Collections letters are designed for one thing: to collect a debt. How a collections letter does that is through fear, intimidation, and sometimes through threats. If you’re the victim of collections scumbags that send you a barrage of letters or call incessantly on the phone, you do have rights. Federal Law outlines what rights you do have and believe me, bill collectors regularly violate your rights. I know … I was a collections agent for a major bank.
Almost twelve years ago, my son was born. We had great medical insurance with only a $300 deductible. After the joy of seeing that little bundle, I went down to the hospital’s "business office" (sounds official doesn’t it?) to settle up because, after all, I didn’t want to end up in collections. I knew I would owe the $300 plus another $20 bucks or so for the TV which wasn’t covered by insurance.
As I sat at the desk, the accounting clerk told me, "We aren’t sure what the exact final number will be until you check out so can we just send the bill to you?" I replied I didn’t like that idea and I was willing to pay $350 just to make certain I would pay the whole bill. Her reply was that it would be an accounting "nightmare" for them and it would be best if I let them bill me. I insisted, but she insisted more. OK. Bill me.
We came home a day later and I told my wife that we would be receiving a bill from the hospital and to pay it right away. "Do not wait to pay it. Write the check and send it the same day we receive the bill," I told her. I was in an "improve my credit score" mode of thinking at the time.
A couple of weeks later we received a notice from our insurance company that they had paid all but $321. I told my wife that we should be receiving the hospital bill any day. We never did.
Fast forward about 9 or 10 months and on a beautiful spring day I came home for lunch and checked the mail. Lo and behold there was a collections letter saying that I was delinquent and that my account had been turned over to a debt collection agency.The next step I took was critical in saving my credit score: I called the hospital, NOT the collections agency.
I asked for the "business office." When the accounts receivable manager come on the line I told her who I was and that I had never received a bill from them. I repeated the entire story. She called me a liar. She claimed that the hospital had sent 4 bills and asked me to verify my address. I said, "Your collections letter made it. Don’t you think you have the address?" She said it was very interesting that I never responded to the bills but suddenly responded to a collections letter. "Yes, it is interesting. All you had to do was press 7 buttons on a phone and you could have had FULL payment, lady! NOW, you’re accepting half a payment from a collections agency. THAT’S STUPID!" I was yelling into the phone at this point.
She then told me that their office does not make any phone calls for amounts under $500. "Oh, I see," I said, " You just hand them off without any real attempts to collect them. Don’t you realize the amount of money you’re giving up? One person could call on amounts under $500 and pay for themselves by collecting only 3 accounts per week."
I told this "manager" that I would rot in my grave before I would EVER pay ANY collections agency. She would never in a thousand lifetimes ever receive a single cent from me via the collections agency, BUT if she would pull it from them, I would happily give her my credit card number and pay the account in full today. She said in a very condescending tone, "Do you have it available NOW?" I did and gave her the number.
In my own condescending tone I left her with, "Wasn’t that easy? See, Ms Manager, you just made an extra $160.50 with one little phone call. How many more people’s credit score gets ruined because you don’t have the time to press 7 buttons on phone?" She, of course, had no comment. Typical.
If you find yourself getting turned over to a collections agency, I recommend that you REFUSE to pay the agency. Call your original creditor and beg to continue making payments to THEM alone. Tell them this is the only way they will receive money from you and that you want to pay your bill in full eventually.
Here are my recommendations when dealing with original bill collectors (I don’t deal with debt collection agencies, remember?):
- Always pay something. Do not try to run from your debt. It doesn’t work.
- Talk to the bill collectors only when you’re ready. Debt collectors will call you at inopportune times to catch you off guard.
- If you tell a collector to NOT call you, they cannot. Put it in writing, though and send it to that collector directly via Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested. That way you have proof that the collector received your letter. Send it to the bill collector and the boss as well.
- If you tell a collector to call you at home, but not at work, they absolutely cannot call you at work. Again, put it in writing and send it to that collector directly via Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested.
- Keep in mind that most collectors are usually young, inexperienced, underpaid, and woefully under-trained in the law and in anything else. They probably took this job believing they were getting into a “financial field” and would have some upward mobility. Ahh, youth.
I was a debt collector at one time
I was a collector on mobile home payments and I stunk at it. I had too much compassion and empathy for people who were struggling I guess. I also had learned of some of the tactics mobile home salespeople and “finance guys” would use to up-sell people into a larger, more expensive mobile home and then 8 months later, wind up losing it to repossession. By then the paper had been sold to Greentree Financial.
During the short time (10 months) I worked at this horrible job, I learned how collections work and how collectors think. To the average collector, everyone’s a deadbeat. Under the breath threats on the phone are common. I personally heard other guys threaten to physically kick people out of their homes. Clue: it takes a lawsuit and a sheriff’s deputy to do that. We used to send mobile home trucks out to these trailers and knock on the doors or even act like we were getting ready to hitch it to the truck. Talk about using fear? The problem is that it usually worked so it became a continuous practice.
Virtually every single thing you say is recorded, either audibly or via a shorthand that collectors use. If I called someone’s work and left a message, the account would have an entry PBLWTC Sarah. That stands for “phoned business left word to call with Sarah.” PRNA – phoned residence no answer. PRSPWMKRPTP1107 was phoned residence spoke with maker who promised to pay by November 7. NPMTRECAP – no payment received as promised. PRMKREXHU – phones residence maker used expletives and I hung up. Everything is recorded and is used against you should your account go before a judge. The lesson? Be professional, calm, and only answer the phone when you’re ready to talk. And keep your promises.
The biggest key is to refuse, absolutely REFUSE, to be intimidated and never allow your original creditor to turn your account over to a collections agency.