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Always dispute collections debts.

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Has an unpaid or forgotten bill gone into collection? Don't panic.

When dealing with debt collectors, you have plenty of rights, thanks to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Here are six things to know when a third-party debt collector contacts you.

Get the information in writing. Within five days of contacting you, a collector must send you a written notice telling you the amount of money you owe, the name of the creditor and what action to take if you believe you don't owe the money, according to the debt collection act.

So before engaging in chitchat with a debt collector, ask him or her to send you the information in writing.

If you don't believe you owe the money, dispute the debt in writing. If you send the collection agency a letter within 30 days of receiving the written notice stating you do not owe money, a debt collector cannot contact you. Make sure you keep a copy of the letter as part of a paper trail on your debt, says Gerri Detweiler, the Sarasota, Fla.-based co-author of "Debt Collection Answers: How to Use Debt Collection Laws to Protect Your Rights."

Further, your response to the collector should be sent by certified mail. "You must send certified," says Jeffrey Suher, a consumer attorney in Pittsburgh specializing in debt collection cases. "Otherwise, they'll deny receiving it."

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act gives the collector some rights, too. A debt collection firm can renew collection activities if it provides you with proof of the debt, such as a copy of the bill you owe.

Keep records of phone calls and messages. Keep a file with notes from phone conversations and copies of all written correspondence to and from the collector.

Write down the day and time of every collection call, the collection agency's name, the amount it says you owe and a summary of the conversation, Detweiler says.

"That paper trail could be essential if it turns out the debt collector breaks the law," says Detweiler.

Suher says you'll also want to hang on to any voice mail from debt collectors.

Debt collectors have many restrictions. When it comes to collection calls, the debt collection act says there is much that collectors cannot say or do, including:

  • Using abusive or obscene language.
  • Harassing you with repeated calls.
  • Calling before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. unless you agree.
  • Calling you at work if you have asked them to stop.
  • Talking to anyone but you or your attorney about the debt.
  • Misrepresenting the amount of your debt.
  • Falsely claiming to be an attorney or a law enforcement official.
  • Falsely claiming to be a credit bureau representative.
  • Threatening to sue unless they actually plan to take legal action.
  • Threatening to garnish wages or seize property unless they actually intend to do it.

Say little and stand firm. What should you say when a debt collector calls? Keep the conversation as short as possible.

Interesting story on Reddit:

To whoever posted that you should always dispute collections debts, thank you!

I was evicted from my apartment a few months ago (nonpayment, being unemployed sucks). When collections called, they said I owed ~$3500, so I asked to dispute the debt. They tried to tell me I wouldn't be able to do payment plans (plus a bunch of other crap) if I disputed it, but I told them I was sure I wanted to. Fast forward to now, the debt was reduced to ~$1700 and we're working on a payment plan for it. Thanks again for your advice!

Edit: Some clarification on the $3500. The management did a lot of shady stuff, and I'm not surprised that they tried to make me pay twice as much as I owed. If you're in a similar situation, I'd recommend reading over the comments, as people are posting good information. Asking to "validate the debt" worked well for me, but make sure you know what you're doing.

400 Reddit comments:

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