Everybody knows that the economy is pretty much in an almost full out tailspin. Things are getting tighter every day. The price of gasoline and diesel fuel is soaring out of sight and food prices aren’t very far behind. Frankly, the price of just about everything is going up. Among them is the price of debt.
The price of debt is more than just interest rates, fees and penalties. It is also measured in email, snail mail & phone calls from debt collectors. As recently as six or eight months ago the debt collectors, while pushy to the extreme, weren’t nearly as overbearing and “pay me NOW at any cost” as they are today.
People are finding themselves on the wrong end of some of the most aggressive debt collection tactics that have been in use for a long time after only missing a single payment. Why? It’s simple really, debt collectors stand to lose a lot when the economy is in the shape it’s in today. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that they’re terrified that they’ll end up having to eat all this debt because of people going bankrupt.
Enter the third-party collection agencies. They come along and buy up debts from all kinds of companies, giving them a chance to not be concerned any longer about losing money on the debt. Then the third-party collection agencies come along and get this hyper-aggressive thing going on trying to bully people into paying.
They harass you, calling you at all hours of the day and night. They’ll often call you at any phone number they can find for you, including your job. They threaten you with lawsuits, prosecution and jail time unless you fork over what they want and fast.
What they can and cannot do
According to the Federal Trade Commission there are limits on what debt collectors are allowed to do in their efforts to get you to pay up.
Debt collectors can contact you in person, by mail, telephone, or fax.
They are not allowed to contact you at inconvenient times like before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. Or at inconvenient places such as your place of employment unless you actually agree to it. (Naturally, you should NEVER agree to something like that!)
Debt collectors also may not tell you that you will be arrested or go to jail if you do not pay.
Debt collectors are not allowed to use threats of violence or harm. They may not use obscene or profane language and they’re not permitted to publish lists people who refuse to pay them. They are also not permitted to harass someone by telephone.
They may not claim to be attorneys or government representatives or falsly imply that you’ve committed a crime. They may not claim to work for or operate a credit bureau. They are not permitted to misrepresent how much you owe. They are also not permitted to indicate that any papers being sent to you are legal forms or documents when they’re not, nor may they indicate that papers are not legal forms when they are.
Debt collectors may not collect any more than your actual debt unless your state laws allow it. They are not allowed to deposit a post-dated check prematurely. They are not permitted to use deception to force you to accept collect calls or pay for telegrams. They can’t take or threaten to take your property unless the law allows it in that situation. Debt collectors are also not allowed to contact you by postcard.
What you should do
Any time a debt collector contacts you, the first thing you should do is ask for proof of the debt. What you should get in return is an actual document bearing your signature that shows you applied for the debt.
Make sure the debt is yours. Debt collectors don’t always have accurate information and they could be after somebody with the same name or a person who used to have the telephone or cell phone number that you currently have.
If the debt is yours, it might be too old to be collectible. Some debts have a statute of limitations which will vary from three to fifteen years depending on what kind of debt and what state you live in.
Be sure to find out what the expiration date is on your debt BEFORE you pay or agree to pay anything on it. As soon as you either agree to a payment plan or make even one payment, no matter how small, the clock starts all over again on that debt’s statute of limitations. If you agree to a payment plan, be sure to get it in writing before paying anything.
It’s very important to create a file for that debt where you should write down the names and phone numbers of the people that contact you. Be certain to keep copies of every letter or bill that you get from them as well as dated copies of everything you send to them. It’s also a good idea to use certified mail and return receipts.
You can avoid some of that harassment by telling them never to contact you at work. If they don’t have your telephone number and you don’t want them to have it then never give it to them. Instead you could use a pay phone (if they still exist where you live) or get one of those pay-as-you-go cellphones that you only use for talking to them and then toss it or have the number changed when you’re done with them.
You can actually force a debt collector to stop contacting you altogether. Just write them a letter telling them to stop contacting you (remember that certified mail return receipt requested). Once they get your letter they are not allowed to contact you again except to say that they will not contact you anymore. It doesn’t do anything about debt but it WILL stop harassing phone calls dead.
If you have an attorney, the debt collector has to contact the lawyer instead of you.
You can report problems with debt collectors with your state attorney general’s office and the Federal Trade Commission. Also most states have their own laws regarding debt collection, contact your state’s attorney general’s office for information.
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