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How to respond when a debt collector contacts you in three easy steps

Photo of receiving mail, making notes and mapping a plan

Receiving a call from a debt collector can be stressful. Your first instinct may be to hide or ignore the situation and hope it goes away. But that can make things worse. We have resources to help you respond to debt collectors.

1. First, know your rights

There are laws that restrict what debt collection can say or do. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prohibits debt collection companies from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect debts from you. Under this law, a debt collector cannot:

  • Call repeatedly to harass you
  • Abuse or mistreat you
  • Contact you at a time or place they know or should know is inconvenient, including before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. unless they know otherwise
  • Use obscene language
  • Make a false or misleading statement about what you owe
  • Publish your name for not paying the debt
  • Lie to you
  • Threaten to have you arrested for not paying the debt

You should know that even if a debt collector violates the law, the debt does not go away. You do have the right to sue, and if you win, the judge can require the debt collector to pay you damages. The court can also order the debt collector to pay your attorney fees if it is determined that they did violate the law.

2. Make sure the debt is yours 

When a debt collector calls, ask questions to find out if the debt and the debt collector are legit. You should find out:

  • 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

Take notes and document everything. We have sample letters and other resources that can help you request additional information from a debt collector.

3. Act quickly

Depending on your situation, there may be several different actions that you can take when you are contacted about a debt. 

If the debt is several years old, be sure to find out what your state’s statute of limitations is for a debt collector filing a lawsuit to collect the debt from you before making a payment. You may want to consult an attorney or the applicable law in your state.

If you’re not sure that the debt is yours, write the debt collector and dispute the debt or ask for more information.

If you find out that the debt does not belong to you, don’t delay! Write the debt collector and tell them that the debt is not yours and that you do not want to be contacted about the debt again in the future 

If the debt is yours, don’t worry. Decide on the total amount you are willing to pay to settle the entire debt and negotiate with the debt collector for the rest to be forgiven. This could be a lump sum or a payment plan. Be honest with yourself about how much you can pay each month.

Remember, responding to a debt collector doesn’t have to be scary. We have resources that can help

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