Keeping debt collectors honest and how best to respond to them

We see a lot of people who are dealing with sometimes abusive debt collectors. A recent New York Times article, Jan 13, 2017: How to Keep Debt Collectors Honest and at Bay provides some excellent advice. Among the tips provided (and our tips) are:

  1.  If you are at all unsure that the debt is valid or the amounts are correct, demand documentation to validate the debt. (Debt collectors often do not have this information but be insistent).
  2. Put all requests in writing. In fact, demand the name of the collector, a mailing address and contact information, the name of the original creditor, and the name of the current owner of the debt.
  3. Don’t assume that the collector or the party they claim to represent really own the debt. A lot of bad debts get sold off. Some collectors have attempted to collect “stolen” debt accounts that they do not own.
  4. Do not let collectors call you at work or call neighbors. Demand that they stop, orally and in writing. Keep all those papers.
  5. If the debt is older than 6 years since you first defaulted (unless you entered into a payment plan after that) any suit may be barred in New Jersey by the statute of limitations. (if it is a store credit card, the limitation is 4 years). Demand the date when the debt first became past due.
  6. Do not put up with abuse. If this happens, tell the collector you are recording the call and if possible record it. (Recording a call without notice is a criminal violation in many states and if your collector is calling from one of those states you could get in trouble)
  7. Finally and most importantly, you need to assess your finances and get professional advice. Start with doing a budget for just your basic living expenses (ie food, shelter, transportation, medical care etc). Often there is no money left over to pay debts being collected, or not enough. There are budget forms for you to use on the Forms page of our website.
  8. Finally, do not be reluctant to use bankruptcy as a tool to pay, settle or obtain relief from your debts. As we have noted in another blog post, at least one study has shown that those who used bankruptcy to overcome financial distress later had better credit and better access to credit than those who did not.

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