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A Day In the Life of A Debt Collector

An Account From a Real-Life Collector

I arrive at work with a long list of people to call, knowing that if all goes well, I may call 125 people today.

Today, I’ll hear stories of businesses gone sour, failed marriages and terrible illnesses.

I’ll hear outright lies: “The check’s in the mail,” or “The stamp fell off.”

And I’ll hear children lie for their parents: “He’s not here.”

But that’s all part of my job as a debt collector.

Some people think of my profession as the lowest of the low, but I see it another way. I’m a problem-solver and I help people who are in trouble solve their problems. If I do my job well, my clients are happy, my company is happy and so am I.

I happen to work for an auto finance company, so my job is to keep people from having their cars, trucks and SUV’s repossessed.

The accounts that are assigned to me are my responsibility, and it’s one I take seriously.

I know that at any time I can decide to turn a loan over for repossession. That’s something I’d like to avoid, though, because a repossession automatically costs my company somewhere around $4,000. Since the client will ultimately be responsible for that debt, it will be just more difficult to try and collect from a customer who won’t even have a car any longer.

So my strategy is to work with customers to bring their loan up-to-date. I might be able to let them make an interest-only payment and move the principal to the end of the loan. I might be able to wait for a payment for a few more days, or even a week or so, depending on how far past due the account is, if they guarantee it will come. In fact, I have a variety of tools in my arsenal and I’m ready to pull out the one that best fits the situation.

There’s one thing, though, that makes my job miserable: lies. I’ve heard every one ever invented — and more than once.

I know right off the bat when someone isn’t telling the truth and that automatically sends up red flags. I simply can’t work as easily with someone who isn’t being honest and truthful as I can with someone who is.

No matter how many times it happens, I can’t help but be continually surprised by the fact that someone will tell repeated lies when I have their account history as evidence to the contrary on the computer screen right there in front of me.

Like the people I talk to every day, I have my own pressures. I have a mortgage to pay, car payments to make and kids to feed. I didn’t take this job to beat up on people or because I take a perverse pleasure in hearing people’s problems. I worked my way into this job and it’s a good one for me.

Just like anyone, I have bad days and good days, but I pride myself on dealing with my clients in a professional way.

Time to start calling.

My first call is a young girl who is in her twenties. I couldn’t find her from the phone number and address I had on file, so I have to do some investigating — “skip tracing” is what we call it.

I pull her credit report and, even with all my experience in this field, am still shocked to see how much debt she has at such a young age.

When I finally track her down, I try to broach the subject without going out of the parameters of my job: “I can’t discuss your credit report with you, but I did access it to find you and it looks like you have quite a bit of credit.” She breaks down in tears, not knowing what she should do.

That’s another exasperating aspect of the job — the fact that I can’t spend the kind of time I’d like helping a client find answers to mounting financial problems. I wish I could sit down with this young woman and go over her finances with a fine-tooth comb. But that’s not my job.

After working out a deferment on this month’s payment, I move on to the next name on my list.

Sometimes working as a debt collector feels like working in an emergency room. There are a lot of people to help, and I’m working triage, just trying to patch up the holes. I can only hope they get the help they need after they talk with me. I’m often glad to hear when our clients are getting professional help, because I know they’ll come out ahead if they stick with the program.

My second call is to a woman whose husband is dying of cancer and has let her bills fall behind. I truly can empathize because I lost a loved one to a terminal illness just a couple of years ago. But I have to gently remind her that life does, and will, go on for her. I tell her that if she lets her financial obligations fall behind now, she’ll have credit troubles that will haunt her for many years. She arranges a payment on the phone and I move on to the next call.

A real frustration of the job is the number of people who try to hide when times get tough. I know that I can help them save their account if they will work with me. But more people than you’d like to count think that if they ignore me, I’ll somehow go away. I’m responsible for their account, however, and I’ll keep working it until it’s settled — one way or the other.

I also know that if I can work with them now, when they’re not too far behind, it’s much better for them. Once someone hasn’t made a payment on an account for 30 to 60 days, any lender is going to consider it a pretty serious matter. Although lenders all have their own policies, I know that some of them will start foreclosing, repossessing or charging off accounts at anywhere from 45 to 90 days. And with some lenders, that means the account will be sold to an outside collection agency.

That’s where the “tough guys” can come in. While my company has trained me to always work within the guidelines of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, I know there are collection companies that operate on the fringes of the law.

I’ve heard some real horror stories from clients about the tactics other collectors have used to try to pressure them into payment. Some of those collectors work in boiler rooms, are paid on commission or have constant pressure on them to bring in payments.

One thing I know for sure is that every debt collector is different. If you put 20 collectors on the same account, you’ll get 20 different ways to deal with it. Unfortunately, I find that people tend to paint collectors with the same brush. Once they’ve had a bad experience with one, they don’t want to talk with any of them.

When clients tell me about their frustrations with a collector at another lender, I encourage them to speak to a supervisor or someone else.

I find it hardest to work with someone when they fall behind early on in their loan. If they’re late several times, or more than 30 days, in their first year of payments, that’s a real warning sign.

If someone’s more than halfway through the loan, though and they are running into trouble, I’ll have more flexibility to help them. I sometimes get clients who can’t make their payments on a five, six or even seven-year car loan and I know they are in deep trouble.

They are so far “upside down” on the loan that it will be a long time before they can right themselves.

When people ask me why I do what I do, I suggest they look at it this way. What would happen if people could make their loan payments any old time they felt like it? Lenders wouldn’t get their money back, they’d stop making loans and the whole system would collapse.

I point to the depression of the 1930′s, which was caused, in part, by people’s lack of faith in the banking system.

My job is an important one because it helps keep our credit system going.

But today, I don’t have time to reflect on the bigger picture. I have a job to do.

I know that if I’m successful, I will help a lot of people through tough times today. Sometimes they even thank me for it.

A Day In the Life of A Debt Collector by

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About Amanda Miller

Amanda Miller
  • Bluesapphire3

    I can relate to you a bit as I have worked in silimar, client services fields. It is your job to be sure that debtors keep their accounts up to date. Their lives really aren’t your problem because that’s not what you’re paid to do. You’re not paid to be a counselor. You’re there to collect a debt.

    However, on the other hand, I have to speak on behalf of being in the debtor’s shoes and from a more fair point of view. While you may actually care to handle your job properly, most don’t. Of the estimated 50 collectors I have talked to in my short years, I can only remember a total of two that I didn’t mind talking to. First of all, I am honest with my creditors as I see no reason to lie to them. If I can’t pay, I can’t pay, simple fact. No stamp fell off and the check is not in the mail! I’m also respectul and cheery when I do pick up the phone as I know how it is to be the employee who has to call on behalf of their employers. It is no problem to me to talk to the ones who follow up on me if I tell them I’m trying. I don’t mind picking up the phone for the ones who listen to my story, emphathize and DO try to find a way to either defer my payments or to lower them until I can get back on my feet.

    However, the other estimated 96% of collectors either come to me with a bad attitude or immediately become the devil if I tell them that I need some time. The later act like I’ve punched them in the face or owed money to them instead of the company they work for. I understand that maybe a customer before me cursed them out. But I didn’t curse them out and I don’t deserve to be treated in that manner anymore than they do. Some, women especially, sneak in comments that are unprofessional and I will end up dodging their calls just because they talk so vengefully. Add to that, the same ones call over and over and ask me same dumb questions. I talk to another operator and they tell me that none of the previous calls were logged or anything about my hardship was documented. How many times do they need to know that I’ve been out of work? It doesn’t help solve anything by threatening me. If I ask for an extension, tell me that you trying and find one. Don’t give me the line “if you don’t pay, we’ll keep harrasing you.” I’ll dodge them and they’ll know nothing until I chose to call. Where does that get anything? Besides, the longer I can’t pay, the company gets more money off of me via interest. They’re not loosing anything, only gaining more off of my bad situation.

    This is one profession that not only has a reputation for being bad, but has been proven to be pretty low. While you may be the rare one who doesn’t mean to be that way, you can’t explain the others or try to white wash the industry. Yes, you have to pay bills like the rest of us. Yes, you have to feed your family. But so does the hitman who kills people for a living. I don’t think he/she tries to explain away his profession and fellow co-workers. It’s the job and it’s a dirty one, but it pays. Period. Once you get that job, you have to be honest what kind of employer you work for. Just like I have to tell them over and over that I’m down low financially, unmployed despite my efforts and things aren’t getting much better, be honest about the company you work for. Via horrendous interest, they still take money from people even after they’ve paid back the amount they’ve owned. Interest is almost double the amount they borrowed. They harrass people until they are considering suicide. Instead of working with the people by lowering their payments for a while, they threaten to sue and take their homes. Rates are shifted up when people fall into hardships such as deaths and medical bills. If that’s not low, then I don’t know what is.

  • Bluesapphire3

    I can relate to you a bit as I have worked in silimar, client services fields. It is your job to be sure that debtors keep their accounts up to date. Their lives really aren’t your problem because that’s not what you’re paid to do. You’re not paid to be a counselor. You’re there to collect a debt.

    However, on the other hand, I have to speak on behalf of being in the debtor’s shoes and from a more fair point of view. While you may actually care to handle your job properly, most don’t. Of the estimated 50 collectors I have talked to in my short years, I can only remember a total of two that I didn’t mind talking to. First of all, I am honest with my creditors as I see no reason to lie to them. If I can’t pay, I can’t pay, simple fact. No stamp fell off and the check is not in the mail! I’m also respectul and cheery when I do pick up the phone as I know how it is to be the employee who has to call on behalf of their employers. It is no problem to me to talk to the ones who follow up on me if I tell them I’m trying. I don’t mind picking up the phone for the ones who listen to my story, emphathize and DO try to find a way to either defer my payments or to lower them until I can get back on my feet.

    However, the other estimated 96% of collectors either come to me with a bad attitude or immediately become the devil if I tell them that I need some time. The later act like I’ve punched them in the face or owed money to them instead of the company they work for. I understand that maybe a customer before me cursed them out. But I didn’t curse them out and I don’t deserve to be treated in that manner anymore than they do. Some, women especially, sneak in comments that are unprofessional and I will end up dodging their calls just because they talk so vengefully. Add to that, the same ones call over and over and ask me same dumb questions. I talk to another operator and they tell me that none of the previous calls were logged or anything about my hardship was documented. How many times do they need to know that I’ve been out of work? It doesn’t help solve anything by threatening me. If I ask for an extension, tell me that you trying and find one. Don’t give me the line “if you don’t pay, we’ll keep harrasing you.” I’ll dodge them and they’ll know nothing until I chose to call. Where does that get anything? Besides, the longer I can’t pay, the company gets more money off of me via interest. They’re not loosing anything, only gaining more off of my bad situation.

    This is one profession that not only has a reputation for being bad, but has been proven to be pretty low. While you may be the rare one who doesn’t mean to be that way, you can’t explain the others or try to white wash the industry. Yes, you have to pay bills like the rest of us. Yes, you have to feed your family. But so does the hitman who kills people for a living. I don’t think he/she tries to explain away his profession and fellow co-workers. It’s the job and it’s a dirty one, but it pays. Period. Once you get that job, you have to be honest what kind of employer you work for. Just like I have to tell them over and over that I’m down low financially, unmployed despite my efforts and things aren’t getting much better, be honest about the company you work for. Via horrendous interest, they still take money from people even after they’ve paid back the amount they’ve owned. Interest is almost double the amount they borrowed. They harrass people until they are considering suicide. Instead of working with the people by lowering their payments for a while, they threaten to sue and take their homes. Rates are shifted up when people fall into hardships such as deaths and medical bills. If that’s not low, then I don’t know what is.

  • billcollectorsarescum

    My second call is to a woman whose husband is dying of cancer and has let her bills fall behind. I truly can empathize because I lost a loved one to a terminal illness just a couple of years ago. But I have to gently remind her that life does, and will, go on for her. I tell her that if she lets her financial obligations fall behind now, she’ll have credit troubles that will haunt her for many years. She arranges a payment on the phone and I move on to the next call

    Her husband is dying and you set up a payment arrangement with her? You tell her life goes on? You are scum. Why don’t you tell her how sorry you are and then give her some grace?

  • billcollectorsarescum

    My second call is to a woman whose husband is dying of cancer and has let her bills fall behind. I truly can empathize because I lost a loved one to a terminal illness just a couple of years ago. But I have to gently remind her that life does, and will, go on for her. I tell her that if she lets her financial obligations fall behind now, she’ll have credit troubles that will haunt her for many years. She arranges a payment on the phone and I move on to the next call

    Her husband is dying and you set up a payment arrangement with her? You tell her life goes on? You are scum. Why don’t you tell her how sorry you are and then give her some grace?

  • Jake

    That’s easy collections. A person’s house and vehicle are the last 2 things they want to lose. Try collecting pay day loans and especially internet (illegal) payday loans. These debtors are the bottom of the barrel. You won’t take their check for payment if they are one of the few that pays. The bosses at these agencies are usually as chemically addicted as most of the employees. If you lucky to bonus it is low. Office conditions are filthy. And your lucky to stay a year at one agency. No other field wants you because they think your scum and can not talk to people and former bosses give you bad references because you cost them bonuses if your numbers were low. So author, you’re lucky collecting the paper you do. Try my job well you may keep it your hot looking and the bosses may protect you for sex. Seen it many times.

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