Debt collection can be intimidating and stressful. Whether you’ve received emails, letters, or phone calls, you may feel helpless and unsure about what to do. It’s important to take debt collection seriously. It’s also important to remember that you have rights and options. Debt collectors have tools and resources to help them, and so do you. Knowing what to do next is key to protecting your financial health. Here are some steps you can take if you receive a debt collection letter, email, or phone call.
- Don’t ignore it. Ignoring a debt collection letter won’t make it go away. If you don’t respond, the debt collector may take more aggressive action such as filing a lawsuit. Responding to the letter will show the debt collector that you’re taking the situation seriously and will make it easier to work out a payment plan or other resolution.
- Respond in writing. Communicating with debt collectors over the phone can be intimidating. To protect yourself, it’s best to respond to the debt collector in writing. If the debt collector sent you anything in writing, read it carefully. If you don’t recognize the debt, you may want to dispute it. If you’re receiving debt collection calls, you can request that the debt collector only contact you in writing. You can use a free tool from SixFifty to write your response.
- Request validation. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) requires that debt collectors provide written proof of the debt within five days from the initial contact. In your written response, ask for the full details of the debt. This includes the amount owed, the name of the creditor, and the account number. You should also ask for the date that the debt was incurred, and any other details you can find. If you don’t recognize the debt, you can dispute it and ask for more information in the same letter.
- Dispute an unrecognized debt. If the Debt Collector can’t provide you with the information you request, they may stop their collection efforts. If they do provide you with the information you request, and you don’t recognize the debt, you can dispute it. If you dispute a debt or part of a debt with the debt collector, in writing, within 30 days of receiving the validation notice, the debt collector is not allowed to contact you again until they send you a written verification of the debt. If you still don’t recognize the debt after the creditor has verified it, you can request proof of the debt, such as a copy of the original contract or agreement. If the creditor is unable to provide proof of the debt, they will be legally obligated to remove it from your credit report. In this case, you may also want to consider filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and/or your state attorney general’s office.
- Negotiate. If the debt is valid, work with the debt collector to negotiate a payment plan that works for you. The creditor may be willing to reduce the amount of the debt or accept smaller payments for a longer period of time if it helps them reach an agreement with you.
- Get everything in writing. Make sure to get any agreement in writing. This will protect you if the debt collector attempts to change the agreement in any way.
- Get help. If you can’t negotiate a payment plan that works for you, or you have trouble with any of these steps, talk to a professional like a credit counselor. Credit counselors work with debtors to create a budget, negotiate with creditors, and help find a debt repayment plan that works for both parties. The goal of credit counseling is to help debtors become debt-free and to teach them how to manage their finances.
You can learn more about credit counselors, debt collection, and your rights from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
SixFifty can help
SixFifty built a free tool to help you talk with debt collectors on an even playing field. We used sample letters, best practices, and expertise from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and worked with credit experts and students at the UC Hastings LexLab. The result is an easy-to-use tool for learning more about a debt, disputing a debt, and ending collection phone calls. Find out more at SixFifty.com/DebtReply.