Bill Collector Blues

When payments are past due and collectors come calling--know your rights

within one year from the date the law was violated. However, first “direct your attention to the debt collector,” says Shirley Rooker, president of Call for Action, a nonprofit consumer assistance organization in Bethesda, Maryland. During a phone conversation with a collector, ask to speak to the supervisor, then ask to get the debt verified in writing. Under the Fair Debt Collection Act, the collector must send you a written notice that states how much you owe, the name of the creditor and what action to take if you dispute the claim. Report the collector and the agency to your city, or state consumer affairs department (which can threaten to pull the collector’s license), your state attorney general’s office or the Federal Trade Commission. If the problem is specifically related to abusive telephone practices, contact the complaint division of your local telephone company.
To stop a collector from contacting you, write to the agency requesting a stop to the calls or offensive behavior; and send it by certified mail. If you dispute the amount of money you owe, send a letter within 30 days of your first notice stating what amount you may or may not owe. The collector is barred from further contact until the disputed amount can be verified.
“If money is owed, try to work out a plan with them, but don’t avoid them entirely,” says Rooker. “If you’re a chronic nonpayer, they may be unwilling to work out a deal, but most creditors will try to work out some type of repayment plan,” she says. If you’d rather not deal with them directly, contact a nonprofit consumer credit counseling service in your area, which will offer low-cost or free advice or assistance, and possibly act as an intermediary.
If you have questions about your rights or the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, write: Correspondence Branch, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580.

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