You are behind on a credit card or other unsecured loan (a loan that does not have any collateral like a car, boat or house). And the first call from a debt collector has come into you. What is their next step? Can they put you in jail? Can they sue you? Can they threaten to call your boss and have you fired?
Since I had 12 credit cards and one personal loan in delinquent status back in 1998 and 1999, I know what you are going through. The fear of the unknown is probably very large for you right now. Get some peace of mind! I will explain what can and cannot happen to you.
1. You will not go to jail for not paying your loan.
The police will not show up at your door with handcuffs. We do not have debtor prison in the USA. In fact it is a violation of the FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act) for anyone to threaten you with arrest!
2. The debt generally does not get sold to a collection agency until you have been late for six months.
Your creditor is hoping to get payment from you. But after 180 days, he has to clean up his books. So he will transfer or sell your debt to a collection agency. This is called a charge off. This does not mean that your debt has been wiped out! It is an accounting term; your debt still remains.
3. You can control the collector’s phone calls to you.
Collectors can only contact you during reasonable hours, which generally is 8am-9pm your time. If you do not want to be called anymore, either at work, at home, or both, you must get the mailing address of the collection agency and send a notice to stop calling, IN WRITING. Some collection employees are good about putting notes in your file to stop calling but many are not good about this. I recommend that you send this Certified with Proof of Mailing in case they continue to call you. That way you have proof to threaten them with legal action for violating the FDCPA.
4. You can control the collector’s mailings to you.
Same as the phone calls. If you send them written notice to not contact you by mail, they must stop. Though they legally can send you two more notifications. One, they received your notice and will stop contact with you. Two, they are taking an action against you, such as a lawsuit. Everything else will stop.
5. They will contact your relatives, employer and possibly friends.
Generally only if they cannot find you. This is called skip tracing. Legally the collector can only discuss the debt with you, so he will use phrases like “It is very important that I speak with ____” or “Please have ____ call me as soon as possible.” They will try to get your phone number or address.
Your relatives and friends can tell the collector to stop calling them.
If your employer does not want you getting phone interruptions while on duty, the collector is supposed to stop calling. Which makes sense because the collector has zero chance of getting any money from you if you get fired!
6. The collector cannot threaten to sue you.
The key word here is “threaten”. If the collector has started the legal paperwork to take you to court, then he can tell you that because it is a fact, not a threat. So if you receive this call or letter, take it very seriously.
7. If the collector wins in court, he will get a judgment against you.
The judgment is what allows a collector to legally garnish your wages, garnish your bank account, put a lien on your house, and even sell your car to collect the debt. He cannot garnish social security payments, retirement accounts, disability payments, etc.
A collector usually will not spend the money to take you to court if you have no assets that he can get to. This is called being judgment-proof. So if you are unemployed and have few assets, the judgment is all bark and no bite.
Hopefully this relieves the fear of the unknown for you. So if a collector calls, do you want him to stop? Do you want to negotiate the debt with him? Do you see yourself as judgment-proof so the debt will never be collected? You now know what can and cannot happen to you if you do not settle or pay off your debt. Sleep peacefully tonight!