Should I talk to a Debt Collector? What Should I Say if Collectors Call?

If a debt collector is calling or harassing you, one of his goals  is to get you to talk. Should you? This is going to depend on whether you have anything to say. And usually the answer is that you should never talk to a debt collector.

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 rope 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 by annoying or scaring you so much that you pay them to get them off the phone. Or they can try to establish a sympathetic connection to you so you gladly do it for the voice on the other end of the line. 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.

All of these purposes involve keeping you on the phone and the connection open, and none of them are intended for your well-being. So unless you have your own purpose for communicating with a debt collector, you shouldn’t do it.

The way to refuse to talk is very simple: hang up. There is no need to threaten or abuse the collector. Likewise, there’s no need to be polite or attempt to explain yourself. Just hang up.

Sometimes it Makes Sense to Talk to Collectors

It can make sense to talk. 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. That is, you might want to pay them and need them to help in some way. That is a good reason to talk with them. (But never admit owing them the money, all the same.)

If you’re just 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. A debt collector’s only goal is to get your money.

Negotiate—And Get It in Writing

If you want to talk to the collector, 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 for anything they offer you. It could be an immediate payment, an agreement to pay by a certain date, something. Be careful. You can agree to something 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 always 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.