Deborah Wants to Write Letters to Creditors. But is That a Waste of Time?


“Dear Steve,

I have over $30,000 of debt. Most of this is credit card debt but almost as much is medical (doctors, emergency room, ambulance, nursing home, etc.) I thankfully had insurance that paid 80% of those bills.

I am disabled now. I have just recently begun getting a disability check ($677.00/month) I have no job, no savings, no checking account, no property, car, etc. I do not own a house either. I am divorced.

I stay with my sons and their families. I also stay with my ex-husband at times. I do still receive my mail at his house.

I am on some very expensive medications, I still have to go to the doctor every 2 months. I have test done (blood, urine, etc) In other words most of my disability goes to pay for medical needs. I will be eligible for medicare/medicaid, in January ’09.

I do not have money to even see a lawyer about filing bankruptcy much less pay court cost or whatever that is called. I have had three garnishments, even though I haven’t worked in over 2 years. The collection people call my children, my brothers, sisters, ex-husband, and even my ex-brother-in-law. I am 52 years old.

I don’t know what to do. I think I should write letters to the creditors and explain my situation. My son says they don’t care a bit about why I can’t pay. I don’t own anything that can be repossessed. My son says to just forget about it, my credit is already ruined. Can they put me in jail for this? I am so frightened. We do not have a free legal aid here where I live.


Dear Deborah,

I am so sorry that you have had to live through this struggle and financial stress. Hopefully by the time you finish reading my answer you’ll feel better about the situation.

Here is what I learned from reading your information; you are homeless and broke. While you have a roof over your head, thanks to the kindness of people that love you, you have nothing for creditors to go after. You did not mention it but I suspect you don’t have loads of stocks or cash in the bank.

In your current financial state, bankruptcy would probably be the best solution since there is no expectation that you will be able to repay these debts. But it isn’t free to go bankrupt, even if a bankruptcy lawyer donated their time to help. You could go down to the local bankruptcy court, get the forms for free and file bankruptcy yourself but you’d still have to pay the court fees. Maybe you can ask for bankruptcy filing fees for the upcoming holidays?

Writing letters to your creditors may be a valuable exercise if it helps you to feel like you have done the responsible thing by being open and honest with them. The reality is that it probably won’t change a thing or stop collection activity, except for maybe a random creditor. Generally it is not effective at all.

Your situation does not prevent you from being pursued by collectors or sued by your creditors. But even if your creditors sued you and won, which they will, you don’t have anything for them to go after. If your financial situation improves you could go bankrupt then and it would kill the financial claims against you, even if you are sued and lose.

You can deal with the collectors in the following ways:

  • The collectors are probably calling everyone else because they don’t know how to reach you, can’t reach you or you are hiding from them. Hiding or not being able to be contacted, does not make the problem go away. You should establish a way for your collectors to be able to speak to you. Turn the situation around by trying to make a friend of the collector. You still can’t pay but it will be a nicer interaction for all.
  • Read my article “How to Hide From Debt Collection, the Debt Collector, and Creditors” and consider getting a prepaid cell TracFone and tell all the people the collectors are calling now, to give the new TracFone number to the collectors. This way the collectors will call you, but on a number you can turn off if you can’t deal with it.
  • When the collectors call, you can very politely explain your situation to the collector. They will make a note of it in the system. As your number keeps coming up again and again they will see the past notes and spend less time trying to collect from someone that can’t pay. More effort will go into chasing those that can pay. In a few months the calls will diminish and go away, only to potentially resurface if your account is sent to another collection agency.
  • You could send a cease and desist letter like the sample one below to stop collectors from calling anymore. That’s the good news, the bad news is that it might force your case to court quicker but then again, you can’t pay and have nothing to lose if they win anyway. You should send the letter by some traceable means. The least expensive way would be through the U.S. post office by certified mail return receipt requested.

    RE: [Account Number]

    You are hereby notified under provisions the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, that I am requesting that you cease and desist communication with me, as well as my family and friends, in relation to this and all other alleged debts you claim I owe.

    You and your organization must cease & desist all attempts to collect the above debt. Failure to comply with this law may result in my immediately filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and the Attorney General’s office.

    Please note that I may utilize telephone recording devices in order to document any telephone conversations that we may have in the future.

    If you send that above letter to the collection agencies they can contact you one more to give you an update on the disposition of your account.

    This does not guarantee that this will be the end of collection activity. Your account may be passed back to the original creditor and they can go after you, and the law allows them to do that, or the account may be sent out to another collection agency to try to collect.

    The cease and desist letter is not a cure, it just treats the symptoms. The underlying issue, the debt, still remains.

    Now, let me assure you, you are not going to jail for any of your debts. You can wipe that worry right off your list of things to worry about. It is not a reality, not a consideration, and it won’t happen.


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Steve Rhode is the Get Out of Debt Guy and has been helping good people with bad debt problems since 1994. You can learn more about Steve, here.
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5 thoughts on “Deborah Wants to Write Letters to Creditors. But is That a Waste of Time?”

  1. I don’t understand why jail time is off the table. If you buy products or services and don’t pay for them, it’s theft. Maybe this country would be better off by not letting people steal (bankrupcy filers) from the people that actually work and pay taxes.

    • If someone has a longterm illness with thousands of dollars of monthly medical costs, they are not “stealing” to get medical care. Sometimes the only way a doctor will see you is if you put the charges on credit card. If one has to be self-employed due to illness (in my case for 32 years, with several medical appts. per week and 11 monthly prescriptions) and the cheapest health insurance is over $1000 a month after age 50 and copays and deductibles and prescriptions are another $5000 a year, and one works every available hour that one can and takes only a few days off a year apart from medical visits, one is not stealing in order to get the medical care that keeps one alive. For those of us who became disabled early in life, the maximum disability payments we could collect is likely to be $400/month – and when renting one room in a shared house costs at least $800 where I live and a 1 bedroom apt. costs $1500/month to rent plus another $200/month for heat, this means homelessness.  I choose to work rather than die on the street, live very cheaply, and don’t own anything worth over $20 except an old computer. Most people in debt are in debt because of huge medical costs over which they have no control. They should not be blamed.

  2. Get the bankruptcy forms on-line or at an office supply store, fill them out and file yourself. Ask your kids to pony up the filing fee. A whole lot cheaper than a lawyer You need to get free of this harrassment for your health’s sake. God Bless.

  3. I WAS PAYMEN A DEBT COLLECTION IN THE AMOUNT OF 200.00 A MONTH, THIS PAST April I CONTACT THEM WASN’T WORKING due to my husband became sick and have cancer… I have explaine this to the collection dept. But they have started back calling me what am i to do? I have been sending then 100.00 a month ALSO MY MOTHE OF 73 YEARS OLD I HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF TOO,I HAVE NO INCOME

  4. Dear Mr. Rhode,
    I was dismissed from my job after 13 years. I’m 67, and your letter was the first breath of fresh air I have had. Thank you.

    Charles Schubert


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