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I’m Worried About Calling a Debt Collector. What Should I Do?

Dealing with debt collectors can be a scary prospect. If you have ever dealt with an overly aggressive and abrupt collector, your preference for avoiding a repeat call can be understandable. Perhaps you’ve never had to call a collector, but having done some research online, are concerned you could be subjected to similar experiences that others have written about.

Regardless of what you’re expecting when you call a debt collector, do not let that prevent you from being proactive about dealing with the situation. Putting off what you can do today, when it comes to accounts in collection, can lead to larger obstacles and costs tomorrow.

A recent question from a reader helps to illustrate this:

I have been trying to pay a few bills from a surgery my daughter had a year ago. … Most of the bills are paid off, however the two big bills were sent to collection, so I continued to pay through them. They stopped sending me the statements in November. I am not sure how to proceed. I could just keep sending a payment to the address but I don’t like not knowing if a credit went through. I hesitate on calling because I am afraid that will open something I don’t want to deal with and I am hearing impaired. I do not answer any calls I do not recognize. Any suggestions on the best way to proceed?”

In my experiences of helping people overcome the fear of calling debt collectors, there is a difference between answering collectors’ calls, and making the call yourself.

When you pick up a call, it may be an inconvenient time for you. If you are not prepared to talk about resolving your debt they are collecting on, you will not appreciate the interruption. The collector may have been perfectly cordial, but because the call came while you were, say, grabbing lunch with your co-worker, you may feel put on the spot, or even embarrassed.

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When you are being proactive by calling a debt collector:

  • You’re calling on your terms and at a time most convenient for you.
  • You can often feel more in control of the conversation when you are dialing out to the debt collector. This mindset can often benefit the outcome you are working toward.
  • You are calling for a purpose, and will likely maintain your focus to accomplish your goal, rather than be led to a place a debt collector may want to take the call out of habit (using high pressure collection tactics).

Something else you may not realize is that when you are calling the collector with a resolution in mind, you are exhibiting willingness, and at least some form of ability to pay the debt the collector has on their desk. This fact alone puts your call in a position to be handled differently by a collector who may spend most of their workday… every workday… trying to reach people who do not want to be contacted.

People I have coached through the process of dealing with debt collectors overwhelmingly tell me that there are indeed differences in mindset when they are instigating the calls to a debt collector.

The Fear of Opening a Can of Worms

The fear of creating a situation that you may not be familiar with if you call a debt collector is not irrational. Debt collectors, in general, have a reputation for being overly pushy. And when even a small number of collectors use tricks and verbal contortions that result in people being taken (or feeling like they have), it can color public perception that talking to the debt collector, even when you want to pay, is something to be avoided.

In this reader’s situation, I might call the original medical service provider and start off by asking why they stopped sending a monthly invoice (they may have pulled your account, or stopped working with the debt collection agency altogether)? You may ask if you can just continue making payments directly to their office.

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If you are told to connect with the same, or a different collection company, call them right away. I have seen too many instances where many months of no communication after some type of clerical or systems error, can lead to an account being placed with a collection attorney who can then sue to collect. A judgment against you will add unnecessary costs to a debt that would have otherwise been paid off without interruption, let alone the additional pressure and emotional stress these situations bring with them. (Judgments can also take a major toll on your credit. You can check your credit scores for free on Credit.com.)

When you have a reasonable expectation that you will be able to continue making your monthly payments, there is likely to be little sleight-of-hand from the collector. But even though you are not expecting any tricks, remember that debt collectors are trained to maximize what they get paid. You can expect debt collectors to want you to pay more than what you can afford, and for that to be the focus of virtually everything they say and do. Be prepared to reestablish your budget limitations, and only agree to pay what you know you can keep up with.

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This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

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