Don't be bullied by a debt collector

Even if you’re good at paying you’re bills on time, you still may have a run-in with a debt collector. For instance, you might mistakenly miss a payment on a retail charge account, as one Consumer Reports editor did, prompting a call from an insolent debt collector who worked for the bank that issued the credit. Or perhaps a third party, such as your medical insurance provider, delays making a payment on your behalf or misses it altogether, a concern recently raised in a report on medical debt by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Or you may  be hounded about a debt you don't even owe, a common problem that's the subject of another CFPB report.

If you mistakenly missed a payment but otherwise have been a conscientious customer, don’t let a creditor make you feel like public enemy No. 1. Ask the company to remove any penalty and not report your error to credit agencies. Go up the chain of command if you encounter resistance. If it’s a third party debt collector, for example from a company that manages a retailer’s credit card program, complain to the retailer, and ask for its assistance. In response to our editor's complaint about the credit card debt collector, the retailer sent her a gift certificate. Remember, a company shouldn't treat you like it's doing you a favor by having you as a customer. You always can take your business elsewhere.

If you don’t owe the debt, explain why. Keep track of who is calling and the dates and times.

For more information, read "The Problem With The Debt-collection Industry."

The law limits what debt collectors can do. For instance, they’re not allowed to call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. unless you agree. They must refrain from calling you at work if they’re told you’re not allowed to receive calls there.

You can stop most calls and mail from debt collectors by sending a letter (certified mail with return receipt) directing them to stop contacting you. (The debt collector still is allowed to notify you if it plans to take some action against you, such as suing you for the amount you owe.) The CFPB has published a list of sample "action letters" that you can use to respond to annoying debt collectors. Visit the Federal Trade Commission website for more information on your rights. If the debt collector violates the law, complain to your state or local consumer protection agency and the CFPB.

Anthony Giorgianni

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