Caller ID is both a blessing and a curse. While it can bring a smile to your eyes when the face of a loved one comes up on your screen, it can flood your nervous system with anxiety when a number you suspect might be a collections agency shows there.
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a third of U.S. consumers get such calls. Moreover, they always seem to come at the most inopportune time. And yes, this is by design — which is why it’s critical to learn to be adept at handling collection calls.
Here’s what you need to know.
Keep Calm and Handle Your Business
Collectors want to fill you with anxiety so they can “solve” your problem by offering you an out that’s in their favor. Therefore you have to be methodical in your interactions with them to ensure you get all the information you need to make the best decision for you.
The moment you realize you’re talking to someone from a collections agency, ask permission to record the call. If they don’t grant it, politely explain you can’t communicate with them unless they agree to be recorded.
You might need a record of everything they say at some point and recording the call is the best way to get it. If you have yet to download an app for this purpose, it’s a good one to have — regardless of your financial situation.
Stay calm. Don’t use an aggressive tone, profanity or slurs. The person is just doing their job. If you’re cool, they might be willing to cut you a deal — if in fact you do owe the money.
Don’t Accept Responsibility for Debt on the Phone
There are circumstances under which your legal obligation for a debt may have lapsed, but you can reawaken it by admitting ownership of it.
Whenever a collector calls you for the first time, say something like, “I don’t believe I owe this debt. What documentation can you provide that proves it’s mine?” Give them your physical address (which they already have anyway) and ask for the information to be sent to you on paper.
They will probably tell you it needs to be requested in writing, at which point you’ll get their contact information and ask them to refrain from contacting you again until they receive proof of delivery. Reiterate both requests in the letter you send.
They are legally obligated to desist contact you once they’ve been asked to do so in writing.
Disclose Only What Is Pertinent
Collectors will try to glean information about your income, place of employment, debts and other bills — none of which are relevant to the discussion. Politely decline to answer any such questions.
Remember, the purpose of their call is to secure payment of the debt. Any information you provide will be used for that purpose. Why give them additional data to use against you?
Negotiate the Best Solution for You — Not the Collector
Once you have proof the debt is yours — and have decided to work with the collector to resolve it — tell them what you can afford to pay, how often you can afford to pay it and stick to that offer until it is accepted.
If you have the means to pay half of the outstanding amount all at once (perhaps you can get a debt consolidation loan or something similar) tell them you’re willing to pay that amount in one fell swoop — if they’ll agree to accept it as payment in full.
If they say yes, ask for a letter to that effect to be sent to you outlining the terms of their agreement. When you have it in hand, send the payment, using a method by which it can be tracked.
Handling debt collection calls is an exercise best undertaken with your intellect rather than your emotions. Every problem has a solution; it’s just a matter of thinking things through calmly and rationally to ensure your interests are also protected.