Dealing With Debt Collection Agencies

Avoid serious financial problems by understanding debt collection.

| March/April 1984

The advent of credit cards and easy terms for buying seems to have opened a Pandora's box of woes for many American households. When you consider how simple it is to buy on time (and how, in fact, we're coaxed or cajoled into doing just that), it's little wonder that some folks get themselves into financial straits that aren't all that easy to get out of. And as most of us probably already know from harsh experience, it only takes one unexpected blow (perhaps a layoff, a sickness, or an accident) to turn a strained budget into a broken one.

It's at this point, though, that the real problems begin . . . because if a creditor doesn't receive payment within the normal 30-day billing cycle, for the next 30, 60, 90 days (or more) he or she will continue to request remittance . . . while handily tacking on a stiff finance charge, to boot! Then—as if that weren't enough—should the account remain outstanding, there's a mighty good chance it'll be turned over to debt collection agencies that, as you can well imagine, will handle the matter in an entirely different fashion than would your friendly local retailer.

How Debt Collection Agencies Work

A collection agency, you see, is usually the creditor's last resort. Look at it from the "opposition" 's perspective: Since the bill will most likely become a total write-off if the matter isn't pursued, a creditor figures it's worth giving up the standard 15-50% off-the-top fee to an agency in order to secure even a portion of the debt owed.

Unfortunately, the methods by which many bill-collecting firms go about their business are something less than commendable, especially in light of the fact that the great majority of people in debt would gladly make good on their financial commitments if they were solvent.

In essence, collectors rely upon the average person's ignorance of [1] the law, [2] the credit-rating game, and [3] his or her rights and recourses. The agencies then compound that with intimidation, scare tactics, and guilt trips ... and come up with a working formula that's appallingly effective, particularly with those whose lives have already been disrupted by financial (and, doubtless, family) worries.

But it doesn't have to be that way! Once an honest debtor understands what a collection agency can and cannot do, it's relatively simple for him or her to deal intelligently with those fiscal ferrets . . . and to turn the tables on them and their tactics if that's what it takes to encourage them to look elsewhere for an easier target.

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