Just Because it's Almost Halloween Doesn't Mean Bad Debt has to Haunt You
Today's blog post was going to go be the reveal of a fabulous kitchen makeover I teased on Facebook last week. That is until I got a nasty phone call this morning.
Interesting how the Universe leads you in a different path.
This is a long one so hang on. If you or someone you know has bad debt and is being harassed by collectors, you'll want to read through this. Grab yourself a cup of coffee.
No really. Go ahead. I'll wait.
I'd seen the phone number almost daily this entire month. Every time I answered I was a hang up on and when I didn't answer there wasn't a message left. When I saw the call before 8am, I gave a terse "hello" instead of my usual business greeting.
That seemed to be the magic word the system was looking for and it clicked through to a person.
So this turns out to be the third collection agency that has called me in search of a different Melinda Massie. I wrote about the first case of mistaken identity (but thankfully not stolen) and checking your credit reports here. (I honestly think this is a case of they can't find her, Google, find and call me. Everyone has been gracious and legal about it except for the lady this morning which is why I'm writing now.)
The lady mumbled something fierce but of what little I could understand and her tone she was very accusatory and said I was lying to her about the debt not being mine. There are really only so many ways of saying, I've never used Charter and I've never lived at that address before you start to get pissy back. Of course, in my dressing her down I cited FTC fair debt collection practices. She hung up on me.
If you have bad debt, you still have rights. The Federal Trade Commission has rules in place to ensure you aren't harassed by debt collectors. However, many of these collectors don't care, know or know to care what they are. The one that set me off this morning was calling at 7:45.
This, my Sunshines, is illegal.
Debt is a nasty weight. It can make you feel like less than a person and if you have bad debt, collectors will try to make you feel like you're nastier than pond scum on a hot August night. I know. I lived off of credit cards through most of college and my early 20s only to not be able to pay them off after graduation. Everything went to collections and I was constantly harassed by debt collectors. They called and harassed my parents.
(Side note - I love my dad. He told them they were the idiots for giving a credit card to an 18 year old girl without a job in the first place and to leave him the hell alone.)
They called my workplace. They called my landlord. They called early in the morning and late at night. Unfortunately this was before the days of the internet so I couldn't Google to learn that almost everything done and said to me was illegal. After everything was written off and then fallen off my credit report, some debts and collectors came back. By this time I'd long had internet and the beauty of Google. At the time there was a rash of "zombie debt collectors" that were buying up bad debts for pennies on the dollar in hopes of scaring people into giving them money. This is also an illegal practice. I started answering my phone again and citing FTC regulations. (FYI, no collector likes an informed consumer. It's fun for you though.) I disputed the marks on my credit report through the credit bureaus and everything was dropped. I also reported the company to the FTC and never heard from them again.
If you're having collection problems, the following steps are a good start to stopping the harassment:
- Know your rights. Here are some frequently asked questions to the Federal Trade Commission. Once you've learned those particular to your situation, speak up. Answer the phone and tell the collector the truth. Write it down and keep it next to the phone if you have to. Bookmark the FTC page so you can pull it up quickly while on the phone. Speak with conviction and don't listen to them if they tell you your information is wrong. Bad collectors are there to make money for their company, not help you become debt free.
- Look into your own state's practices. Each state has a different statute of limitations on how long bad debt will live on your credit report. Find out how that works for where you live. You may find added protections as well. Texas has always been pretty liberal on the side of the debtor. If your debt is beyond the statute of limitations in your state and it's still on your credit report then dispute it. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com to get a free copy of your report from each of the three credit bureaus. You are entitled to a free report from each bureau once a year.
- If you're being harassed or treated in any other illegal manner, report it to the FTC. They don't resolve individual complaints but it goes into a database used by civil and criminal authorities worldwide. Make sure to get as much information as possible. Company name and location. Name and title of the person harassing you. It may not seem like much, but it they're doing it to you then they're most likely doing it to others. The process took me less than 5 minutes because HELL YEAH I'm reporting illegal 7:45 am phone calls from angry people.
I feel for the other Melinda Massie and anyone else that has been on the receiving end of illegal collection processes. You're not a bad person. You are not less than. You are still meaningful and important and NEVER deserve to be harassed by debt collectors.
Arm yourself with the knowledge and stand up for yourself fiercely against bad debt practices. Google the crap out of your particular situation and arm yourself to the hilt with information (from reputable sources.) It's WAY better than running and hiding.
Disclaimer: your particular situation may warrant that you take more action than the three steps above. These steps, however, are an excellent launching pad to do whatever needs to be done to get your situation under control.
Have you been harassed by bad debt collectors? How did you handle it?