the problem altogether. Remember that they are trained to trip you up and distress to the point that you are willing to make a payment just to get off the phone with them.

      I’m sorry to hear that you went through this, and hopefully you can be spared from threats like these in the future.


  • Hello, for a couple of years and then we purchased our home. Our landlord owns several properties and owns a small real estate company and they carry our mortgage. Is there a way for them to report our payment history? We are recovering from a Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and this would impact our credit rating.

    Any advice you can offer would greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance for any help that you can offer.

    Melissa Ambrose

    • Hi Melissa,

      It is common for smaller credit unions and individual lenders to not report their loans to the credit bureaus. The process of reporting is governed by strict legal guidelines and meeting all of the standards required by the credit bureaus can be unrealistically expensive for smaller lenders.

      If you want your loan to be reported, you would need to transfer it to a different lending organization that does regularly report to the credit bureaus.

      If this isn’t possible for you, you may want to try building your credit history with accounts at other banks that do report to the bureaus. Opening a secured credit card account or being added as an authorized user on someone else’s account are two great ways to start building credit bankruptcy.

      You can learn more about how to build your credit from scratch here:


  • I really enjoyed reading this article. As a debt collector, now owner of my own agency I must say that all people should be made aware of their legal rights and No One I mean no one has the right to treat them unfair. I have been in this field for over 25 years and have seen it all. The profession is well let’s just say HATED, but a good representative “debt collector” can help a person in trouble figure out how to resolve the issue within their ability and that is the ones that do well. I have always considered my job no matter what I was collecting as a chance to help the person get out of that situation and the included educating them on options available to them. Good job on this article.

    • Hi Cindy,

      Thanks so much for reaching out! What options do you offer some of the people whom you try to collect debts from? Have any of them helped so far?


      • Careful about advice you take from a debt collector on sites like this. Make sure you understand the law and the course of action you take.

        Rule 1. Never, ever talk to a debt collector on the phone. Send a letter (return receipt) to the collector stating the only acceptable form of communication is in writing. This is known as a Limited Cease n Desist letter

        Rule 2. Demand the debt collector validate the debt. The debt collector has 30 days to do so or must remove the debt from the credit reporting bureaus or remove it from your credit report.

        Rule 3. Know the time period for your state on the statue of limitations. In Colorado the Statue of Limitations is 4 years. If a debt collector should try to collect a debt beyond statue all you have to do is send a letter demanding they validate the debt. They have 30 days. If they send copies of paper work showing the debt is older than 4 years for Colorado, all you have to do is send a (return receipt) letter state the debt is out of statue and do not contact you again.

        Rule 4. If the debt collector violates the law, take them to small claims court 1500.00 or 2500.00 depending on the type of violation(s)

    • Hi James,

      Great to hear that you found the information so helpful.

      What information are looking for in regards to secure loans?


    • Hi James
      I opened a checking account and a savings account with my credit union two years ago. My husband had died several years ago and havoc ensued with my credit. After I had saved quite a bit in the savings account, nothing major, just a few hundred dollars, I went to the credit union and asked if I could get a small secure loan to try to rebuild my credit.

      I was told that securing that loan was not necessary and was able to get that loan that day. I had them set it up where the payments were taken directly out of the savings account every month and as easy as pie it did raise my credit rating..

      However it also opens you up for every old creditor under a rock to crawl out and call you on a daily basis.. I now have collection agencies calling me from debts that were charged off over twenty years ago OY

  • Also true, if you send a “Cease n Desist” letter certified mail before your 30 days to dispute the validity of the debt, a debt collector cannot contact you, unless they are sending u proof that you owe the debt and telling you the original creditor. It has worked for me twice. I only do business with the original creditor and not with a collector. Owing a debt collector has never shown up on my credit report because I disputed the debt within 30 days. I have worked hard for my 723 score and sometimes that score is not high enough. Just saying!

    • Hi Beautiful Rose,
      Can you please help me out. I learned a lot from this article and I really like your comment. Please email me a copy of your Cease n Desist letter. How do you only do business with the original debtor if it has gone to collection? I would really appreciate all your help.

  • I had a debt from ATT back from 1999. It became a charge -off on my Credit Report and was removed after 7 years. I got a letter from some credit collectors claiming that ATT still want their money.
    Is this legal ??? Mr.Glorius Jr.

    • Hi Thomas,

      Debt collection and debt reporting are two totally different things, and they are governed by totally different rules. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) states that (most) negative items must be removed from your credit report within 7 years. This means that even if you haven’t paid the debt, it has to be removed from your record for good. That’s the good news. The bad news is that since you have still not paid this debt, the collection agency can still try to collect it for as long as they wish.

      Luckily there is a statute of limitations on how long your creditors and debt collectors can take you to court over this debt–check with your state’s attorney general’s office to make sure that the statute on your debt has expired. If it has, then you are protected from any legal action being taken against you.

      The only real way to get rid of this debt permanently is to pay it, either in full or through an agreed-upon settlement amount with the collection agency. Otherwise, it may continue to haunt you in the future.


      • Thomas
        Seven years after this debt went into collection you should not now be hounded for the money. When a debt collector calls, ask them to only contact you in writing. Then send them a letter, make sure you keep a copy of that letter, and ask for a copy of the original signed agreement of the contract. If they can not provide you with a copy, you can then send them a letter of cease and desist.

        Keep copies of everything you send to them and they send to you.. But after seven years you should not be obligated to pay anyone anything. I can almost guarantee you that this collection company cannot provide a copy of your original signed agreement..

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