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Should I talk to a Debt Collector and What Should I Say

If you are being called or harassed by a debt collector, one of the purposes of that debt collector is to get you to talk. Should you? This is going to depend on whether you have anything to say.

Debt Collectors Target Struggling People

As I have mentioned before, the debt collection business is targeted at distressed people. The debt collectors already know you don’t have much money, and they know you probably have other people trying to get money from you. Their job is not to force you to pay somebody—it’s to force you to pay them. Another way to put that is that they are not competing with you—they’re competing with other debt collectors. You are the football in a game between the debt collectors, the string in a game of tug of war. Does that make sense?

Silence Can Be Golden when Dealing with Collections

The job of the debt collector is to get you to pay them instead of someone else. They can do this either by annoying you so much that you pay them to get them off the phone or by establishing a sympathetic connection to you so you gladly do it for the voice on the other end of the line. Both of these methods involve keeping you on the phone and the connection open, and neither of these methods is directed at your well-being. Also, if they can get you to reveal information about your job or bank, or any kind of assets you have, they can improve their chances of making you pay against your will. So unless you have your own purpose for communicating, you shouldn’t do it.

Sometimes it Makes Sense to Talk to Collectors

What might be a good reason for you to communicate? Well, because you want something tangible from the debt collector to whom you are speaking. You could want them to reduce interest rates, waive penalties, agree not to give information on your debt to the credit reporting agencies, or any number of actual, materially beneficial things. If you’re hoping to get a friendly voice or understanding, a debt collector is the wrong person to talk to: they already understand everything they want to know about your situation. Talk to someone else for that.

Negotiate—And Get It in Writing

Don’t be afraid to negotiate. You can ask for anything from them, and in most cases the debt collector could give you anything you might request. So be bold. If you want to settle for ten cents on the dollar, you can ask. They may laugh—but laughter is just a part of the negotiation and doesn’t mean they won’t do it. And if they agree to do anything, you must get the agreement in writing. In a practical sense, it doesn’t count if you don’t get it in writing. You won’t be able to prove it, and in some cases an oral “modification” would not even be legally recognizable even if you could prove it. It must be in writing.

They’ll want something in return. An immediate payment, an agreement to pay by a certain date, something. You can agree to this if you can do it, but you’re spinning your wheels if you cannot, so it makes sense to limit your promises to things you’re sure you can perform. Don’t over-commit, as this may negate the agreement you reach and will almost certainly increase the number and hostility of the phone calls you are receiving. Remember that the debt collector is keeping records of everything you say (so don’t tell them where you work or bank).

Stop Talking to Collectors When You’ve Said What You Need to Say

And when you run out of reasons to keep talking to the debt collector, make sure that you actually stop talking to them. There is always a price for anything you say – you’re giving them free information that they will use to decide to sue you. Sometimes talking to them is worth that price, but if that changes, you should feel no obligation to keep talking.

What about Partial Payments?

We think partial payments are bad unless you know exactly how you will pay the whole debt and unless you understand what making the payment will do to you. To read more on this issue – and you really should if you’re even thinking about making a partial payment, click here: Never Make Partial Payments.