Always Answer the Call: Expert Advice on Debt Collection
Paying down debt can be a difficult proposition, particularly if the situation has progressed to the point where you have to deal with a debt collector. But there are steps that you can take to make the process more manageable and less stressful. Expert Michelle Dunn has experience on both sides of the table — both as a debt collector and as a debtor. (See also: How to Deal With Collection Agencies)
Why You Should Always Answer the Call
In an ideal world, you would pay off every bill long before it could go to debt collection. But if something goes wrong and you wind up dealing with calls from a debt collector, you can still pay off your debt and resolve the situation. Ignoring debt collectors is the worst option. Dunn points out: “You will have to deal with them calling and sending you letters, and the debt may be reported to your credit report. You should never ignore a collection agency — that only intensifies the calls...and can promote court action.”
It’s crucial to actually respond to those phone calls and letters to verify that the debt is being correctly handled. If there is an error, whether in the amount of the debt or if it’s even your debt at all, you have only a limited amount of time to address it. Dunn says, "You must ask for verification within the first 30 days of being contacted. If you wait and ignore the calls and letters and the 30 days goes by, by law you are acknowledging that you owe the money. It will be much harder for you to dispute the debt after that, and you may lose in court, since the law states you have 30 days to dispute the debt or request the verification. So the best thing to do is make payments or stay on top of the situation and dispute within those first 30 days, in writing!”
If the debt collector can verify the debt, you need to set up a payment plan with the collector and then make regular payments as scheduled. Dunn notes that even if you are making payments as scheduled, a collector can still take you to court if he believes you can afford to make a larger payment. It’s worth your while to do everything to discharge such a debt as quickly as possible.
Worry About Your Credit Score Later
If you’ve reached the point where a debt has gone to collections, your credit score is going to take a hit no matter what you do. It’s easy to get caught up with thinking that you need to fix your credit as soon as possible, but the reality is that your credit can’t be your first priority. Dunn weighs the chance of going to court against a good credit score: “You must pay everything off before you can think about repairing your credit. When accounts are placed with a third-party agency, make a payment [on each account], or you can end up in court.”
Eventually, you’ll be able to refocus on your your credit, but in the meanwhile, eliminating debts that have been handed over to collectors has to come first. Dunn says, “Once accounts are placed for collection, you just have to make payments to them all until they are paid in full.” Of course, you should keep up with the minimum payments on your current bills, as well.
“The only way to get out of debt faster is to pay it off faster. Budget your money, cancel your credit cards, get rid of the cell phone, get rid of cable and internet, carpool, bring your lunch to work — get a part time job. The only way to get yourself out of the hole you dug is hard work; you need to make more money somehow and send as much of it as you can to the creditor,” says Dunn. “The most important thing to remember is that it is easier to work with and pay off the original creditor than a collection agency. Don't let your debts get out of your creditors’ hands — work with them, communicate, and avoid being placed for collection. You will have a much easier time of it.”
Dunn’s own experiences with debt have made her particularly aware of what is necessary to pay off debt; during her divorce, she found herself with only her income to provide for two children. She pulled it together. Her experiences and her extensive advice on how to handle debt collectors are detailed in her e-book, Dealing With Aggressive Debt Collectors.