Dealing with debt collectors
People often ask how to deal with a debt collector. Here are some simple rules that will help control the situation.
1. Pay your bills if you can. The easiest way to deal with a debt collector is to not need to- that is, pay your bills on time every month. By the way, this also means that your credit score will be as high as it can be in your situation. (there is more to a credit score than payment history, but history is the biggest part).
2. Talk to the lender before you miss payments. If you fall behind on your bills, it is often easier to deal directly with the creditor to help you fix the situation than if the account is turned over for collections, so as soon as you realize you are going to have a problem, contact the lender. Sometimes they will work with you, sometimes they will not.
3. Prioritize your debts. If you have tried dealing with the lender, the next thing to do is prioritize who gets paid first, and who gets paid last. I will talk about why this is the order next week.
a. Food comes first. If you don’t have enough money for food, then no one gets anything. Don’t be ashamed to apply for food stamps (called SNAP) and other government assistance.
b. Your car and home payments come second. This does not include second homes, second cars, etc, but does include the payment on your first and second mortgage on your home. These assets are important, because you need a roof over your head, and a way to get to work.
c. Utilities (lights, water, gas) come third. It is much easier to maintain your ability to have a roof, and a car if there is heat and air conditioning, water, etc.
d. Current bills. Medical bills, credit cards, store cards, etc.
e. Luxury expenses. Vacations, jewelry, etc. If you are paying for these things, you should be paying all of your bills. If you are not paying all of your bills, you should not spend money on luxury expenses.
4. Reduce your expenses. This is much more important for a long term problem than a short term issue. If you are out of work, but going back, conserve your cash, and keep going. If you are at a new, lower paying job, reducing your expenses is much more important. Downsize your house, downgrade the car. You need to look for a less expensive solution.
5. Communicate with the debt collectors. That first call or letter will not be the last if you don’t respond. Request verification of the debt. Start with making sure they are collecting an account that you owe. Dealing with a mistaken identity or ID theft is different from dealing with your own accounts. Verify the amounts they are requesting.
6. Consult a lawyer and maybe a financial planner. You need to know your rights, and how to get out of this mess. Above all, don’t play ostrich. Sticking your head in the sand and saying I can’t see you will not make the problem go away.
If you have been impacted by anything we mentioned here, please make an appointment to see us.
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