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Debt Collection Calls: What (Not) to Say

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When a debt collector calls, the main thing you should keep in mind is all you are is a line item on a spreadsheet and a potential commission to that person. They don’t know you; they don’t judge you, they don’t care about you as a person. You are simply a source of potential income. This isn’t to say that this is good or bad, only that it is a reality you ought to realize.

Their main goal is to get you to pay. Their secondary goal is to get you to say something that can be used against you should the matter go to court.

Debt collection calls can be tricky, so here’s what not to say.

1. Don’t Lose Your Cool

Yes, it’s irritating how they seem to know exactly when you’re sitting down for dinner or when friends are over for a visit. But the last thing you want to do is blow your stack with them on the phone. Sure, it’d feel good to unleash a hostile tirade of profanities, but if they record you and play it back for a judge, you’re going to come across as unsympathetic.

2. Do Not Admit the Validity of the Debt

Even if you know you owe, the debt could be too old for the collector to pursue legally. Every state has a statute of limitations on the collection of debt and the clock starts running as of the date of your last payment.

However, if a collector can get you to admit ownership of an old debt over the phone, the clock starts running again. Statements such as, “I can start paying at the end of the month,” will put you back on the hook for what might have been a dead debt.

Instead, say, “I do not believe I owe this debt, please send me some information about it in writing.” Do not accept anything you hear on the phone. It’s OK to give them your mailing address; they’ll find it anyway. But do not admit ownership of the debt.

3. Keep Your Personal Information Private

They’ll ask for information about your income, expenses, bank accounts and the like. They might say they need this information to verify your identity, but what they’re really doing is probing your situation to determine what they can go after to get the money. If you wouldn’t divulge the information to a stranger, do not proffer it to a debt collector—regardless of the reasoning they provide for needing it.

This includes:

• Additional phone numbers.

• Alternate email addresses.

• Current or past employer information.

• Spouse’s employer, phone numbers or other contact information.

• Social Security Number.

4. Do Not Offer Payment of Any Kind

In keeping with number two above, offering to make any sort of payment is tantamount to admitting ownership and can restart the clock on what might be an expired debt. That’s the best-case scenario. Worst-case, they can sometimes use the account number you provide to take the full amount they say you owe—even if it means emptying the account completely.

Know Your Rights

The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act provides a number of protections of which you should be aware. If the debt is valid, you also have the right to negotiate a settlement for less than the amount owed, or consolidate all of your debts into one to make repayment easier.

Companies such as Consolidation Plus may be able to help you with the latter, while there are a number of debt settlement firms, like Freedom Debt Relief, out there to help you with the former. Still, before you select one, seek information like these Freedom Debt Relief reviews to ensure you’re working with a solid company.

Knowing what not to say during debt collection calls can usually save you from paying a debt you no longer owe. If you keep calm, mind your conversation and maintain a civil tone you can come through it with your dignity and your peace of mind intact.

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