In a previous life, I went from being in debt to becoming a debt collector. From this experience, I learned a few things about debt collection practices.
While in college, I racked up a mess of credit card debt. After college, unable to pay all of it, I instead opted to pay none of it. It took very little time for the collection calls to start rolling in. At first, most of the debt collectors were pretty nice, taking my word for it that I just forgot to mail the payment, but would send it off the next day. As months passed, accounts were charged off and sold to outside debt collection agencies, and the demeanor of the collectors changed. I took a few calls that were outright harassing. Yes, I was fully a deadbeat, but I had rights. I just didn’t know it.
After a few years of doing nothing about my debt, I finally grew weary of the associated insecurity and took a second job as a bill collector for a very well known consumer lender. Oh, the irony!
At first, it was a pretty sweet gig. I worked accounts that were under 30 days delinquent, which meant that I collected a lot of telephone payments — the ultimate goal. Unfortunately, after only a couple of months, our call center focus shifted to accounts that were 90+ days delinquent, and the job became far less pleasant.
The Debt Collection Dialogue
Many calls went something like this:
Me (in my most personable and sincere voice): “Hi, Mr. Jones! My name is Emiley and I’m calling from Acme Financial. How are you this evening?”
Mr. Jones: [click]
Others went like this:
Mrs. Peabody: “You a——s called me night before last. I told you then that I don’t have any money!”
Me: “I see that we did call you, but because you were unable to make a payment, we need to stay in close contact with you. If you’re able to make a payment by telephone this evening, I can code your account so that we won’t bother you again.”
Mrs. Peabody: “You people can’t just call me every other night and badger me to pay! This is harassment!”
While at heart I agreed with Mrs. Peabody, I had been taught well what I could and couldn’t do as a collector, and I needed the job to get collectors off my own back.
Reviewing Debt Collection Practices
Here are a few of the rules that bill collectors must abide by, as set down by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
Collectors may not:
- Call before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. Between 8:01 a.m. and 8:59 p.m., however, you are fair game.
- Say that you will be arrested if you do not pay.
- Tell other people (family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, etc.) that you owe money.
- Take, or threaten to take, your property unless this can be done so legally.
- Use obscene language.
- Use a false name.
On the flip side, a collector may:
- Inform you of their intent to garnish your wages or sue, but only if such intent is real and the action is legal (this is dependent upon many factors such as the state you live in, the nature of the debt, and so forth).
- Contact you at work, unless they have been informed that you are not allowed to take such calls at your place of business.
- Still contact you even after you’ve sent a letter asking them not to do so, but only to say that there will be no further contact, or only to warn you of intent to take some specific action, such as wage garnishment, repossession of property, or the like.
Know Your Rights!
If a collector is using unfair practices in an attempt to collect your debt, then document the incident(s) thoroughly, and report the collector to your state Attorney General’s office and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 1-877-FTC-HELP. Many states have their own debt collection laws, and the Attorney General’s office can help you to determine your rights.
To save your credit rating and sanity, it’s always in your best interest to pay your debts on time but, realistically, sometimes things happen to prevent that. If circumstances arise that set you in the sights of debt collectors, then work hard to get out of the situation, but also be sure that you know your rights.
And, in case you were wondering, it took me two years of working that second job to pay off all of my debts. When I wrote that last check, I swore off my relationship with debt collections — from both sides of the fence!