How to Best Deal With a Debt Collector or Debt Collection Agency — What Everyone Needs to Know

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Hi, this is Steve Rhode, your Get Out of Debt Guy from GetOutofDebt.org. Today I wanted to share some life-altering low-stress advice on how to best deal with debt collectors.

I think what I’m going to share will surprise you and be a big help if you or someone you know is getting calls from a debt collection agency.

When it comes to debt collectors, not everything you believe is true. So let’s put all the assumptions aside for this podcast.

By the time you finish listening, you learn new tools and techniques to:

  • better deal with debt collection agencies;
  • engage with debt collectors in a constructive and lower-stress way;
  • and understand how to set yourself up for success with a debt collector.

Getting a phone call from a debt collector is scary and stressful for most people. So we desperately try to avoid the call. That is a normal knee-jerk reaction.

A collection call can trigger many emotions, from fear and shame to anger and hostility.

It is understandable, but none of those emotions are helpful for either you or the debt collector.

But I’m here today to share with you some secrets and tips I learned when I had to deal with debt collectors in my life. These are secrets that I’ve been sharing since 1994, and they are time-tested and proven to work.

I’m also going to ask my debt coach friend Damon Day to join us to share real-life lessons he’s learned from dealing with debt collectors daily on behalf of his clients needing debt help.

Let’s take a giant step back and look at some realities you may not consider when facing financial stress and panic.

If a debt collector is contacting you, it is for one of three reasons.

First, the call might be regarding a current financial obligation you are behind on for one reason or another. Hey, life happens. The fact something happened in your life does not make you a failure. Not at all. I’m going to give your the tools to deal with that scenario.

Second, A debt collector might be trying to get in touch with you over an old or purchased debt. Sometimes these are called Zombie Debts because they keep coming back to life.

Third, the debt collector call might be a mistake. But, hey, it happens sometimes.

I’ve received my share of collection calls in my life where the collection agency was looking for someone who had my phone number before me. I once even had a debt collector aggressively pushing me to pay an old bridge toll from a fuzzy picture of a car. But, once I kindly made him realize I didn’t even live in the US at that time, his tune changed, and he became cordial and helped to resolve the issue.

And let’s not forget that the collector call might be from a scammer, not a legitimate debt collector. Those types of calls are in a league of their own. The most common examples of those calls are when someone claims you had an old payday loan or owe the IRS. They are nearly all scam calls. Just hang up.

While it is human nature to immediately respond emotionally to the call, the better action plan is to gather facts and give the best responses, not spew venom or unnecessary information.

Debt collectors are people working for a paycheck. They don’t take it personally that you owe a debt to someone else. They are just doing a job-some do it better than others.

I’ve learned from my decades of helping people with debt that people on all sides of this situation are often unhappy. The consumer hates getting the call, and the collector hates being yelled at and called names.

I once went to visit a national debt collection center for a large credit card company. I walked through the facility and watched the collectors have calls dumped on them by a computer automatically dialing consumers and pushing the call to the next available debt collector.

The collectors were judged by the number of promises to pay they could get out of customers. They were also evaluated on how long they were on phone calls. If they took too long, that was a negative mark.

At the end of my visit to the collection center, I couldn’t help but feel many of the collectors did not enjoy their job all that much.

I had stopped to quickly ask questions to some debt collectors when my guides were distracted. Some whispered it felt like a factory assembly line. The computer-connected calls just kept coming.

The tour was insightful on many levels. I’m so glad I had the chance to do it.

The collection center was in a nondescript business park. There was no signage to tell people what was happening inside.

A guard stood at the front door. So when I entered the facility, I assumed the guard was there to keep the public out.

But as the day ended and I walked out these same doors, I could not help but feel the guard might be there to keep the collectors in.

When dealing with my financial problems in the early 1990s, I felt the entire range of emotions you might be feeling right now.

But, at that time, I was an uneducated consumer without much experience dealing with debt collection calls. I didn’t know anything about getting out of debt. I was a real estate developer and not a consumer debt expert.

I was in your same fearful, angry, anxious shoes. If you have a debt collector calling you now, I truly know how you feel as you listen to this.

After a short time, I realized as long as I felt angry, afraid, and ashamed that, those emotions I felt were ruining my day and nobody else. Likewise, my inability to sleep or my lack of appetite wasn’t hurting anyone else. Just me.

My self-talk of being a failure as a husband and father because of financial situations beyond my control was a reality I was creating in my own head. But that didn’t make it a true statement.

So I turned the situation around. Instead of avoiding the debt collectors and being tense and hostile, I made it a point to be kind and friendly.

Sounds kind of crazy, right?

That little perspective shift changed the entire situation and improved my daily life a little each day I struggled.

Instead of being afraid when a collector would call, I made them my friend by being kind, cordial, and strategically honest. Meaning I did not give more information than was necessary.

By making the debt collectors my friends, I had some great conversations, traded some fantastic recipes, and learned a lot of good tips.

By approaching the calls with kindness, I turned the stressful situation into something more tolerable. I can’t say it eliminated 100 percent of the unhealthy emotions, but it eliminated 90 percent of my stress and anxiety.

I began to not dread many of the collection calls from then on.

You see, I started asking questions once we had created a cordial environment to have a conversation.

I was so embarrassed and ashamed about my financial situation I didn’t have hardly anyone I felt comfortable talking to about it. But the debt collectors knew I was in debt and having trouble paying.

Some of the calls went from the debt collector giving me a demand to pay to me saying there was no way I could promise to make a payment, and I asked the collector what they would do in my shoes.

The answers surprised me. Most were reasonable, and some were ridiculous.

Into the silly bucket, I dumped the suggestions of selling my blood or having a yard sale. That might help the payment they wanted on that call this week, but it would never resolve my situation.

I learned most debt collectors are good decent people and that not every profession is filled with top folks. Of course, a small minority of debt collectors were jerks, but I learned how to deal with them from the collectors I had made my friend.

Once the friendly collectors and I could talk more openly, I learned some were also struggling financially.

Other collectors told me I should file bankruptcy as soon as possible. When I said I didn’t want to do that because I was worried about what the creditors would think about me, I was told, “Steve, you’re just a number on a screen. Nobody is judging you here.”

A lightbulb went off for me then.

The only person judging me about my financial troubles was me. My stress, fear, and anger over my situation were all being generated by me, and why was I doing this to myself?

Years later, I concluded that debt issues are just simple math problems wrapped in emotion. The math took an hour to figure out. The feelings took years to get through.

One of the landmines I learned to avoid from a friendly collector served me well.

Jim said, “Steve, the worst thing you can do is try to get me off the phone by making a promise to pay that you won’t be able to make.”

I said, “So what should I do since you are looking for a payment?”

He said, “Tell me you can’t afford to pay now. Most people make a promise to pay and then miss the payment. Collectors will take that as evidence you don’t want to pay and are stringing us along. I don’t have time to deal with people who don’t make a promised payment or people being rude and hostile. I’ve got to move on to other calls because the system is flashing at me.”

He added, “By the way, thanks for that banana bread recipe you gave me last week. It was great. Talk soon. Bye.”

I mentioned a debt collector suggested to me I should file for bankruptcy. At that time, I didn’t fully understand that suggestion. Why would I do that if television and radio personal finance experts told me I had to repay my creditors to honor my promises or I was a failure?

Years after living through my debt crisis, I decided to take what I had learned and help good people with bad debt deal with their situations. So a friend and I started a non-profit credit counseling agency and got a chance to see behind the debt collection curtain.

During my credit counseling days, I had many opportunities to see what was going on in collection operations because collection companies and credit counselors were forced into a closer relationship as the years went by.

Once I was in a credit card company collection supervisor’s office, getting yet another tour of a collection center.

The phone would ring, and she would tell the person to file bankruptcy. This went on a few times, and I finally said, “I don’t understand; why are you telling those consumers to file bankruptcy if I might be able to help them?”

The collection supervisor said in an irritated voice, “Look. My bosses judge me each month on how much money my department collects.” And in a moment of stark truth, she blurted out, “People that file bankruptcy doesn’t count against my numbers, and it gets them off my screen faster.”

For me, someone that had previously felt shame over my own personal bankruptcy, a lightning bolt struck me.

It was true what my debt collector friend told me years before; no debt collector personally judged me as a person. Only I could do that.

I love the saying, “Don’t Believe Everything You Think.” Unfortunately, it really applies when it comes to debt collectors.

The only time a debt collector makes you feel they are judging you is as a technique to collect money.

Think about it this way, if the amount of time a debt collector can spend per call is limited and they are judged by getting payments, which will be most effective, aggression and creating stress or a casual attitude?

The reality is the debt collector is getting paid to do a particular task. They might not like what they do, and people are dumping on them all day and being nasty and rude.

Being a front-line debt collector is not a fun job.

But here is the core truth, the money the debt collector is trying to get is not their money.

If you owed an individual person money, typically, they would listen to your situation and try to come to some solution that worked for both of you.

That is not what a debt collector is doing. The collector isn’t trying to find a solution that you can meet or that is good for you. Instead, the collector is trying to meet their quotas and stay in the good graces of their bosses.

Any solutions the collector can offer are often beyond their personal control and dictated by the client they are working for or corporate bosses that have established a policy of what works best for the creditor, not you.

Hopefully, this will be a lightbulb moment for you. But, if the debt collector is trying to do what is best for them, shouldn’t you do the same thing?

Do you think it is reasonable for a debt collector to make decisions that impact your financial present and future so they can meet their quotas and make their bosses happy?

Or should you use this time to carefully evaluate your overall financial situation and devise a plan on how to deal with things moving forward?

Another honest and brutal reality is you don’t have the skills and experience to make good decisions on how to best deal with your debt collector situation. That is okay and perfectly understandable.

The moment of a broken tooth is not the best time to suddenly start studying dentistry.

The moment of a financial crisis is not the best time to become self-aware of the emotional pollution driving you to make bad reactionary decisions about dealing with your debt.

It’s also not the time to take advice from hostile anonymous forum posters or Facebook warriors that will result in decisions that will impact your future financial life.

The better approach is to seek professional expert advice. It is a moment to reach out to a professional like my debt coach friend Damon Day at damonday.com.

Unlike the typical debt relief mass-market operation out there trying to sell you credit counseling or debt settlement and telling you to avoid bankruptcy, Damon gives individualized advice and creates a plan that deals with the entire situation.

Think of Damon Day as a get-out-of-debt guide that leads you through the terrible unknown and to a better and brighter future.

And speaking of Damon, I think it’s time we invited him in to share some actual debt collection stories.

Originally published at https://getoutofdebt.org on July 12, 2022.

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Dog Rescue Pilot, Firefighter, Debt Coach, and a Nice Guy

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Steve Rhode

Steve Rhode

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Dog Rescue Pilot, Firefighter, Debt Coach, and a Nice Guy