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If your bill is long past its due date, then expect the debt collectors to come a-knockin’. Hiding from them and pretending they don’t exist is not a good solution; it will only aggravate the problem and make things worse. Dealing with the issue head-on might help you catch a break. Here are a couple tips for dealing with those dreaded debt collectors:Know your rights. As consumers, we are protected under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act against harassment from debt collectors. There are certain things they aren’t supposed to do, such as calling before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., using abusive language, and repeatedly bothering you with multiple calls.
Talk to them. Don’t avoid them. Pick up the phone, start talking, and address the bills you need to pay. Ignoring them may give them grounds to file a lawsuit.
Dispute it. If you don’t owe the money, then it is within your rights to send a letter to the collector up to 30 days after you’ve received notice. In the letter, you should state that you don’t think the debt is yours and that they should stop contacting you.
Document it. Take a lot of notes and ask for their permission to record the conversation (in some states, it’s illegal to record someone without asking) and start taping on your end. Whether they consent to recording or not, write down the date and time of the call, the representative you spoke to, and the content of your discussion.
Negotiate. If you do owe the debt but can’t afford to pay the full amount, then ask if they would be willing to forgive part of it or to set up some sort of payment plan. Before settling the debt, says Natalie Lohrenz, director of counseling at the Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Orange County, consider “first, that a debt usually must be significantly delinquent before a creditor will even consider settling, after your credit has already been negatively affected” and “second, that a settled debt will appear more negative on your credit report than a paid-in-full debt if special arrangements are not made to the contrary.”
Get it in writing. Once you have hammered out terms you’re satisfied with, get it in writing, either by “them sending you something on their letterhead or you writing it out and sending it to them for a signature,” says Lohrenz. If you pay a settlement before you have it in writing, then “you’ve lost all your bargaining power.” That’s because debt collectors can backtrack and claim that they never agreed to settling.
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