You may have questions when it comes to creditors calling you. Here are questions most people have when it comes to creditors.
Can creditors call you late at night or unreasonable hours?
Can creditors call you at work?
Can creditors call you repeatedly?
Can they harass or threaten you?
See below for more….
Although debt collectors have certain rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), your rights to not be harassed over the phone are stronger. The FDCPA clearly states that you are not required by law to interact directly with annoying debt collectors, and you can certainly report them if they violate the rules.
PROVEN TACTICS TO HANDLE CREDITOR CALLS
Debt is extremely stressful. Regardless of how much we try to avoid it, it’s rare to go through life without ever having to face some financial problem. For most of us, spending money elevates our mood by acting as a reward for an accomplishment, or a way to compensate for disappointments. But it’s a temporary fix. Debt has a way of fueling depression, making it hard to feel good about an impulse purchase.
Not having enough money to cover the essentials or achieve the quality of life we want wreaks emotional havoc on our psyche. Borrowing money can lead to all sorts of problems that have nothing to do with accounting and everything to do with psychology. According to the American Psychological Association, 72% of Americans said they felt stressed about money, and 22% said they felt “extreme” stress over their finances.
When collectors start calling, it only adds insult to injury and heightens our anxiety and guilt about our situation. We feel like we’re in trouble and fear that these collectors are deliberately trying to shame us or reveal our confidential financial secrets. Even if we’re aware that collectors are trained to attack your vulnerable points, the disastrous effects of debt and collection agency pressure still have a negative impact on our health.
There are a few ways in which our brain responds to financial stress:
Denial usually means underestimating what you owe, not answering the phone when it might be a collector, leaving bills unopened, applying for new credit cards when you’re maxed out and telling yourself that being in debt is normal. Ignoring reality is a handy defense mechanism for the brain when you want to rationalize spending mistakes. The trouble is, harsh reality eventually sets in.
Stress is the opposite of denial and manifests itself through a lack of sleep, loss of focus, constant worry, arguing with your spouse about money, and nearly hyperventilating when a new bill arrives. It also can make you paranoid about your job, since losing it would make your financial situation considerably worse.
Guilt leaves you with a sick feeling in your stomach. You may feel embarrassed that you got in over your head financially and ruminated on why you ever bought that new stove or went to see a movie in the theater instead of watching TV at home. Guilt can affect even the smallest things, like feeling guilty for ordering a $5 drink at dinner instead of drinking water.
FEAR AND PANIC
Fear and panic stem from a heightened level of stress. The idea of receiving a late payment notice doesn’t just make you uncomfortable, it gives you a rapid heartbeat, turns your breathing erratic breathing, and even gives you the shakes. You assume the worst—that you’ll be homeless if your house gets foreclosed, or that because you couldn’t afford a tune-up, your car will break down on the way to work and you’ll get fired for being late. No one wants to live in the realm of irrational thoughts, but they have a way of taking over.
ANGER AND FRUSTRATION
There is an actual proven phenomenon called Debt-Anger Syndrome. Instead of panicking or denying their debt, some people get disproportionately angry at creditors who continually send them bills. Then they get mad at the mailman for delivering collection letters and bills, mad at their bosses for not paying them a higher salary, angry at their spouses for not getting a promotion and making more money, and mad at their children for having a cavity or needing braces. These people are angry at life and especially furious with themselves for getting into debt in the first place.
After someone works through the various stages of denial, freaking out, and lashing out over their debt, those bills are still staring them in the face. That’s when hopelessness and depression set in, along with lowered self-esteem. Financial depression can lead to even more debt, as people try to alleviate their despair by shopping or planning a getaway “to relax.”
But this is a vicious cycle that only leads to more debt, which then creates more intense feelings of depression and despair. Before long, you won’t even care whether debt causes your pain or if it’s debt that’s causing you pain. You just want it to end.
Among the negative effects of all these reactions to stress is impaired cognitive functioning. That means you can’t focus on being attentive and remembering things or rationally solve problems when you’re freaking out over your electric bill. It’s no wonder that you aren’t always sure how to respond when aggressive, annoying creditors call—you’re off your game.
Related: 5 Common Debt Traps to Avoid
A debt collector’s entire strategy is to play on your feelings of guilt, anxiety, and fear to try to manipulate you into paying. Remaining calm and keeping it strictly business will give you the advantage. Remember that debt collectors generally don’t care about your financial struggles, or if you’re suffering emotional distress because you’ve fallen on hard times, they just want your money.
KEEP A COLLECTIONS CALL LOG
It’s important to keep notes on what was discussed. A collection call log will help you straighten out which company is calling and which debts they are trying to resolve. It will also help you remember any inconsistencies in what collectors say to you from one day to the next in case you end up reporting them to the FDCPA.
As a side note, if a creditor keeps calling you on your cell, feel free to use technology to block them. You are not obligated to automatically pick up when the phone rings.
WRITE A LETTER TELLING THEM TO STOP
An effective tactic is to send a cease-and-desist letter by certified mail that clearly states that you no longer want collectors to call you. Debt collectors are forced to abide by your request or else be in violation of the law. If they keep calling after your “Do Not Call” request, consider utilizing phone recording services to provide hard evidence of harassment as a backup if you plan to report them.
BE HONEST ABOUT NOT BEING ABLE TO PAY
Legally, collectors are not obligated to stop asking for their money just because you are experiencing financial hardship. Even though they may not care, giving them an explanation of your financial difficulties might have the effect of humanizing you and inciting some degree of compassion. The ideal situation will be if they agree to give you more time to come up with the money or agree to smaller installments than your current minimum payment. It may also prevent your file from proceeding to litigation.
IF YOU THINK YOU DON’T OWE THE DEBT, TELL THEM WHY
If you feel the debt isn’t legit and that you shouldn’t have to pay it, don’t be afraid to tell the collector why (i.e., if you are separated from your spouse and don’t want to be held responsible for their new car or “revenge shopping” spree). If your reason is valid, most collectors will back down and agree to cease collection on the debt.
ALLOW THEM TO HAVE YOUR CURRENT ADDRESS
In addition to dodging phone calls, your instinct may be to run and hide from collectors by refusing to give them your address. Unfortunately, this can backfire. If a collector has your current address, then contacting employers or friends is illegal. But if they don’t, there’s a lot more legal leeway in calling or writing to your employer or friends to obtain your address. You certainly do not want to make life more stressful by dragging others into your debt, so let them have your current address so that they can correspond with you by mail.
KNOW WHAT THEY CAN AND CANNOT DO
The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from abusive or harassing tactics. It also forbids collectors from communicating with others about your debt and places limitations on when the collector can contact you. If they blatantly violate any FDCPA laws, you may be able to sue them for damages, plus your attorney fees and an additional $1,000 for your trouble.
Here’s an overview of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
You should never, ever:
• Provide bank account or debit card numbers (unless you are making an agreed-upon payment)
• Give them your social security number
• Divulge the value of assets or property that you own
• Make payment promises that you know you will not be able to keep
• Make a “Good Faith” payment not pursuant to a settlement agreement because it can extend the statute of limitations on how long collector can take legal action against you
Even though it’s easy to become emotional when a collector calls, it’s imperative that you do NOT lose your temper. Using profanity, yelling, or being hostile won’t accomplish anything. And if your call records are ever reviewed by the collection agency, or are ever needed for court action, it will only hurt you if evidence states that you are actually the abusive one.
REMEMBER THAT THERE ARE OPTIONS TO BETTER YOUR SITUATION
If debt is driving you crazy, take heart. You don’t need to spend money on anti-anxiety medication or spend time on a psychiatrist’s couch to feel better about your precarious financial situation. You just need to get out of debt, which is possible if you come up with a sensible plan with realistic goals.
Whatever the circumstances were that led to you ending up with an uncomfortable level of debt, you need to forgive yourself and emotionally let go. Realize that you are in control of your future. Then you can move forward by reducing your expenses and making regular payments to creditors with the goal of being debt-free by a specific date. Imagine how amazing that will feel!
Schedule a free consultation today for a risk-free debt assessment. The only thing you have to lose is your debt.