Debt collectors pressure, badger, and browbeat people into paying debts, but that ending up on the phone with one isn’t a sufficient reason to whip out your wallet. In fact, if a debt has gone all the way to collections there are several steps you should take before you pay them a cent.
Fail to take these steps, and you might end up taking actions that don’t do you a whole lot of good. You may even end up paying debts you don’t even owe.
#1) Verify the debt.
First, ask the collection agent for the name of the original creditor, and their address. You should also ask for the date and amount of your last payment.
Compare this information with your own records.
You can also ask them to send you a letter with this information. Some may have done so already. If you see a letter, you can respond to it with a request for debt verification.
If the collection agent can’t provide this information that person may well be a scammer. You can ignore these individuals.
#2) Check the statute of limitations.
You may owe the debt, but it may also be a very old one. In New York, there is a six year statute of limitations on debts.
If your debt is older than 6 years the collection agency can’t sue you for it. It’s lost most of its significance on your credit report, if it hasn’t already. The original creditor used it as a tax write off years ago. There’s no benefit in paying the debt.
#3) Demand they contact you via snail mail.
You may be able to do this right over the phone. Many collectors don’t want to run afoul of the attorney general, so they err on the side of caution.
Some collectors will continue to call until you send them a certified letter, return receipt requested, that says you want them to contact you only by mail pursuant to the FDCPA.
When you receive letters you can thoughtfully put them aside and deal with them when you’re in the right frame of mind. It’s a lot harder to bully someone on paper.
#4) Consider whether you intend to file for bankruptcy.
If you’re going to file bankruptcy anyway then paying the debt may not be worth it, even if they happen to offer you a “good” settlement deal. You’ll just lose money you probably could have kept. It could have gone to your household expenses, or to the expenses of filing for bankruptcy.
Under certain circumstances the court may even assume you’re favoring that creditor. The trustee is likely to recover that payment and use it as they see fit.
If you do intend to file, contact an attorney as quickly as possible. You won’t get the protection of the automatic stay unless you already have generated a case number. At that point, you can give the case number and the name of your attorney to every collection agent that calls. Soon, you’ll be able to enjoy sweet silence: they’ll stop calling, and you’ll be one step closer to reclaiming your life.
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