Collectors use both law and psychology in the practice of their craft. Many collectors operate legitimately, while others cross the line daily. Do you know your rights? Here is the correct way to deal with a collector – and maybe even come out ahead.
Getting the Collection Letter
Many people in credit repair programs have received collection letters. Sometimes the credit repair effort itself can attract a collector, but you can turn the situation to your advantage. Collection letters are designed to intimidate, and include enough threatening legal language to upset anyone. Many recipients of collection letters opt to ignore them. This is a mistake. You have an important right when contacted by a collector, but it only lasts for 30 days.
Debt Validation as a Credit Repair Tool
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is the body of law that governs the collection industry. Under the FDCPA, if you receive a collection letter you have a powerful legal right called debt validation, an excellent weapon in the credit repair process. Upon your request, a collector must provide proof of their right to collect, as well as an accounting of the amount claimed. Further, an internal memorandum reiterating the information provided in the collection letter does not satisfy the obligation. Documentation must be solid and objective. If the collector cannot provide the requested proof, they must cease all collection efforts. But you must request this documentation within 30 days.
Collector Do’s and Don’ts
Under the FDCPA collectors face a long list of prohibited behaviors. Many of these rules are ignored, bent, and often broken. Here is a sampling of behaviors which collectors are prohibited from engaging in:
- Contacting consumers by telephone before 8:00 AM or after 9:00 PM
- Calling the same consumer in a repetitious manner
- Threatening to make embarrassing contacts with an employer or other person
- Contacting a consumer at his place of employment after the consumer has advised the bill collector not to do so
- Inquiring about personal property, and implying that these items may be confiscated to satisfy the debt
Cease Communication Letter
You have the right under the FDCPA to demand that a collector cease all communication with you. But like many credit repair tools this must be used with caution. If you choose this course of action, just put your demand in writing. A cease communication letter will not prevent collectors from filing suit against you, but it will stop telephone calls and collection letters. Be aware that 5% of all complaints received by the FTC about FDCPA violations in 2007 related to collectors ignoring cease communication letters. If the calls keep coming you should send the letter again, only this time send it certified and copy the FTC.
Problems Before Statute of Limitation Expiration
Credit repair requires knowledge; you must understand the possible consequences of your actions. If you send a cease communication letter to a collector prior to the expiration of the statute of limitation (SOL) you may push them to file suit. The SOL for debt is state specific and debt-type specific. You can find the information on the web. But be careful. A collector may apply the SOL from the state where the contract originated or your current state of residence, so check both. On the other hand filing suit can be expensive and is not always the best move for a collector. Many collectors return the debt to the original creditor upon receipt of a cease communication letter. This may mean that another collector will be in touch soon and your credit repair efforts may need to be renewed.
Getting to Know Your Statute of Limitation
If you get a collection letter you should check your SOL. The SOL clock starts with the date of original default on the original debt. Collectors are notorious for “accidentally” resetting the clock. Many people starting a credit repair program discover how frequent this practice is when they examine their credit reports. The date of original default is the first time you were late in the sequence that led to the charge-off or collection status. Also note that the SOL for collection has nothing to do with the reporting limit on your credit report. The SOL for debt is usually far less than the normal seven-year limit for credit reporting.
Credit Repair Solutions After SOL Expiration
If the SOL on the debt has expired you are home free. Here is a bit of credit repair magic. A collector can attempt to collect beyond the SOL, but since they can’t get a judgment they have no way to enforce their efforts. A cease communication letter will put and end to their presence in your life. You have other options as well. Remember that the SOL is different from the reporting period limit on your credit report. The collector may have no way to enforce a collection, but it can continue to show on your credit report. If you would like to negotiate the debt, now is the time. Any money a collector gets past the SOL is a gift, so start your offer as low as you wish. You may even be able to negotiate for complete removal from your report, a perfect credit repair outcome.
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