How to Deal With a Debt Collector (Written by a Former Debt Collector)


Are you receiving phone calls asking for payment on past due accounts? Working with a debt collector can be a simple process. I recently worked as a debt collector at one of the major national collection agencies for about nine months until I found a better paying job. My job was to collect on past due credit card accounts of a large bank. Our site collected millions of dollars per month. The following are some helpful hints on how you can manage working with a debt collector and reduce your stress from collections calls.

If you have debt collectors calling you, then you are probably at least a couple months behind on paying your bill. This happens to a lot of people for a variety of reasons. Don’t worry, there is a way out. In fact, there are many ways to resolve an unpaid account and stop the collections calls. We were trained to work with people and be prepared to offer various solutions to help get unpaid debt resolved.

Who are you dealing with?

debt-collectorMy collection agency employed a wide variety of individuals from high school graduates to Ph. Ds. I had a Master’s degree when I was hired. Previously, I had been a school teacher for many years but my last school district let me go just before I would have reached tenure status, which is a near guarantee of a lifetime position. Seeking something new, I tried collections as a way to gain sales and business experience. I took a huge cut in pay, making about 40% of what I used to make. The pay was a small hourly rate, plus bonuses for ranking high among the collectors in certain categories such as most post-dated checks collected. In addition, I thought of debt collection as a way to help people who were in financial difficulty by providing them many options and by keeping them accountable.

Debt collectors are regular people from a variety of backgrounds. Maybe half of the collectors on my team had some college experience. One was a former attorney who was bored with the monotony of his past job. Another of my teammates had been a professional collector for more than a decade. She shared with me some of the history of collections. It was very interesting to hear stories of previously used collections techniques and to learn about how the industry has changed. Collections used to be one of the best kept secrets to making money, but profits for collectors have declined sharply since the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act was enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.

A vast difference in collections practices distinguishes today from the past. My teammate said years ago they used to threaten and lie to people. For example, back in those days, one collector called and told a debtor to report to the main entrance of the building where he was working because the police were coming to pick him up. In those days, there was little legal regulation of the collection industry and collectors were trained to bully people into paying their bills. Much has changed however, with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Banks that hired collections agencies have been fined many millions of dollars due to lawsuits stemming from harassment by debt collectors. Today, all calls are recorded and high standards are enforced by the collection agency, which also can be fined by the bank or company they are collecting for. The collections agencies also fine their collectors for failure to adhere to company policy.

Our training class was professionally led by several experienced employees of the training department. There were a couple weeks of classroom training and two more weeks of training on the phones under intense supervision. Only 25% of my training classmates completed the training program and were assigned to teams on the collection floor. Most trainees quit because they realized this job is not for them, or they found something else they preferred to do. Some were terminated because they were too often late for shifts or their work was not up to the company’s standards of effectiveness.

The worst punishment I received was a $200 fine for incorrectly accepting a payment from the spouse of a debtor
The day to day work as a collector is intense and every call has some scripted disclosures to keep in line with the law. There are many procedures collectors are expected to follow and a discipline plan that ends in termination if the collector does not conform to the expectations. In my first few months on the job I made some errors for which I was disciplined. One was for failure to remove a phone number from a call list for a particular debtor. I called a debtor on a phone and he said he should not get calls at work. I failed to remove his number so I was fined $50 even though he made a payment with me and stated he wanted to work with me. I also was fined for incorrectly stating one of our scripted disclosures. The worst punishment I received was a $200 fine for incorrectly accepting a payment from the spouse of a debtor, even though she had asked me to call back and she paid the full balance owed. I simply failed to ask if she was an authorized signer on the bank account.

What can you do if a debt collector calls you?

First, realize the fact that you have an obligation to pay your debt and collectors are within their right to ask you to pay. However, you also have the right to request collectors not call a certain phone number or even to call you at all. You can say, “Please do not call this number.” Be advised though, when debtors cease calls without any kind of payment, they may increase their chances to be sued in court. If you really cannot make any kind of payment, ask for your file to be placed in “hardship” for some months. There are several ways that you can work with a debt collector to create a win-win situation.

Payment arrangements vary widely from very big to very small. The best way to end collections is for you to pay the full balance of the debt. A common way for debtors to do that is through a loan from friends or family. Also, tax returns can help provide the extra funds to payoff a debt.

Second, settle the accountNegotiate a sum with the collector to end the collections and clear your credit report. However, most debtors who pay, set up monthly payments through post-dated checks. As collectors, we had strict guidelines and discipline on this process to avoid misappropriating those funds. I set up payment arrangements as low as $10 per month and we never called those debtors unless a check bounced. Some debtors asked us to call them on a certain day of each month and they made their payment. If you do not offer any payment, then expect to continue getting phone calls.

Working with debt collectors is simple

Debt collectors are regular people just like you who are trying to make a living in a high stress job with high standards. Today, debt collection is much more highly regulated than in years past. Most days on the phone I was shouted at even though I was following all the rules and protocols and merely asked debtors to make a payment on their debt. You have several ways of making payments. If you would rather not speak to a debt collector but you could have someone else you know negotiate with the collector, you can give permission for the collector to speak to that person. When you use the information in this article, dealing with debt collectors becomes a simple process.

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  1. david burdick says:

    I am a little puzzled by the very general make up of this article. My guess is that the title sells, anything with debt collector in the title gets people to read. I did because that is what I do as a Collection Manager at credit union. I also have years of experience dealing w debtors and non debtors alike with collection agencies and as a credit manager business to business. You actually had someone who worked as a debt collector for ONLY 9 months write the article? First, really to GAIN business and sells knowledge and something new you took a job as a collector? Ok, lets say that’s it exactly. Second if the collection agency we use violates the FDCPA we as a financial institution are not subject to fines for THEIR action. We can be sued if we directly violate the FDCPA. Also I wasn’t aware that third party agencies are now fining the collectors directly for some minor violation that can happen on a call. The collector can be sued directly by a debtor and so can the agency, but I have NEVER heard of fines from an employer to the employee (collector), but maybe that is now the case? But I am not buying it. Then article closes w “use the information in this article, dealing with debt collectors becomes a simple process.” What was that information? You can be sued if you fail to communicate w debtor collector, this isn’t something new. And I have NEVER heard of an account being placed in “hardship” to be revisted months later, calls will continue, efforts made to a debtor and the only way is to cease them from calling w a letter for home or verbal at work. Then you state best way to stop is to pay, really? Or make payment arrangements, ya think? Just saying very general and truly nothing knew here, I might in fact call you on a few gray areas that I didn’t know are now a practice at collection agencies.

    • Aaron says:

      Thanks for the taking the time to reply here David. You obviously have some strong opinions about the industry. But this is written by another professional who shared his own experience working at this particular agency. Every place is different I’m sure.

  2. Rene says:

    David – I work as a compliance officer with a 3rd party debt collection agency and have been in this role for over 5 years. I agree the article is a little light on advice on how to work with debt collectors but he is absolutely correct in that collectors do get fined for failing to follow processes. We fine our collectors as well if they fail to comply with the state or federal laws or our own policies. The fines can be anywhere from $25 to taking a paying account away from the collector so they lose that commission. Legal collection agencies take being compliant with the laws, and there are a lot of them, very seriously. But as much as the legal agency try to change the image of collectors – those fly by night collectors that pop up everywhere ruin it for us. They do not follow any rules and when you try to complain about them you have no tangible information in which to file a law suit against them – the addresses are fake, the phone numbers are spoofed. These people use completely illegal ways to try and collect. I received a call from a “Sargent Davis” with the IRS telling me I should call him back or have my attorney call back. I tried to file a complaint with the CFPB and FTC but because everything was fake, names, addresses, phone numbers – there wasn’t anything they can do.

    I do agree with the writer – debtors need to work with the debt collectors. We have many tools available to help you find ways to pay your justly incurred debts. And we have tools to assist in getting an incorrect balance removed from your name. If they are a legitimate collection agency they will be professional and work with you.

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