When you’re deep in debt, your next move is not always clear. Obviously, you’d love to snap your fingers and find yourself “out of the red,” so to speak. But it’s easier to rack up debt than it is to repay it, so many people find themselves in a limbo state, wondering what to do next. Finding yourself here can be stressful, to say the least—and that’s before you add in the incessant contact from debt collectors.
Seeing as credit card debt is at a record high—the average American has a balance of $6,375, an increase of 3 percent over 2017—you’re certainly not alone in feeling this way if you do. You may find yourself wondering about your own rights when you’re deep in debt.
Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind so you can look out for yourself while navigating the process of repayment, however you choose to do so.
Addressing Your Debt
The only way to truly end collection efforts is to get out of debt. It’s important not to lose sight of this fact. While understanding your rights as to maintain healthy boundaries can help you stay motivated and avoid excess stress, it doesn’t address the root of the issue.
First, make sure you have a clear understanding of the amount and nature of your debts. Then settle on a repayment strategy or combination of methods. For example, consumers with substantial credit card debt may choose an option like debt settlement through an organization like Freedom Debt Relief because they’re already facing credit score damage and regular collection calls as is. This entails paying into a special bank account instead of sending money to creditors while amassing enough to negotiate a lower balance due.
Yet others decide to pursue a do-it-yourself approach to debt relief. However, this journey may still be paved with plenty of calls and letters from collectors. No matter which option you choose, it’s still helpful to know your rights along the way as you work toward repayment.
Dealing with Debt Collectors
Do you feel like flipping over your cell phone when you see an unknown number pop up? Does checking the mail require a pep talk in front of the mirror these days? Dealing with communications from debt collectors—some of which feels like it’s bordering on harassment—can make handling your debt that much more difficult.
But the good news is that you still have rights, even if you’re deep in debt. According to the Federal Trade Commission, here are a few consumer rights as protected by law:
Debt collectors cannot call before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
Debt collectors cannot swear, threaten violence or otherwise harass you.
Debt collectors must be honest about who they are.
Collectors cannot ask you to pay fictional debts.
Collectors cannot tell others, like your spouse or lawyer, about your debt.
Collectors cannot threaten arrest or deportation due to debt.
So, while picking up the phone and connecting with a debt collector can be anxiety-inducing, a legitimate collector will not engage in any of the aforementioned illegal activities. As U.S. News & World Report writes, “The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits collection agencies from being abusive, harassing or deceptive when collecting on a loan.” If you believe a collector has crossed a line, stand firm and remember your rights. Then report it to the Federal Trade Commission.
No matter how deep in debt you are, you still have certain rights as a consumer. Ask plenty of questions so you can ensure the legitimacy of whoever is contacting you. Make sure you’re wary of scammers, too.