Universally disliked, debt collection agencies may use harassing, criminal tactics do serve a legitimate economical purpose; this aggression has colored perception of the entire industry. But how debt collectors misbehave matters less than the successful routine, vetted tactics they use. Aggressive debt collectors have limited options in getting legitimate debts paid, especially given the financial straits of those in debt and most attempts are avoided by debtors.
The Collection Confrontation
Every attempt to reach a debtor—phone or mail—is an unpleasant reminder of debt and everyone reacts differently. These “collection confrontations” cause stress, a tool used by aggressive debt collectors who are seeking at least commitment to pay with every attempt.
Even unanswered, the barrage of calls is a stressor; sometimes people answer and commit to pay just to stop them.
- Generally, and certainly with multiple collection accounts, that’s not how to approach accounts in collection. However, aggressive debt collectors are mostly assigned a single account and disregard others. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease” is their mantra.
What’s said on either end of the line during a call often increases pressure; some aggressive debt collectors say the full balance must be paid that day.
- Occasionally, how something is said, is another tactic and usually the greatest an aggressive debt collector’s disposal in a call center. The most successful collectors all know that.
Former collector Jared Strauss compared modern tactics with those he used: “Back when I was in the…industry we had a term called ‘burning’ accounts. What that means is the…collector would become overly aggressive and…alienate the consumer. It’s a foolish approach that generally didn’t benefit anyone.”
Debt Discounting & Reduced Payments
Agencies usually start calling after a few months’ delinquency and the process goes in stages. The common first is offering a discount on a debt due to budgetary constraints. Discounts will differ on person-specific circumstances but even aggressive debt collectors tend to be flexible nowadays once aware of these constraints.
- Sometimes discounted debts are the best option to guarantee payment for the collectors, but any offer should only be accepted if it’s affordable. Also, aggressive debt collectors are not the only option; agencies usually understand and allow for you to negotiate with your debt collectors.
- One discounted payment is the preferred way to satisfy any debt but monthly installment plans, sometimes the only affordable discounted option, are also available.
- Obtain written copies of agreements and make certain that the agreed-upon payment is not too expensive; settlement discounts are almost always revoked if payments are missed.
Smart Debt Collectors
Tech-savvy aggressive debt collectors use technological developments to increase their business and target those who can afford it using access up-to-the-minute credit reports, which can predict the success of any attempt.
- Those current with other bills—mortgage, car payments, etc.—are targeted over those with a single current but multiple delinquent accounts
Some of the most-used programs determine a “collection score” based on all available information, including the average income of a specific residential area.
- High scores draw more attention than lower scores, but scores can change; once a short-term financial crisis is resolved, the score may go up and bring collectors.
Collecting in the Courts
When agencies reach the last resort, legal action, they are more direct and impactful. Court-issued papers are served by process servers or sheriffs, making some wistful for nonstop phone calls or even conversations with aggressive debt collectors. Most agencies shy away from courts, save those who are “buy to sue” and a few lawsuit-happy banks. Aggressive debt collectors in those agencies will use the courts if repeated other attempts fail.
Filing a lawsuit over a debt is the pinnacle of “collection confirmation,” beyond methods both illegal and abusive, and can elicit a poor response.
- It’s estimated that 90+% of lawsuits result in default judgment, usually due to a lack of response to summons.
- A state-licensed attorney sending a collection notice is a good indicator of pending legal action. At this point, a payment plan is still an option as is settling the debt at a slightly-less discounted rate than aggressive debt collectors might offer.
- Bankruptcy is an option available to a debtor who may be sued but cannot afford any more bills. It can prevent garnished wages, levies, or liens, though that may be state-dependent.
All these tactics are used by true collection agents daily, some with more success than others. While these are most common, many go too far. Learning what tactics some collectors use, but shouldn’t, and discerning what kind of debt collector is on the line can only help.
Whatever the reason you found yourself unable to keep up on bills, you have options and tools to confront collection accounts, and on your own terms, at virtually every turn.