The slumping economy has caused many Americans to depend on credit cards to survive. A real problem arises when the credit card bills are due and there’s no money to pay them.
Enter the debt collector.
According to the Federal Reserve, nearly one in 20 credit card accounts in the U.S. were delinquent, or more than 30 days past due, at the end of 2008. And when a credit card account becomes delinquent, debt collectors begin calling.
A recent Washington Post article provided some valuable tips consumers can use to protect their rights when debt collectors begin calling.
In Debt? You Make the First Call
Financial experts recommend calling creditors first if you’re having a problem paying bills on time.
If you call them before they call you, you may be able to negotiate a lower interest rate and/or get fees waived or reduced
Avoid Debt Collection Companies: Don’t Ignore Your Creditors
If you don’t take the opportunity to call the creditor before they start calling you, it’s not a good idea to ignore them.
If an account is more than 90 days past due, the lender may have a third-party debt collection agency step in and attempt to collect the debt.
Consumers should realize that the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act provides protection for consumers by restricting the actions of third-party debt collectors.
However, this law does not apply to the original creditor and if a debt is sold to another company, the law regards the new owner as an original creditor.
Credit card companies have fewer restrictions when contacting debtors, but are generally more reasonable and pleasant when dealing with consumers. These companies usually wish to keep their customers, if at all possible.
If the account is turned over to a debt collection company, it’s usually much harder for the debtor to work out a solution.
Don’t Lie About the Debt, But Don’t Acknowledge It Either
While it’s not a good idea to dodge or ignore calls from debt collectors, there are things experts say debtors shouldn’t say.
For example, some experts tell debtor to not lie, but to also not specifically acknowledge owing the debt.
Keep in mind that you’re not required to speak with debt collectors and you may terminate a phone call at any time.
Don’t Agree to Unrealistic Repayment Plans
Debtors should never agree to a payment plan that can't be managed. If you agree to a payment plan, the payments should be made according to the agreement.
Don’t Provide Personal Information
You should never provide personal financial information to a debt collector.
Some debt collectors ask for debtor's bank account numbers and routing numbers, but this information should not be provided.
Gail Cunningham of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling warns that this type of information could be used to garnish a bank account if the collector gets a judgment against you.
Know Your Debt Collector
Consumers should collect detailed information from any debt collector who calls.
Collection agencies may attempt to hide their identities, so start by trying to get the name and address of the debt collection agency from the caller.
Under the federal debt collection act, you must send a written request for the debt collector to stop calling. Verbal requests are generally ignored.
Verify the Debt
Debtors should also demand verification of the debt.
The law gives debtors the right to request and review documentation of the debt. If a debt has been resold several times, the debt collector may be unable to provide proof of the debt.
The Protection of a Bankruptcy Lawyer
If a debt collector threatens court action, it may signal that it’s a good idea for a consumer to contact a bankruptcy lawyer.
If a debtor has a lawyer, debt collectors may only attempt to contact them through their lawyer.
If a debtor winds up filing bankruptcy, an automatic stay is issued and all collection activity must stop immediately—that means no more calls, no more letters, no more contact. Period.