Handling Debt Collection Calls: Do's and Don'ts (2024)

Here's what you should—and shouldn’t—do when a debt collector calls.

Calls from debt collectors can be overwhelming and intimidating. However, debt collectors often violate the law while trying to get money from people. If you know your rights, you can tell when the debt collector is crossing a line into illegal territory, and you won't be intimidated by unlawful tactics. You might even be able to use the debt collector's violations of the law to your benefit.

Also, learning some basic do's and don'ts about handling debt collector calls can ease your anxiety. More importantly, by knowing what to do and say when a debt collector calls, you can avoid making a mistake that could put you at legal or financial risk.

Summary of What to Do When a Debt Collector Calls

First, decide if you want to talk to the collector. If so, keep a record of what you and the collector discuss. You might consider telling the collector if you think the debt isn't yours or can't afford to pay the debt. But if you decide not to talk to the collector, you can send a written request that the collector cease communication with you. You can also stop some kinds of collection contacts, like through certain mediums or at specific times.

On the other hand, here's what you shouldn't do.

  • Don't give a collector any personal financial information.
  • Don't make a "good faith" payment, promise to pay, or admit the debt is valid. You don't want to make it easier for the collector to get access to your money, or do anything that might revive the statute of limitations. If a debt collector tries to collect a time-barred debt from you, the most important thing is not to say or do anything that in any way admits that you owe the debt. By acknowledging the debt or even making even a token payment, you might inadvertently restart the limitations period.
  • Finally, even though debt collectors are often rude and pushy, don't lose your temper.

Learn About Your Legal Rights

The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) (15 U.S.C. §§ 1692 and following) limits what collectors can and can't do. For instance, this law prohibits debt collectors from using obscene language or threatening you with violence if you don't pay. It also sets limits on when and where the collector can contact you, prohibits collectors from communicating with others about your debt, with a few exceptions, and more.

Some states have similar laws that provide even more protections than the federal FDCPA. If the collector crosses the line and violates the law, you might be able to use the violation as leverage in settlement negotiations.

If the debt that the collector is calling about is several years old, find out what your state's statute of limitations is for filing a lawsuit to collect the debt. Generally, the statute of limitation begins when you last made a payment. But it can also be the date you last used the account, made a promise to pay, entered a payment agreement, or even acknowledged liability for the debt. The actual date depends on the type of debt and the state law where you live or the state specified in your credit agreement.

Consult with a legal aid lawyer, another lawyer in your state, or your state attorney general's office to learn the applicable statute of limitations in your situation.

You Might Get Sued After the Statute of Limitations Period Expires

Just because the statute of limitations has expired doesn't mean a creditor or collector won't sue you. If you get sued, you'll have to raise the statute of limitations as a defense. If you don't, the creditor or collector might be able to get a judgment against you on an otherwise unenforceable debt.

Also, a statute of limitations doesn't eliminate the debt—it just eliminates the right to sue you for it. But you still might get collection letters or calls about a debt even if the statute of limitations has expired.

What to Do When a Debt Collector Calls

1. Decide If You Want to Talk to the Collector

If a debt collector contacts you, consider ignoring the calls or not responding to other communication methods—at least until you learn about your rights, find out if the debt is truly yours, whether you want to file for bankruptcy, and learn whether the statute of limitations has expired. You don't want to provide the collector with useful collection information inadvertently, or worse, say something that reaffirms the debt.

2. If You Decide to Talk to the Collector, Keep a Record

A "collections log" is a written record that you make of the date and time that a collector calls, the person you speak with, and what the collector says to you. Your log doesn't have to be anything fancy—writing it on a notepad or spare piece of paper is fine, or keeping it using your computer or phone works, too. A collections log will help you determine who's calling you from where and what debt each collector calls about. It will also help you track how often a particular collector calls and document inconsistencies in what collectors say to you from one call to the next.

If the collector sends texts or leaves voicemails with abusive language, keep the messages. These records can be useful if you decide to sue the collector in court or if you decide to try to settle the debt.

3. Write to the Collector to Request it Stop Contacting You (If That's What You Want)

Under the federal FDCPA, if you request that a debt collector stop contacting you completely, it must do so, subject to a few exceptions. Your request must be in writing. You can send a letter by mail, return receipt requested (keep a copy), stating that you want the collection agency to stop all contact with you. You can also send this letter electronically, like via email or through the debt collector's website, if the collector uses that way of accepting communications from consumers. (However, whether sending an electronic notification is as reliable as a written letter is unknown. So, it's probably best to send an actual letter.)

But think carefully before you tell a collector to cease communicating with you. If you want to keep tabs on the debt status or open up the lines of communication with the collector to negotiate a settlement, a cease communication directive might not be in your best interest. If you ask the collector to stop corresponding with you, it can't contact you except if it's serving you with a lawsuit or taking another legal action. Keep in mind you can ask the collector to stop just some kinds of collection contacts, like to certain phone numbers or at specific times of the day.

However, if you're thinking about filing for bankruptcy, telling the collector to stop contacting you might be a good idea. Once you file, an order called the "automatic stay" goes into place. The stay stops most collection calls, but collectors can still call before you file.

4. Tell the Collector If You Think You Don't Owe the Debt

If you feel the debt isn't legitimate or you don't owe it, you should tell the collector why. Often, collectors aren't even aware that your debt might be uncollectable. If your reason is valid, the collector might voluntarily cease collection on the debt. Their resources could be better used on consumers who don't have a valid objection to paying the money.

If you act quickly, you can request in writing that the debt collector validate the debt, and the collector must stop collection activities while it does so.

5. Tell the Collector You Can't Afford to Pay (If You Can't)

A collector doesn't have to stop trying to collect just because you can't pay. But telling collectors that you can't pay and giving them a short explanation of your financial difficulties might lead them to move on to other consumers. It might also prevent your file from being referred to litigation.

But be sure not to admit that you owe the debt or say anything that might restart an expired statute of limitations. Depending on your state, you might restart the statute of limitations if you make a partial payment on a debt or otherwise acknowledge that you owe a debt you haven't been paying. A new promise to pay a debt might also revive the statute of limitations in some circ*mstances.

6. Give the Collector Your Current Address

Your instinct might be to hide from collectors by changing your phone number or refusing to provide your address. But hiding your whereabouts won't prevent a collector from trying to collect—it just will mean they might send letters and make calls to others that they think might know where you are or who they think are you.

Collectors who don't know your location have much more legal leeway to contact employers or friends to ask for information about you, like for your address. But if the collector has your location information, talking to employers or friends is illegal.

What Not to Do When a Debt Collector Calls

Here's what not to do when dealing with debt collector communications.

1. Don't Give a Collector Your Personal Financial Information

While some collectors might say they want information about your income to qualify you for a lower payment amount, you should never provide your personal financial information, including your:

  • bank account numbers (unless you're actually making a payment—even then you might want to pay by some other method so the collector doesn't get your banking information)
  • your Social Security number, or
  • the amount or value of property that you own.

This information might be used to collect from you through a wage garnishment, bank levy, or property lien if the creditor or collector gets a judgment against you.

You can, however, provide basic information about your financial troubles.

2. Don't Make a "Good Faith" Payment

Often, a debt collector will ask you to voluntarily make a minimal payment, not under a settlement agreement. The collector might say the payment shows you're acting in "good faith." You might think that making this payment will prevent the collector from suing you or help your credit. Not true.

What this small payment will do is extend the statute of limitations. In most states, the statute of limitations clock starts ticking from the date you made the last payment. Every new payment, no matter how small, could restart the limitations period.

3. Don't Make Promises or Admit the Debt is Valid

Even if it's clear you owe the money, you should refrain from making any statements such as "I know I owe this and will pay you as soon as I can" or "I can start paying you next month." Your acknowledgment of the obligation might revive the statute of limitations. Any promise you make to pay could be interpreted as a separate contract, renewing the statute of limitations for the debt.

4. Don't Lose Your Temper

Using profanity, screaming, or getting hostile, won't help you. If call records are needed for a court action, it will hurt your case if you're the one who's abusive and not the collector.

Also, if you lose your cool, you might accidentally provide the collector with information that you didn't mean to divulge.

Talk to an Attorney

If you need help dealing with an aggressive debt collector, figuring out what option is best for handling your debts, negotiating a settlement, or responding to a lawsuit for nonpayment of a debt, consider consulting with a lawyer. Once you've hired a lawyer, under the FDCPA, a collector must talk to your attorney only, not you, unless you give permission to contact you or your lawyer doesn't respond to the collection agency's communications.

And if you have a lot of debts, you might want to consider filing for bankruptcy.

Handling Debt Collection Calls: Do's and Don'ts (2024)


Handling Debt Collection Calls: Do's and Don'ts? ›

If you are struggling with debt and debt collectors, Farmer & Morris Law, PLLC can help. As soon as you use the 11-word phrase “please cease and desist all calls and contact with me immediately” to stop the harassment, call us for a free consultation about what you can do to resolve your debt problems for good.

How do you manage a collection call answer? ›

Step-by-Step Guide to Making an Accounts Receivable Collection Call
  1. Step 1: Gather all information beforehand. ...
  2. Step 2: Initiate the call with a clear objective. ...
  3. Step 3: Engage in problem-solving dialogue. ...
  4. Step 4: Document the conversation. ...
  5. Step 5: Send a recap email. ...
  6. Step 6: Schedule and conduct follow-ups.
Nov 17, 2023

What is the 11 word phrase to stop debt collectors? ›

If you are struggling with debt and debt collectors, Farmer & Morris Law, PLLC can help. As soon as you use the 11-word phrase “please cease and desist all calls and contact with me immediately” to stop the harassment, call us for a free consultation about what you can do to resolve your debt problems for good.

What happens if you don t answer the phone for debt collectors? ›

Ignoring or avoiding a debt collector, though, is unlikely to make the debt collector stop contacting you. They may find other ways to contact you, including filing a lawsuit. While being contacted by a debt collector might feel overwhelming, talking with them can help you get more information about the debt.

How do you outsmart a debt collector? ›

6 Ways to Deal With Debt Collectors
  1. Check Your Credit Report. ...
  2. Make Sure the Debt Is Valid. ...
  3. Know the Statute of Limitations. ...
  4. Consider Negotiating. ...
  5. Try to Make the Payments You Owe. ...
  6. Send a Cease and Desist Letter.
Sep 3, 2022

What is the etiquette for collection calls? ›

Be polite, even validate their opinion, but always bring them right back to the point of your call — getting paid the money rightfully due to your company. Don't let the customer manipulate you. A screaming customer could be using anger as a ploy to get you upset and end the conversation.

What 4 things to ask for when a debt collector calls? ›

  • Who you're talking to (get the person's name)
  • The name of the debt collection company they work for.
  • The company's address and phone number.
  • The name of the original creditor.
  • The amount owed.
  • How you can dispute the debt or ensure that the debt is yours.
Jul 20, 2017

What's the worst a debt collector can do? ›

Even if you owe money, debt collectors aren't allowed to threaten, harass, or publicly shame you. You have the right to order a debt collector to stop contacting you, and they must comply. If there's a mistake, and you really don't owe the debt, you can take steps to remedy the error.

What not to tell debt collectors? ›

Don't provide personal or sensitive financial information

Never give out or confirm personal or sensitive financial information – such as your bank account, credit card, or full Social Security number – unless you know the company or person you are talking with is a real debt collector.

Should I answer debt collector calls? ›

Even if a debt is yours, you still have the right not to talk to the debt collector and you can tell the debt collector to stop contacting you. However, telling a debt collector to stop contacting you does not stop the debt collector or lender from using other legal ways to collect the debt from you, if you owe it.

Will a debt collector sue me for $500? ›

Collection agencies usually won't sue you for a debt of less than $500. While every collection agency has a different policy regarding debt lawsuits, you should feel reasonably safe from a legal claim if you owe less than $500 on a debt. However, if you receive a court summons from a collection agency, don't ignore it.

Do I have to answer debt collector calls? ›

Ignoring debt collection calls may make things easier for a while, but it won't make the problem disappear. Your debt situation could snowball and potentially turn into a bigger issue down the road. Your credit score could take a hit if you repeatedly ignore calls from debt collection agencies.

Why you shouldn't pay debt collectors? ›

By paying the collection agency directly, the notification of the debt could stay on your credit report longer than if you attempt to use another option, like filing for bankruptcy. When institutions check your credit report and see this information on it, it may harm your ability to obtain loans.

What are the illegal tactics of debt collectors? ›

A debt collector is also not allowed to harass, oppress, or abuse you or anyone else they contact. This includes repetitious phone calls with the intent to harass, use of obscene or profane language, and threats of violence or harm.

How many times can a debt collector call in one day? ›

According to the Federal Trade Commission, a debt collector may almost certainly call you more than once, but six calls per day is probably too many. Between these extremes, it depends on the facts of your particular case.

How do you handle a collection? ›

Here are six steps to deal with collection agencies.
  1. Be Willing to Communicate. Communicating with debt collectors can make it easier to resolve your debt. ...
  2. Organize Your Information. ...
  3. Know Your Rights. ...
  4. Know the Statute of Limitations. ...
  5. Go to Court. ...
  6. Settle the Debt.

How do you manage call handling? ›

  1. Be personable and positive. The last thing any caller wants is to be greeted by a grumpy or rude call handler! ...
  2. Communicate hold times. ...
  3. Ditch the script. ...
  4. Take notes. ...
  5. Acknowledge the issue. ...
  6. Walk them through your solution. ...
  7. Collect data – and use it! ...
  8. Don't interrupt – engage in active listening.
Aug 9, 2022

How do you manage a collection team? ›

Collections is no different—clear, centralized communication is the first ingredient to better collections staff management. After all, if collectors don't have clear directions from managers, they don't perform as well as they could. Internal communications affect collector morale, motivation and productivity.

How do you handle a collection notice? ›

How to deal with debt collection
  1. Verify the debt. You have the right to demand debt validation and debt verification letters; use it. ...
  2. Know your consumer rights. ...
  3. Choose a debt payoff method or dispute debt collection. ...
  4. Never ignore a court summons for debt collection. ...
  5. 5 Ways the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act Protects You.
Nov 16, 2023

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Madonna Wisozk

Last Updated:

Views: 5837

Rating: 4.8 / 5 (48 voted)

Reviews: 95% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Madonna Wisozk

Birthday: 2001-02-23

Address: 656 Gerhold Summit, Sidneyberg, FL 78179-2512

Phone: +6742282696652

Job: Customer Banking Liaison

Hobby: Flower arranging, Yo-yoing, Tai chi, Rowing, Macrame, Urban exploration, Knife making

Introduction: My name is Madonna Wisozk, I am a attractive, healthy, thoughtful, faithful, open, vivacious, zany person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.