Dealing with debt collectors

(WPRI) — It’s that time of year again, when holiday spending catches up with Americans and bills come due. For the 30 million Americans struggling to pay down debt, calls from collection agencies can be overwhelming.

Some of the most common complaints to the Eyewitness News Call-12 for Action Center include aggressive, even harassing debt collectors. Eyewitness News has learned there is a way to stop the harassment and get back your financials back on track.

For Robyn, debt collectors have been hounding her day and night.

“They’ve left threatening messages on my voicemail,” she tells Eyewitness News.

With her debt totaling $27,000, the calls have become all too familiar and each trip to the mailbox fills her with anxiety.

“I don’t even answer the phone and I ignore the mail, it doesn’t get opened,” Robyn said.

According to Credit Karma, a financial monitoring website, the average Rhode Islander owes approximately $4,900 in credit card debt –the 12th highest rate in the country.

“There are a lot of good, hardworking people who’ve fallen on difficult times and they can’t afford to pay,” said consumer attorney Chris Lefebvre. “That does not give any collector the right to hound, harass, humiliate the consumers.”

In order to protect bill payers from unnecessary harassment, the Fair Debt Collections Act was created. Enforced by the federal government, the act makes it clear that no debt collector can call a bill payer’s employer, neighbors or relatives.

The act goes on to prohibit threats of violence and obscene language. If the goal is to keep debt collectors from calling entirely, the Fair Debt Collections Act allows a bill payer to request that all communication take place through the mail.

While most debt collectors do follow the rules of the Fair Debt Collections Act, lawyers from the National Association of Retail Collection Attorneys tells Eyewitness News that communication is the key to resolving debt with major issues.

“Even consumers with limited resources can often work out reasonable repayment plans, provided they communicate with the debt collectors and explain their circumstances,” said Joann Needleman, president of the National Association of Retail Collection Attorneys.

Yet, ignoring debt isn’t the way to make it go away either.

To stop collectors for good, experts tell Eyewitness News bill payers should work with their credit card companies before a bill is turned over to a collection company.

The next step, experts say, is to close the credit card, work out a payment plan and then stick to the plan. For those bill payers with debt that’s already gone into collections, experts also say collectors will likely work with a bill payer to come up with a payment plan as long as the bill payer contacts the company before the first collection letter.

In Robyn’s case she says she’s taking a day by day approach to paying down her debt.

“I’m like that person who lives paycheck to paycheck, that’s me right now, so I’m praying for the best,” said Robyn.

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