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Friday, September 14, 2012

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Ask a Debt Collector

I did not plan to do this job; it’s not related to my degree and I thought it would feel scuzzy. Now I’ve settled in as a career collector, and have learned a ton from it.

First things first: DO you feel scuzzy about your job?

Most days: No, surprisingly. My debtors mostly owe for things like jewelry, store credit cards, or car accidents caused by their own carelessness. I have few qualms about holding people accountable for their own irresponsibility. However, if a funeral home ever contracted with my office, I would probably cry before/during/after every call.

Debt can legitimately happen to good people, and I do feel bad when I have to call on those good people — or worse, send the sheriff to their doorstep. But as long as people make the effort to make good on their debts, I can work with them, and not against them. That helps ward off the yucky feelings.

Are you like Dog the Bounty Hunter?

I’m not. My hair is not nearly as long, for one thing. And I stay at my desk all day, except to walk to the copier and the fridge. My firm works closely with a law firm, so we don’t go take people’s stuff if they don’t pay up; we just send the courts and the sheriffs after them.

What are some crazy stories you've heard? Like "dog ate my homework" but to the nth power?

I talked to a woman last week who claimed her payment got lost in the mail. That’s not too crazy, except that I keep notes on every call and that was the fourth consecutive month she had used that excuse! Another woman routinely claims that her relatives died, and last time I counted, she had five recently deceased grandmothers.

For the most part, people’s reasons for not paying are pretty pedestrian. Most people just forget, and I would rather hear a debtor say that honestly rather than feed me some lie. 

Do you have any deep thoughts about debt, as a concept? Our ways of thinking about money seem so primal/dark/Gollum-y sometimes — I imagine you've thought about this, or encountered this, more than others. Can you shed any light?

My head spins at the depth of trouble people can get themselves into, and how quickly it can happen. Rarely is my firm the only agency going after a person, and I wonder about the toll that must take on a person to have so many lawsuits and judgments against him or her. People ask a lot about why they owe the amount they owe. The fees and interest spiral so far out of control that people can’t even remember what they owe, to whom, and why.

And I often wonder, when I’m collecting on a credit card, what does the debtor have to show for this? Did they at least get an awesome car, or was it a small purchase that just didn’t get paid down responsibly, and then it turned into a Whole Big Thing.

Debtors prison: for or against? (Don't worry, I'm mostly kidding.)

Against! Sometimes!

Have you ever been in debt? Of any kind?

I’ve had a few small bills go to collections, and that taught me a lot about what not to do. The collectors weren’t horrible, exactly, but they weren’t empathetic either. Their approach never resonated with me as a debtor, and I vowed to be nicer to people when I was on the other end of the phone line.

Now I just have pretty boring debts, like student loans and a line of credit at a furniture store. But doing my job has helped me manage my bills a lot better, which is a nice perk.

Generally speaking, how much leeway do you have in terms of accepting offers for cents on the dollar? 

A lot more than I ever expected. Routinely, people will propose a settlement offer that I’m certain my client will reject — like, 50% in some cases — and they’ll end up accepting it. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting a file off the books rather than wasting too much more time tracking debtors down and wringing little bits of money out of them.

What makes you more likely to sympathize with someone?

Honesty! I can’t stand excuses or bullshit, but if a person just explains their life to me I am happy to listen. And if a person has been making regular payments for a while but then falls off, I do everything I can to keep them from getting into further trouble.

What is the final step in a debt collection? Like, if the person just keeps on not paying, how far do you take it? Do they give over first born sons?

There is such a thing as “uncollectable.” I don’t know if the threshold for determining that status is universal, but in our office, the uncollectables are usually very old, living off of social security, in poor health, and probably have other debts. So I guess ... we keep trying, until you’re drowning in debt and on the way up to see Saint Peter. God, that makes us sound awful.

Frankly, a lot of people get away with just not paying. If they keep moving around, changing their phone numbers, hopping from job to job, and ignoring the doorbell when the sheriff shows up to serve them, there are times when we say “enough is enough” and quit wasting our time trying.

Do you ever get in a situation where you feel like you're harassing a genuinely honest person who either has paid their debt and you don't have updated records or who truly had NO IDEA about the debt?

Yes! Sometimes, clients accidentally place a file with two agencies, or fail to update their own records after reaching out to us. I can hear it in pepole’s voices when they have done the right thing but are still getting calls. It’s pretty easy to deal with, though: Just call the client and have them double-check their records. The important thing for the debtors to do in that situation is to pick up the phone and call if they think there’s been an error.

Any generalizations you can make about the types of people you most often encounter?

Oh, yes. I have spoken about the honest people who are trying to make things right, but those are the exception, not the rule. And those people quietly make payments every month, so I don’t get to talk to them.

My average debtor:

1) has a history with the courts, mostly civil suits but some criminal offenses along the lines of driving without insurance

2) never stays in one house/apartment/town for long

3) can’t hold down a job

4) still buys fancy phones and huge flatscreens

5) posts about those items on Facebook and fails to tighten their privacy settings

6) blames a lot of other people for their own debts

7) needs a lot of needling every month to get even a tiny payment

8) is often afraid to just pick up the damn phone with a question, ends up in more trouble

The work still sounds kind of scuzzy. Is there anything fun?

Yes! Part of my job is “skip tracing” people. That is an industry term for “stalking like a crazed ex-lover.” I’m on Facebook often, digging through people’s pages and guffawing at all the wit and wisdom (and the information people divulge, like their cell phone numbers, workplaces, and even home addresses. Those Bing maps that are part of Timeline? Yeah, those are useful.).

I do get warm-and-fuzzies when debtors tell me I’m the nicest collector they’ve ever heard from. I consider debtors to be pretty authoritative sources on behavior of collectors. I like helping people, or surprising people with the extent of my willingness to work with them to make a situation right.

A Debt Collector plans to keep collecting debt in one of the flyover states until there's a job opening anywhere for "professional HGTV watcher."



374 Comments / Post A Comment

katiemcgillicuddy

Debt Collector: Remember when you used to call me ALL THE TIME ALL DAY? Well, haha, I learned to just put my phone on silent (PROBLEM SOLVED). Thing of it is, I kept my phone on silent so long, that I got in the habit of keeping it on silent. Now I have lost my phone IN MY OWN HOUSE, it has vanished into thin air, and of course I kept calling it but oh yeah, it was on silent, and now I have to go buy a new phone today. My point is, I blame you for losing my phone.

A Debt Collector

@katiemcgillicuddy I'm so sorry! Shall I call it in the middle of the night so the glowing screen tips you off to its location?

katiemcgillicuddy

@A Debt Collector WELL OF COURSE NOW IT'S DEAD. It was a piece of shit anyway, and the only debt collector I ever talked to was a dick, so I don't think it was you. Jesus though, I even know which level of the house I lost it on!

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@katiemcgillicuddy
YOUR HOUSE HAS LEVELS? WHY ARE YOU COMPLAINING!

katiemcgillicuddy

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll GUESS WHO MOVED BACK HOME A COUPLE YEARS AGO TO -WAIT FOR IT- PAY OF ALL HER DEBT? OH YEAH, I WILL COMPLAIN FOREVER.

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@katiemcgillicuddy
touché and mea culpa!

katiemcgillicuddy

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll Ha. I can say though, I've paid off most of it in the past year and am close to getting out. So hey, not that bad. This is why you don't run up huge credit card debt, debt with school that gets turned over to the state (and other debt I can't even account for) in your early 20's, and then move into an over-priced townhouse right after college. So guys, uh, don't do everything I just said.

LolaHausman

@katiemcgillicuddy FYI: If you have a smart phone, there is an app you can download that will allow you to put a "secret word" on your phone so whenever anyone texts you that word it will turn your phone off silent and ring REALLY LOUD. For droids "Find my Droid". :)

MilesofMountains

@LolaHausman For android phones there's also Lookout. It does other security things, but if you lose your phone you can log in on a computer and turn the GPS on to get the location of your phone or make it "scream" even if the phone is turned to silent.

katiemcgillicuddy

@LolaHausman That is very cool but haha, no, of course I don't have a smart phone.

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@katiemcgillicuddy
and you don't have a smart phone? great, now I feel even worse.

you should see my phone, though. people make fun of me.

katiemcgillicuddy

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll Haha, no worries, I actually have very little interest in a smart phone. Except for my prolific texting career, I kind of hate phones. Why people think they should be able to find me at the drop of a hat is beyond me. And the whole GPS tracking thing makes me uneasy.

/hides in woods, puts on tin-foil hat

faience

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll I walked into a party last March to find my closest friend making fun of my ancient phone to a good sized crowd of people. He called me a 'hipster with an ironic flip phone."

WaityKatie

@katiemcgillicuddy I recently had a landline installed as part of an attempt to get a break from Time Warner on my cable (which of course DID NOT WORK AT ALL) but at soon as I had it put in debt collectors started calling me for other people. So I had to put my phone on silent to avoid debt collector calls that aren't even for my own debt. Awesome. And it's always a recording that gives me no way to say "I am not the person you're looking for please leave me alone now." Argh.

Bittersweet

@faience It always amazes me when people say you're using older technology to be "ironic," when it's really because it still works and thus you don't feel like shelling out to get the latest version. And then ending up talking to A Debt Collector. /crusty old person rant

faience

@Bittersweet I am also a totally broke graduate student who had a brief moment of panic yesterday when my "ironic" flip phone decided to die midconversation with what seemed like a full battery.

options

@katiemcgillicuddy I couldn't agree more :)

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Rock and Roll Ken Doll

Here is the place to recount how my sister stopped repeat calls about someone else's student loan debt (she tried to explain the phone number mix-up but that didn't work) by asking if she could record the calls. She didn't have any mechanism to record the call, she was just asking if it would be okay, BUT THE CALLS STOPPED.

bitchycrosstownexpress

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll A friend of mine moved into an apartment where the previous tenant had student loan debt and after a few times of erasing the collection agent's calls from her answering machine she actually called them back and explained, and the agent actually thanked her and said something to the effect of they just needed to verify the other guy was gone and not just avoiding them. So I'm guessing the person calling your sister knew they were in the wrong and that's why the recording suggestion worked.

MissMushkila

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll I have been getting frequent debt collector phone calls about someone else ever since I got my current phone number (~ 2 years ago). When my phone is not on silent, I answer and tell them they have the wrong number. I am still getting these calls at least once or twice a week. I don't know if this trick would work though, as it seems to be multiple different people looking for a certain P. Green at my number.

H.E. Ladypants

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll What amazed me was the frequent calls from collection agencies after my dad died wanting to know why he stopped paying his credit card bills. Fuck you guys, it's all in probate, the companies were all informed about this, please stop calling my mother in the middle of the day and making her repeat for the millionth time that her husband is dead. Make a note you heartless assholes.

Eventually my mom stopped picking up the landline ever because she just couldn't fucking deal.

Genghis Khat

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll Yup.This happened to my dad too with my dead mom's accounts. It's five years later and there are still infrequent calls. Make a note, assholes, indeed.

fondue with cheddar

I got my first credit card my freshman year of college. It had a $350 credit limit. I was good with it for a few years, until circumstances kept me from being able to pay it for awhile. Every month I had an overlimit fee and a late fee. They increased my interest rate to something around 25%. When I was able to start making payments again I still incurred the overlimit fee every month, as well as the grossly compounded interest. After years of paying what I could but still seeing the balance soar, I stopped paying it out of frustration. I'd heard that credit card companies try to negotiate a deal with you if you stop paying altogether, so I figured it was worth a shot. When they did offer me a deal it was for about $3500, which was half what I owed. I didn't have that much money, so I couldn't take the deal. A few years ago there was a judgement, so now I'm paying it again. I still owe more than $6000. :'(

redheaded&crazy

@a whole thing of candy beans (formerly jen325) According to Logan over at the billfold, you can make a counteroffer, like "I can't pay $3500, this is what I CAN pay now." They might not accept it but they might lower their amount? Bartering over debt :\

wee_ramekin

@a whole thing of candy beans (formerly jen325)

Ouch.

Also, girl, why did you change your username?

Better to Eat You With

@a whole thing of candy beans (formerly jen325) My first credit card, also my freshman year of college, had a $400 limit. They tried to get me to pay $12,000, eventually, in a situation like yours. I wrote them a very nasty letter making it clear that I would pay no such amount, and that I thought that amount might just reflect some fraudulent accounting, and the collection attempts just...stopped. I eventually got a very reasonable bill for something like $700, which I paid. A few years later, another agency had "bought" the account and tried to collect the rest, but I ignored them and they went away.

The worst of it was that the first agency called me once and shouted profane threats for five straight minutes. I was scared to death.

Scandyhoovian

@a whole thing of candy beans (formerly jen325) My first credit card was one of those that aims at students -- low limits, high interest rates -- and it was fine when I didn't rack up too much on it, but man, did it get out of control when I used it while studying abroad (like... 5 digits). I paid minimums forever and always 'cause my parents were kind enough to say "we'll help you if you can't make a payment but DON'T NOT PAY A PAYMENT," so I managed not to get the horrific late fees and all that. I finally was able to transfer the balance to a 0% interest-for-a-year card with the help of my fiance and am finally paying it down, rather than just paying the minimums on something like 24.9% interest (and pretty much just covering the interest it was racking up). I feel like interest rates that high are criminal :(

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@Better to Eat You With
Ooh, profanity is prohibited under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (as are a lot of things). Hard to enforce, though.

Scandyhoovian

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll Can we all have candy names? I can be Candyhooverin', which is an accurate representation of how I tend to eat jelly bellies.

sceps yarx

@Scandyhoovian dibs on "the squishiest lemonhead in the whole box"

fondue with cheddar

@redheaded&crazie Unfortunately I think it's a little too late for that as there's already been a judgement. And besides, when they made the offer I was having a hard time. I don't think they would have accepted my offer of $20 a month.

@Better to Eat You With An agency bought my debt, too. It didn't help. I thought it did for awhile, but ultimately it caught up with me.

@Scandyhoovian Transferring to a 0% interest card is a great idea! I haven't had a credit card for a long time because nobody will give me one, but I just buckled down and got myself a secured card to try and build up my credit because I have no other way to do it (I've never had a loan or anything). 25% interest rates ARE criminal! When I was paying it (before they sold it off) I couldn't even cover the interest every month. It's horrible. I've paid the initial debt many times over by now. Fortunately the interest rate is more reasonable now, but it's still taking a long time to pay down.

@wee_ramekin Because I wanted to make myself more anonymous. My name and birthday is a little too identifiable. When I first created this account I had no idea how much I would eventually overshare. ;)

terrific

@Scandyhoovian OK so my terribly embarrassing, I-suck-at-credit-cards story: I have about $2000 on a VERY high-interest card, and wanted to transfer to a no-interest card. SO. I applied for one I heard was good, and they accepted me, but only with a $1000 limit! I called them and complained and they were like "nope can't change your limit sorry no can do" ...

...and now that card is almost at the limit.

please don't yell at me I'm so embarrassed. (I cut up both cards!?!?!?! I pay more than the minimum!?!?!?)

Smallison

@terrific - This happened to me, too (had to put a whole buncha car repairs on the new card). I'm just now getting to a point where lowe interest debt is getting paid down, and the higher interest debt is getting to a level that I might be able to do a balance transfer. But it has taken a loooooong time. :(

randummy

@randummy

Or else. we're. coming. for. you.

ADC, get the horses ready. We've got some poachers for you to bring to justice.

Take MY game -- my pheasant. I'll teach you a lesson, peasant. (Not literally teach, like in schools. Ha ha, schools! Hope you can afford a private one.)

Can I just put forth here, though, that I'm confident that we will actually change course and stop the massive disfunction. There are SO MANY bright minds, and the old ways I think won't hold up in the face of the tide of the massive wave education which has occurred in the last 100 years. Damn! So.Many. Grad. Students.

(And of course... So. Much. Student. Debt.)

I hope ADC, you are with me when I pray for reform to our current system, especially when it comes to Student Loan debt. Now THERE'S a scam.... Gotta love it.

Niiiiice.

(And, no, I don't have student debt to speak of so this isn't just sour grapes/buyers remorse on my part. It's concern for public policy.)

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harebell

To what degree do you even try to get your facts straight before harassing people, though?

The person above has a story about being harassed for someone else's student loan -- identity confusion. And I got harassed for nonexistent debt -- the hospital billed my health insurance company incorrectly, resulting in a delayed payment, and once I got the problem straightened out, even though it had been paid in full, it got sent to a debt collector anyway, who proceeded to call me on and off and random intervals for another two years. I sent them photocopies of my receipt, and alternately begged & demanded they just go check the hospital's records for themselves, but it didn't really help because their weird bureaucratic process had absolutely no penalties when they fucked things up in a way that was in the interest of themselves or their clients.

This seems like a really self-serving depiction of debt collection.

A Debt Collector

@harebell When we first get a file, we are at the mercy of the information provided by our client. They, in turn, are at the mercy of whatever information the debtor provides them.

I can't speak for all collectors - obviously! - but when I call a wrong number, I ask for the person's first name, for my notes, and delete the number out of the account with a note that might say "Attempted to call debtor, a woman named Sarah answered and does not know the debtor." Then I won't call Sarah anymore!

Occasionally we get the wrong person of the same name, or contact someone's father when we're supposed to contact their son of the same name. As long as the wrong person can verify that they're not the droid we're looking for, we can easily leave them alone and attempt to locate the right person.

harebell

@A Debt Collector

well, I am delighted to be talking to one responsible Debt Collector, in that case.

However, extreme doubts on the industry and the reliability/honesty thereof.

A Debt Collector

@harebell Oh yeah. Lots of people in this industry are shady as hell. I share your extreme doubts about so many of my counterparts.

jule_b_sorry

@A Debt Collector Yeah, I'm not proud, but when I owed a student credit card, collectors somehow got my parent's phone number. Even though I didn't live at home, and they weren't in any way named on the card (did not cosign or anything), the collectors smelled blood - they called my parents six or seven times a day, for months, often very rudely telling my parents to "just take care of the debt" and implying that they'd be in trouble if they didn't pay.

While perhaps you would never do that, there's a reason the industry in general has such a bad rep beyond just "dishonest people badmouthing creditors and making excuses".

A Debt Collector

@jule_b_sorry Oh god, that's terrible. I get seriously uncomfortable if I have to call the same person twice in one MONTH.I won't even pretend to try to defend some of the bad acts by others in my field.

What did your parents do? Are they OK now?

jule_b_sorry

@A Debt Collector Aww, I actually appreciate the empathy - that's very kind :)

Hah, they just wrote me off as "their irresponsible child" and still make passive-aggressive jokes whenever I'm home and the phone rings. I eventually got a job and got my debt under control, and then phone calls gradually stopped...but it was pretty rough there for a while. I'll admit that I, being young and stupid, was terrified to answer the phone and deal with the debt. So, the collectors probably went harder after the people that, you know, actually answered their phone.

OhMarie

Oh, I want to know about debt collectors having the wrong information! In my sophmore year of college, I got a call from a debt collector asking for someone who was not me on day one in my new dorm room. I cheerfully explained that they had the wrong number, this is a dorm room number, I literally just moved in, no I do not have contact info for this person. Well, I got pretty much nonstop calls all semester until I finally moved to a different room, no matter how many times I explained it. My husband is now having a similar problem with his new cell phone number.

Do they keep calling because "wrong number" is a common thing for an actual debtor to say? What is going on?

Mira

@OhMarie Ask for their name and tell them the calls are being recorded for your lawyer.

packedsuitcase

@OhMarie I get this at my desk phone!

Megasus

I would be fine with the Facebook stalking part. It even sounds kind of fun!
Also this reminds me I have a bill for something I cancelled like a million years ago and they're all IT'S GOING TO COLLECTIONS but I don't even know if I want to bother. I didn't get any of the other notices since I moved.

redheaded&crazy

@Megano! hahahaha i know someone who maybe but maybe not forgot to cancel her internet subscription before moving out of quebec. no idea what ever happened to that ...

Megasus

@redheaded&crazie This is for a magazine that I got a free trial for, decided I didn't want it, told them so, and then they stopped sending issues, as far as I know. So like, I dunno why they're after me for money now.

wee_ramekin

An ex of mine had a medical bill go to collections that his father had told him he would pay. That's what happens when you are young and your dad does lots of coke instead of responsibly paying your medical bills :(.

Anyway, I was genuinely surprised by how reasonable his debt collectors were. He explained the situation and told them that he couldn't make the monthly payments that they needed, and they came back with "Well, how much can you pay?", and let him pay that. They were really pretty nice about it. He set a reminder in his phone and called his debt collector every month. Knew her name and everything. It was a lot different from what I had imagined the debt collection process to be.

A Debt Collector

@wee_ramekin Yay! That's how my firm tries to operate.
Why would I bother asking someone for, say, $200 a month on a bill if they know they can't pay it? I ask people what they CAN pay it, and even let them choose their monthly due date.

PrudenceHarlan

@wee_ramekin I think in general there is more leniency with medical collections-maybe because they are not due to someone's irresponsible spending or avoidance of financial obligations- but it used to be (not sure anymore) that lenders, in some cases, could overlook medical collections on your credit report when you applied for a home loan-even if they weren't paid off.

NeverOddOrEven

@PrudenceHarlan
Yeah, every time I've had a three figure medical bill that I couldn't pay off all at once, I've called and gotten an interest-free payment plan. With out asking directly. They just ask how much I want to pay monthly, usually $50, and we're done.

wee_ramekin

@all You know what's sad (though good for those with medical debt)? The fact that our healthcare system is so fucked up that even debt collectors are sympathetic to people with medical bills. #SMDH

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@wee_ramekin
C. actually avoided a medical bill altogether when the debt collectors gave up and then the statute of limitations ran out!

And now you know how old we are.

wee_ramekin

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll

C.?

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@wee_ramekin
My wife. She has a commenter name but rarely uses it, so I'm sticking with this initial nickname.

Whitney@twitter

Mr./Ms. Debt Collector, have you read 'Debt the first 5000 years' by David Graeber? I admit I'm only partway through (it's basically a paper brick)but it really is interesting how the notion of debt is tied up with cultural aspects. Maybe if you want to get more philosophical re: work?

A Debt Collector

@Whitney@twitter Ooh, thank you for the recommendation. That might be helpful!

JadedStone

@Whitney@twitter I LOVE THAT BOOK.

Weird book. Messes with your head and everything you think you're supposed to know about how things work.

deepomega

@Whitney@twitter That book is SUPER RACIST though. Like, it's this anarcho-liberal Occupy Wall Street middle-class white dude text. The anthropology in it is great, but the economics and politics are fucked up.

WaityKatie

@Whitney@twitter I thought the book was good, and Graeber is a cool dude in general, but I wondered why it didn't go into student loan debt. (dare I hope for a sequel?)

royaljunk

This reminds me of how I'm somewhat irrationally terrified of credit cards! Owning one of those things makes me really nervous!! My somewhat-money-savvy grandmother bugged me for years to get one to establish my credit, but I got a great credit score anyway from paying my student loan installments on time. HAHAHAHA YOU CAN'T CATCH ME

SarahP

@royaljunk I was this way and didn't get one till I was 25, and only then because I was hoping to buy a house in the next couple years and wanted to "build my credit" even more. I use it maaaaaybe once a month and immediately pay off my balance. It somehow still scares me.

sarah girl

@royaljunk God, I wish I was scared of credit cards.

Kristen

@royaljunk I have a debit/credit card from Bank of America that I use for all my bills, and I don't own a car or a house or anything else that would require loans. Instead, I have a bunch of savings sitting in my account, earning 1% interest.

My parents paid part of my college tuition on a credit card they put in my name - one of the best things they ever did for me. That card artificially inflated my score for a while, but I've been out of school for nearly ten years now, and beyond that I have zero credit history. Every responsible person I know keeps telling me that I need a credit card so I can start building credit. Eventually I applied for one from my bank and got rejected for not having enough credit history, so I went to my university's credit union and got a student card (I'm a grad student in my thirties.)

Now that I have it, I cannot bring myself to use it. I know I'm just supposed to set it up so that my gas bill or my Netflix or whatever bills to it and gets paid off at the end of the month, but every time I even think of activating it, I get sick to my stomach. I'm kind of disorganized and forgetful so part if it is just a fear that I'll mess up and start owing, but there's a deeper discomfort to it than that - a visceral loathing of the system itself. You read so many stories of people getting entangled in debt and getting over their heads in it. My dad and my sister are both in deep debt - my dad, in part, because of our college tuition. The idea that at some point in my life I'm going to be rejected for a loan for a house or a car because I DIDN'T go into debt before I needed to makes me deeply, morally angry. But what can you do? I have lots of visions of delivering a self-righteous speech to whatever loan officer denies me a mortgage on whatever house I'm going to buy (and then paying for the house in cash) but odds are, that's never going to happen, and instead I'm just going to get fucked.

packedsuitcase

@royaljunk Yes! I actually really want to cancel mine, because I never use them and they just sit there, but I've totally forgotten how to. I feel like I should have one, and then I remember that remembering to pay my freaking bills on time would be a much more effective method of building credit. I just suck with deadlines.

nogreeneggs

@royaljunk Ha your post just reminded me off paying of my own student loans in a super timely manner and then the finance person of a car dealership telling me that, although I had and excellent credit score and no current debt, they could not get me a good interest rate for a new car loan because I PAID OFF MY STUDENT LOANS TOO FAST. WHAT. So I just got a pre-approved loan from a credit union, no prob Bob. Now I'm paying off my car loan on time, but not too fast!

MilesofMountains

@Kristen I tried the self-righteous speech when I got denied for my first credit card, because although I had already taken out a morgage, paid for it on time never-fail for years, then paid off the morgage, I had a cosigner for the morgage so it didn't count for my credit rating and therefore I could not be trusted for a credit card. The speech just got me a "oh, that's sad" face and nothing else.

nogreeneggs

@MilesofMountains So people are basically being punished both for being irresponsible and responsible. We all have to have just the exact right amount of financial responsibleness you guys.

ETA: Haha I wrote basically 2x in one sentence. Glad it's Friday.

royaljunk

@SarahP YEAH, like, somehow I think it makes me less anxious to pay off regular amounts at regular intervals (a car payment for example) rather than put off paying for whatever random amount of junk I buy? I don't know. FINANCES!!!

supernintendochalmers

@Sarah H. @royaljunk Yes, honestly, this is a rational fear. I mean, know thyself and all, but credit cards can get out of control very quickly even for responsible people.

royaljunk

@nogreeneggs I am ALL ABOUT credit unions. They are the best.

She was a retail whore

@Sarah H. Seriously. I'm positive that, at this point, credit cards are afraid of me. I abuse them so :(

cecil hungry

@royaljunk Yes, I don't own a credit card and am constantly told I need one. But I'm really irresponsible! As far as I know I have literally zero credit because (and here is where I acknowledge my privilege because I know I am very, very, very lucky) my parents paid for 100% of my college tuition, and I paid for my car upfront, in cash. I'm a little worried because I think I may be looking for a house in the next few years (and I plan to use the last of my inheritance from my grandparents, which is responsible for all of this) and I'm just going to pay for that upfront, too. Why do I need a credit card?

Linette

@cecil hungry I have a suggestion for this!

You need a credit card, essentially, to establish that you can be trusted with a small amount of credit so that the powers that be know you can be trusted with a big amount of credit (like, say, a mortgage loan).

I am one of those people who cannot be trusted with my credit either, and here is what I did: I got a credit card with, naturally, a very low limit. I tied this credit card to an account that paid off one single solitary monthly bill that fluctuated (my electricity). Then I put the credit card in a glass of water and put it in my friend's freezer (not mine. Never mine. Cannot be trusted, me).

Here's what this did: I was never late on my payments because this was a bill I was already accustomed to paying. The only difference was that instead of paying it to the city, I now paid it to the credit card. The bill fluctuated, which is good as far the credit card is concerned, because it means you're using it. they are wise to consistent monthly bills.

I also couldn't use it for random purchases because I didn't have the physical card available, and I hadn't had it long enough to memorize the number. My friend was under strict instructions to not let me use the credit card unless in actual emergency, and since she is financially responsible and I am not, she understands that "emergency" and "I really like these $300 boots on sale" are not the same thing.

Every year, I let the bill rack up for several months in a row, and paid it all off at once (I did this at Christmas; I knew I'd be getting a couple hundred in a lump sum at that time and so I let the bill rack up for Oct-Dec, and paid it all off then). This is important - the credit card company doesn't want you to pay it off every single month, and will actually knock your credit rating if you do.

Once in a while when I felt REALLY adventurous, I made a huge purchase and immediately put that money in my savings account and scheduled a payment on the credit card to come out of the savings account. This helped increase my spending limit - but I had to be super-cautious about planning on this, because if I hadn't had the money in hand when I made the purchase, that balance would have carried over forever because I CANNOT BE TRUSTED.

This is all a way of letting a credit card company know you can be trusted with credit, even when you can't. I am that person who will spend all the money and pay back the minimum payments forever, and I had to put so many safeguards in place to make sure I wouldn't do that (this system is the result of a lot of trial and error, believe you me).

You may be able to do without one, and if you can, DO EET. But if you can't do without one, and you need the credit rating it will help you establish, then this is a way I raised my credit by a lot and managed to not fall prey to my own really terrible tendencies to only ever deal with an immediate problem.

Lurkasaurus

@royaljunk YES THIS. Except that my grandmother told me NOT to get one, I guess under the impression that I would be irresponsible with it. But I have always been anxious about spending, and I am terrified of credit cards after hearing so many horror stories! I really really doubt it would have been much of a temptation for me. I mean, if I had it my way I would never get one evereverever...but apparently you need one to "establish credit." And now, because I have no credit history, I CAN'T get a credit card. I was planning to bite the bullet and pay up for a secured card...then I lost my job, making now a very bad time to add extra expenses to my life. Luckily I have a minor college loan that I am making payments on to help establish some credit, but I feel so frustrated that I was misled about what the "responsible" thing to do was and consequently set back years in the quest to become a Real Fully-Functioning Adult.

nowwhat

Thanks for this perspective. It's a relief to know all debt collectors aren't mean jerks, whether at their employer's directive or of their own volition.

Here is the place where I share my childhood memories of answering the phone for my (single, poor, working) mom only to get sniped at rudely by a debt collector. Sometimes the person answering the phone who says that the debtor isn't home is telling the truth and is in fact the debtor's latchkey child who then learns to associate these types of repeated calls with her mom crying on the sofa every evening. Oh and for what it's worth I don't remember why the debt started in the first place, but I'd guess because we kept accruing moving expenses from my mom's continual search for a better job. This post inspired more Feelings than I would have guessed.

Mira

@nowwhat Yeah...I know debt collectors are only the scavengers on the detritus-littered ocean floor of our toxic financial system, so I try not to blame them personally for what they do, but there are an awful lot of abusive sociopaths in that industry working for shady outfits with zero accountability. Our A Debt Collector doesn't sound like one of them, which is nice, and of course I agree that people should pay their debts, but.

Sorry you and your mom went through that, I guess is what I'm trying to say.

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@Mira
This is behind a paywall, but there's a great bit where the subject, an owner of a small debt collecting firm, talks about how he'll see an agent raking in the collections then, like clockwork, he'll get slapped with a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act lawsuit for abusive collection tactics (obscene language, calling neighbors, alluding to lawsuits that the agency doesn't have authority to file). The implications are obvious. It was a good article all-around.

fondue with cheddar

@nowwhat I'm really sorry for what you and your mom went through. Being in over your head in debt is really tough, but when you've got a child it must be especially scary.

Mira

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll I don't subscribe, but just the abstract made me kind of stabby! "He specializes in payday loans with small balances" - I mean, just think about what that means.

nowwhat

@Mira @a whole thing of candy beans (formerly jen325) Thank you. Things eventually got better. It helps a lot to remember that the people calling are only doing their job.

Luckily the one time I was faced with a collector's calls about my own debt they were relatively benign, even though it triggered a massive emotional reaction. Then I got a summer job that magically paid me the exact amount I owed, and there was much rejoicing.

nowwhat

@nowwhat ...and this all means that now I pay off everything and have excellent credit out of The Fear.

fondue with cheddar

@nowwhat My credit sucks because I've never had student loans or anthing that will bring it back up. I just got a secured credit card (nobody will give me a normal one), so that's a start I guess.

Poubelle

@nowwhat I was also a latchkey kid who would try my best phone manners and follow the exact script my parents gave me (never say mom & dad aren't home, it was always "they're unavailable right now, can I take a message?") and sometimes the debt collectors were polite back at me (the student loan people were consistently professional) but other times? Ugh. It got to the point where I'd let the machine get it and would pick up if I recognized the voice. I stopped telling my parents about the calls, too, as they'd usually lead to a very yell-y argument.

SarahP

Once, one of my phone bills went to a debt collector TOTALLY DUE TO A MISTAKE OF VERIZON'S, and when the lady at the agency called me I had no idea what was happening and freaked out. In less than 5 minutes she and I figured out what had happened and she told me how to contact Verizon about it and within a couple days everything was straightened out, with no trace of debt collection on my credit report. That debt collector lady was THE BEST. Soooo... I guess I'm saying I am A-OK by debt collectors.

A Debt Collector

@SarahP Maybe it was me! (OK, it probably was not, but I'm happy some of my sisters in collections are nice too.)

You did the right thing by picking up the phone and just asking questions.

SarahP

@A Debt Collector I was secretly hoping it was you. It was 3 years ago, though

WaityKatie

@SarahP That happened to me with Verizon! I moved out and cancelled my service, then spent hours on the phone trying to inform them that I never received my final bill. They denied there was a bill and told me not to worry about it. Months later, I get a call from a debt collector. Apparently they didn't ever send me a bill, just sent it directly to collections. Assholes. Of course I paid it right away, but WTF Verizon how am I supposed to pay a bill that you repeatedly denied even existed?

MilesofMountains

Ooo Debt Collector, you're brave to write this up. For what it's worth, the only time I've had any dealings with debt collection agencies is when I was 16 and the library threatened to send my $20 unpaid library fee to an agency which scared me into paying it. I'm mad about the political and economic systems that mean poor people have to go into debt to get by or to deal with medical issues, but I don't have many feelings about debt collectors themselves.

sudden but inevitable betrayal

I have also heard if you leave the country awhile and they can't get in touch with you, they stop trying - haven't tried it, but I might if whoever owns my student loans comes knocking...!

MilesofMountains

@sudden but inevitable betrayal I met someone who did that! She racked up huge student loans then right after graduation moved to Sweden. She said she doesn't have any plans to move back, so there's nothing really they can do. It has a certain logic to it.

werewolfbarmitzvah

@sudden but inevitable betrayal Oh yeah, this kinda answers a question I had! I have a friend who is not American, and the contract at his job here in NYC is up at the end of the year, and he's trying to come up with ways of making ends meet while he finishes his dissertation before heading back to his home country. My husband was joking with him that he should just get a credit card and rack up all the debt in the world, and that when he leaves the country it would be impossible for the credit card company to track him down. (I don't think he's actually going to do this. But it's interesting to speculate about what would happen if he did!)

NeverOddOrEven

@werewolfbarmitzvah
When I got my scary diagnosis, part of my coping was to check if my husband would be on the hook for my personal debts. In MN at least that answer is no. So I figured Capital One and Master Card could just go ahead and fund my bucket list and last years of life. They can spare it.

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@MilesofMountains
Actually, it is possible to get a judgment against someone in the U.S. and register it in the other country and collect there. My boss once hired an Italian law firm to collect against a guy who fled to Italy.

But obviously that's very expensive for the creditor, so, practically, it's likely that you'll get away, especially if you run out the statute of limitations.

sudden but inevitable betrayal

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll ...is there a statute of limitations on debt?!

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@sudden but inevitable betrayal
Basically yes!

A Debt Collector

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll High five for knowing your legal rights!

@sudden but inevitable betrayal YES! Usually debt is a breach of contract. Depending on your jurisdiction, this will be about 6-8 years.

frigwiggin

This makes me think of United States of Tara. Lynda P. Frazier!

frigwiggin

@frigwiggin Also I just hopped over to my bank site and paid whatever was on my credit card.

This is my new username

@frigwiggin Ha! Me too. Although I had planned to do that anyway. It is part of my new plan to use my credit card for basically all my spending, and then go pay it off every pay day. It seems like it's maybe a better plan than half the time using debit, half the time using credit, and trying to remember to go pay my bill at the due date. It's been a much better way to track my spending since it's all in one place and I'm also looking at it every two weeks.

NeverOddOrEven

@This is my new username
Plus rewards!

This is my new username

@NeverOddOrEven Yes that too!

She was a retail whore

@This is my new username Check out your credit card's online repayment regulations. One of mine allows you to make up to four payments in a month, so the every day thing wouldn't work with them.

This is my new username

@She was a retail whore I do it every pay day, not every day, so it is really only twice a month.

Clare

I guess this is as good a place as any to ask:

Have any of you had success calling your credit card company and asking for your interest rate to be reduced? I think mine is at 19.9% now. I pay it faithfully every month. I once called BofA to ask and the person on the other end of the phone said, in the most condescending, patronizing, I'll-speak-slowly-because-you've-sustained-a-massive-head-injury voice, "Well, ma'am, I can't do that because that's how the bank makes money."

fondue with cheddar

@Clare Yeah, but they don't need to make THAT much money! TWENTY PERCENT? Banks are such fucking bastards.

terrific

@Clare I'm also interested in the responses to this.

Mira

@a whole thing of candy beans (formerly jen325) But if they don't make twenty percent, they'll have to start illegally re-ordering debit card transactions and making predatory housing loans! Again.

kitryan

@Clare being ready to cancel your card and having a history of paying in full (and thus not being a person who earns them lots of interest charges) puts you in a better negotiating position. I have not gotten lower rates myself, but I did get my limits raised by asking and being ready to cancel the card. My dad has told me that he's gotten annual fees waived with similar tactics. It's really bad for the agent to have a card cancled so they have some leeway on things they can do to keep you as a customer. Worst case, you get condescending person again.

NeverOddOrEven

@Clare
I've never had to ask for a reduced rate, but I did ask for a limit increase once when I heard it could help my credit score, and I didn't even need to talk to anyone! It was all automated. I pressed a button and got more money.

Clare

@kitryan I don't think I understand you. I pay more than the minimum, and I pay it on time every month, but there's no way I can play the "I want to pay off my card and cancel it" card (if you will) because there's no way I can back that up. There's just not. And I don't want to raise my limit; BofA has already raised it once without even asking me if I wanted them to.

wee_ramekin

@kitryan Eeep! I wouldn't cancel the card though, folks. My admittedly limited knowledge of the way credit and credit cards work is that if you cancel a credit card, you lose a chunk of your credit history, which is Not Good. Part of your credit score is dependent on how long a credit history you have, so it's not a good idea to cancel a credit card.

maevemealone

@Clare I've asked for a rate reduction, years ago when I had the high limit and paid on time regularly (hahahahahahahah, that was so many years ago... ahhh..sob..) It works. Nobody should be condescending to you, but make sure you have all your ducks in a row, ie, you pay on time. You can ask for a lot more than you usually get from credit card companies.

NeverOddOrEven

@wee_ramekin
Your score will take a temporary hit, but it bounces back and that card will always be on your history.

She was a retail whore

@Clare I have done this in the past, and only once was the answer "Your interest rate is as low as it can go on this card." It doesn't hurt to try. Also, I have some phone calls to make tonight...thanks for the reminder.

Smallison

@Clare I'm in a similar position with one of my cards. I keep meaning to try again to get a reduction (it worked with another of my credit cards), but I'm nervous. It's so frustrating!

kitryan

@Clare Yes, you have to be able to walk away. They know that if you're unable to leave and are paying them interest, there's no incentive for them to change anything (except possibly the limit, to allow for a hire balance and more interest charges). If paying in full is not possible, in some situations transferring the balance to a card with 0 interest for 6 months can give some flexibility in negotiating with the original company. It's the usual catch 22-if you aren't in a bind, your negotiating position is much stronger.
@wee_ramekin As I understand it, canceling a card in itself is not the bad thing, but it does lower the total amount of credit availible to you and I believe (though they make it opaque intentionally) that one key element of the score is the ratio of availible credit to debt. So, if you have 3 cards with 5,000 limits and a balance of 2,500, the ratio would be 6:1. If you canceled one of the cards, the ratio would be 4:1, which is worse. If you cancel when you have no balance, the ratio isn't affected the same way. And I know that a closed card still shows up in your history, I've seen them in my report.

Anyway, the main point is if there's a threat of cancelation , they will do a great deal to avoid it. But you might have to pull the trigger.
I had a free checking account with Chase and they added fees so I moved my account. When I went to close it, the rep started offering me fee waivers and if there was anything he could do to keep me from leaving - I closed it anyway, but they were ready to bargain.

kitryan

@kitryan Oops-"a higher balance"

Her???

@Clare really late with this, but what once worked for me is saying "I've received a balance transfer offer from another of my cards with a much lower rate...I don't want to go through the hassle but I will if I cannot get my rate lowered" All I had at the time was an "offer" for a lower rate card if I applied, but it worked.

Lily Rowan

I'll just note that like in so many other cases, if the debt collector who calls you is a dick, and it is a mistake, escalating to a manager can work! The guy who called me about the identity-theft debt was mostly saying, "There's nothing I can do here," but in a snotty way. The manager? COULD do something! Phew.

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

Also guys (in the U.S.): bankruptcy. Sure it wrecks your credit, but if your credit is ALREADY wrecked by debt you can't pay, how can it be worse? Through my work, I see a lot of people thrashing about to avoid bankruptcy who really would be better off filing but who are held back by what seems to me like a noble but naive sense of shame.

sudden but inevitable betrayal

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll I'm hoping student loan debts go back to be dischargable via bankruptcy. When they do, I am first in line...

WaityKatie

@sudden but inevitable betrayal That would go such a long way to fixing the college cost crisis we currently have. No more free loan money, colleges can't keep charging "whatever" and making students take out a mortgage-equivalent debt to pay it. Voila. Of course it's unlikely to happen because banks and government are making craploads off the system the way it is.

whateverlolawants

We get debt-collection calls at work sometimes for former employees who are long gone. Don't hand out your work number to creditors unless they insist.

TheDragon

I need to get a credit card at some point, to you know, get credit. I'm freaking terrified of it.
I'm thinking maybe if I got one and used it ONLY for gas, then paid it off after every bill, that might work? Or do I have to spend a minimum amount every month.
Credit cards. I don't get them, yo.

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@TheDragon
Set it up for automatic withdrawal from your bank account so you don't have to remember to pay! Plus, the rewards feel like free money! Since retailers bump up the prices on goods to make up for the credit card interchange fees, if you're paying with cash you are in a sense subsidizing everyone else's credit card points.

The risk of automatic deduction, I suppose, is that if there's an erroneous overdraw, you have to fight to get it corrected and you don't have access to that money in the meantime.

TheDragon

@Rock and Roll Ken Doll
Someone told me that you only earn credit if you wait to get the bill and pay, not if you pay it off before the bill. Were they shitting me or did they know what they were talking about?

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@TheDragon
Gosh, I'm far from an expert on this, but I recall from getting my own credit report that there's a row of boxes for each account, one box for each month the account is opened, and then there's a letter in each box about what you did (paid on time, paid late, didn't pay). So I don't see why you would have to wait for the bill?

nogreeneggs

@TheDragon If you don't want to get a credit card you could always get a small, low interest loan from a credit union or something and just pay that off. Something like $1,000. You don't have to spend it, just use it to pay the loan back every month. I think the Billfold had a suggestion like this? Maybe from reader mail or something.

TheDragon

@nogreeneggs Actually, I'll probably need to take out a small loan for my last year of school, starting next semester.
Thank god for in-state tuition.

KatieBarTheDoor

@TheDragon Serious question that will probably make me look like a moron: How do people not have credit cards? Like, do you pay for everything with cash/check, or do you have a debit card? I've had a credit card since I was 15, so I wouldn't know how to function without one. (Though I essentially use it like a debit card and have never had to carry a balance, thankfully.)

nogreeneggs

@TheDragon I know the answer to this! My boyfriend's former roommate doesn't have a credit card or a bank account but constantly was buying things online. I did not understand how this was possible until my boyfriend told me that the roommate would just go to Walmart and buy the little prepaid gift cards you can use like cash for whatever amount he needed.

I still don't understand how this person can function without a basic checking account (he pays to get his paychecks cashed), but now I know how he buys things online.

royaljunk

@KatieBarTheDoor Non-credit-card-having person here! I try to pay for my day-to-day small things with cash, and pretty much everything else with a debit card or the occasional check.

MilesofMountains

@KatieBarTheDoor Until very recently, my credit card was used for emergencies only. I'd use my debit card for most things and Paypal for online stuff.

The Attic Wife

@TheDragon I don't have a credit card (I'm too afraid of debt to use one), so I just use my debit card to pay for everything. Or checks and cash, but usually the debit card.

cecil hungry

@KatieBarTheDoor I don't have a credit card. I use my debit card like a credit card and it works well for me. I, like TheDragon, am scared of credit cards. The Walmart-Giftcard thing seems seriously weird though.

This is my new username

@cecil hungry But what about like hotels and online purchased type things? I am also curious!

Lurkasaurus

@This is my new username Debit cards work just fine for hotels, plane tickets, online shopping, etc etc etc. I don't know if I maybe have a specialized type or what, but I have been using my debit card for online payments for YEARS and never once had an issue.

cecil hungry

@This is my new username Yep I have never had a problem using a debit card for any of those things.

royaljunk

@Lurkasaurus Same! I use my debit card for all the same things people buy with credit cards, and have never had a problem. I've paid hotel bills and every online purchase ever with it.

TheDragon

@KatieBarTheDoor Yeah, I have a debit card that works as my credit card.

i make lists

@Lurkasaurus The reason why I'd advise using credit cards for hotels, car rentals, and even gas is because those types of businesses are able to "hold" more money than the original price. For example, your room rate might only be $150, but the hotel will hold $250 on your card for incidentals (using the mini bar, taking bath robes). The hold will eventually drop off, but if you aren't aware of it, it can easily lead to overdrafts.

Also, if you have any kind of dispute, credit card companies have a lot more insurance on your purchases, and for potential fraud. (Side note: your credit card can extend the warranty of some products, and can also have built in car rental insurance!) It's a lot less of a hassle to have something happen to your credit card than your debit card because debit cards are attached to your checking account...which is how you pay things like rent.

This is my new username

@cecil hungry

Huh, I had no idea. I guess since I have a credit card I just never looked into using a debit card for online booking type stuff.

TheDragon

Also, I got a call informing me that I owed $50,000 in credit card debt. The company didn't believe that I wasn't Karen T. I finally had to have my phone company call them and inform them that my number was registered to a different name.

Kitty

Posts about debt and then subsequent comments about being afraid of said debt and having no credit card debt/student loan debt always make feel like a horrible human being that can't handle life (because I have all all of those things).

Ironically, I am also a debt collector.

A Debt Collector

@Kitty Friend, I've got tons of loans and also no savings to speak of. And as I wrote in the post, I've had stuff go to collections. Good thing you don't have to be a financial expert to do what we do! I think it just makes us more empathetic, right?

noodle

when I was a debt collector, the best excuse I received was, "I was the victim of a murder/suicide!"

She was a retail whore

@noodle Instant classic. Did you forgive the person on account of his/her deadness?

KatieBarTheDoor

@noodle Aaahahaha, I love it. Actually snorted at my desk.

noodle

@She was a retail whore Nope, I asked her for her death certificate.

noodle

@KatieBarTheDoor I swear to you, sometimes I had a hard time holding it together when I was making these calls. I had to mute my phone all the time to disguise my laughter. When people screamed obscenities at me and really WENT OFF, I always thought it was funny. I mean, sometimes this was over a $250 debt, and I always super nice, approaching the situation as someone who actually wanted to help them manage their debt. It was just... a bit inappropriate to fly off the handle in that situation. I guess the fact that it made me laugh instead of cry was what made me able to handle the job.

Diana

I'm way too embarrassed to talk about this in IRL with anybody except my boyfriend. There was a terrible mixup between my parents and myself as to where my student loan bills were going and who was paying them, and a few months ago my student loan bills went into default. It was a horrendous feeling, knowing that my credit was ruined and there was nothing I could do. Worse, since I'm dead fucking broke working part time with a part time unpaid internship, I only make $1200 a month as it is, and can't afford $360 payments on top of my rent. After talking with my dad (who is an accountant who deals with debt collectors/wage garnishment all day), I prepared myself and talked to the debt collectors. They were incredibly professional and helpful. Thanks to Obama (I GOT YOU, OBAMA) and the student debt rehabilitation program (or whatever it's called) I was able to enroll in the following program: every month for the next 9 months, I pay $75 to the collectors. After the 9th on-time payment, I get pulled out of collections and my debt is transferred back to the federal government. It's basically your one get out of jail free card. It was amazing. I started crying off the phone, I was so happy and relieved. The whole time, the debt collectors were very professional and extremely competent and went to great pains to explain the ramifications and requirements of every decision I made and every program I enrolled in. This is a company with a reputation for being beyond scummy - deservedly so, I guess, since the government fined them a million dollars a couple years ago for their shady tactics. I guess I got a good branch, then, because they were amazing, and what could have been a life-ruining disaster that haunted me the rest of my life was resolved thanks to a fair-minded bunch of debt collectors and (especially) a miraculous piece of legislation.

WaityKatie

@Diana I wish we could get rid of this feeling of shame that we all (myself included) have about debt. It's so common for people to become overwhelmed by debt, yet no one talks about it. Thank you for sharing your story.

jerrylesh

@Diana That's great you were able to "rehab" your defaulted student loans. However, President Obama does not deserve credit for this program. If you want to credit Presidents for this program (and not Congress), it should go to Clinton and George W. Bush. The "rehab" program and income contigent repayment (ICR) was passed in 1994. The income-based repayment (IBR) plan was passed in 2007 (Obama has expanded IBR margins, so you could possibly give him 3-5% of the credit)

Diana

I'm way too embarrassed to talk about this in IRL with anybody except my boyfriend. There was a terrible mixup between my parents and myself as to where my student loan bills were going and who was paying them, and a few months ago my student loan bills went into default. It was a horrendous feeling, knowing that my credit was ruined and there was nothing I could do. Worse, since I'm dead fucking broke working part time with a part time unpaid internship, I only make $1200 a month as it is, and can't afford $360 payments on top of my rent. After talking with my dad (who is an accountant who deals with debt collectors/wage garnishment all day), I prepared myself and talked to the debt collectors. They were incredibly professional and helpful. Thanks to Obama (I GOT YOU, OBAMA) and the student debt rehabilitation program (or whatever it's called) I was able to enroll in the following program: every month for the next 9 months, I pay $75 to the collectors. After the 9th on-time payment, I get pulled out of collections and my debt is transferred back to the federal government. It's basically your one get out of jail free card. It was amazing. I started crying off the phone, I was so happy and relieved. The whole time, the debt collectors were very professional and extremely competent and went to great pains to explain the ramifications and requirements of every decision I made and every program I enrolled in. This is a company with a reputation for being beyond scummy - deservedly so, I guess, since the government fined them a million dollars a couple years ago for their shady tactics. I guess I got a good branch, then, because they were amazing, and what could have been a life-ruining disaster that haunted me the rest of my life was resolved thanks to a fair-minded bunch of debt collectors and (especially) a miraculous piece of legislation.

MissMushkila

@Diana I had a huge fight with my mother earlier this year, because while I had an updated address and had been paying off my federal loans, my mom was failing to pass on the mail from a private loan I had to take to study abroad. It had my name on it, but she had decided to just quietly keep paying it, because she knew my federal loans were burdensome enough. In other words, she was being SUPER KIND AND GENEROUS.

Except.

She forgot to pay it one month. And the company reported it. And I realized what was going on because my credit scores tanked over 100 points and I was like what the what????

It's still really frustrating for me, because I could afford to pay the 70/month private loan, or she could have set up a transfer to pay me but have it so I was responsible. I dodn't know. And it may take awhile for those scores to recover.

H.E. Ladypants

@Diana I ended up doing this! It was a great program!

Except for the one month where work screwed up my paycheck and the automatic payment didn't go through and I didn't realize this was happening until too late. And the rep called me and started berating me. It was shortly after Thanksgiving and she said something like, "So what happened? Did you go shopping last Friday? Spent a little too much on Black Friday? YOU ARE TENS OF THOUSANDS IN DEBT. WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU GOING TO DO NOW, MISS LADYPANTS."

I had to call the bank with the rep on the phone and make the bank explain what happened while I sat there on the line and cried.

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@Diana - I am currently enrolled in that exact same program and I just made my 7th payment and it does feel great! Two more payments and then they find a new lender to take over my remaining loan balance and my credit improves as a side benefit!

Lorelei@twitter

A Debt Collector, when you call and the person doesn't answer, do you leave a message? I've been getting calls for over a year from a number that I initially didn't pick up on because I never answer numbers I don't recognize - I assume if someone has a legit reason to contact me they'll leave a message, and/or probably knows an additional way to contact me. Anyway the first time this number showed up and there was no message, I googled it and it turned out to be a credit collections agency with a ton of complaints and stories of shady tactics, so I set the number to never ring and have not ever answered it. I know for sure it's not my debt, I have no outstanding medical bills, just one credit card that I pay off every month, plus I check my free credit reports every year and the only problem that's ever shown up is a single late payment on a student loan (I mixed up due dates and paid just a couple days late, it's never happened again). But my sister's boyfriend, who now lives with my parents at my former address, is kind of an irresponsible juicebox with a lot of debt and I know the collectors call my parents regularly, and I'm afraid they're going to try to harass me for his debt. I have some serious phone anxiety and also I've been avoiding these daily calls forever, what are the chances that if I finally pick up it'll be some kind of benign and easy to deal with mix-up, vs. someone yelling at me and making me cry and become even more terrified of phone calls?

A Debt Collector

@Lorelei@twitter I do leave a message, but if I'm not 100% certain it's the correct phone number, it's more of a vague "Hey [name], call me at [our number]. If this is not [name] please call me so I can update my records."

I feel you on the phone anxiety. You can send a letter to the agency explaining the situation, but if the calls still don't stop, you might have to just answer it one of these times. Odds are good it will be as simple as explaining that they have the wrong number, and they'll delete it from their file, and the calls will stop. Good luck!

annev6

I was a debt collector. For a mortgage debt collection agency. During 2007. I didn't have the stomach for it, but those were different times. One of the people I had to call up was a nun who'd moved here from abroad and who's brother had bought about 5 McMansion's in her name without her knowledge. A nun. Someone who had taken a vow of poverty was approved for over a million dollars in mortgages and was on the hook for every penny of it. There were also the trucking school loans - wherein a certain trucking school would promise to pay your trucking school tuition if you went to work for them. But they had in the fine print that if you left the school before graduating, or got fired from the company after you started working for them, you were on the hook for the tuition. Those were really hard calls to make because in most of those cases these people had NO idea they owed anyone money since the fine print of the arrangement had clearly not been explained to them. I mean, these people would SCREAM at us.
That's mostly what the job was, so I wasn't able to do it very long. The only slightly cool thing about it, in a very very morbid way, was that I did have a front row seat for the end of the world. Basically the day we were told to stop collecting on all the outrageously big mortgages we had, and start calculating how much the banks that held those mortgages could collect in insurance on those debts... we all knew everyone was fucked.

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@annev6 Wow, that is a really interesting story! I would have intense anxiety if I saw the economic meltdown happen up close, one workday at a time.

distrighema

I used to make market research calls (which is about as scuzzy) and was AMAZED at the number of people who were actively dodging collection calls. Like, I got asked if I was from a collection agency at least as often as I got asked if I was trying to sell something. And as much as I hated that job (which is to say, A LOT) at least I wasn't making those kinds of calls.

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Mingus_Thurber

Where do you guys get phone numbers, A Debt Collector? I've had the same landline number for ten years, yet I still get calls for various people with various names.

A Debt Collector

@Mingus_Thurber Sorry for the delay on this! Numbers are passed along from our clients. So if someone signs up for a credit card, whatever number they put on the application for that is what gets passed along to us if they default on those credit payments. Mistakes happen sometimes, like a client will transpose two numbers when typing it in. Other times, people just lie! :(

Mingus_Thurber

@A Debt Collector Huh! I'll be darned. Thanks for the answer. I guess Michael is getting good mileage out of using my number, wherever and whoever he is. I kind of wondered, frankly, if the collection agencies scanned phone books for "M. Thurber" and just took whatever they could find.

ElleJay

Do debt collectors ever use phone records to find their debtors?

A few years ago I kept getting these calls for a close friend asking if I was her, and when I would ask who was calling they would give me some random acronym and keep repeating the question. It was pretty weird and a little scuzzy. I'm not sure how else they would've got my number.

A Debt Collector

@ElleJay We use whatever we can get our hands on. "Skip tracing" services often list phone numbers for people, but I have no idea where those numbers come from, and in my experience they're usually dead ends.

It seems odd that you'd get a call for a non-relative. Scuzzy, indeed.

jamielee

I'm a legal aid attorney and represent a lot of people in debt collection lawsuits. I almost always successfully get the lawsuits dismissed. But it sounds like you work for original creditors, yes? My dismissals are pretty much always assignee debts. So like, you had a credit card with Chase and then they sold it to Portfolio Recovery Associates who sold it to CACH LLC who sold it to...I can't remember any of the other companies now. But anyway, generally the party that's suing is not the party with whom the client had the original contract. So the court requires you to, y'know, prove up the chain of ownership and these companies can almost never do it. So: lawsuit dismissed!

It's really interesting to hear about a nice debt collector, though. A lot of the debt collectors for my clients break the law with great relish: I have to send Fair Debt Collection Practices Act letters basically suggesting they should look into the federal law that prevents them from repeatedly calling people at work when they have been asked not to do so, etc. I was pretty shocked by the level of harassment my clients sometimes deal with. So: thank you for not being a terrible person! It is appreciated.

carolita

@jamielee yeah, there are some nasty ones out there. My brother got hit with some guy who'd ask him if he was gay (when he's pretend he was his own male roommate), and stuff like that. Actually, he didn't ask if he was "gay," he asked that question in a very derogatory way. I got some smarmy sounding guy who raised my hackles by sounding like some kind of intervention guy, saying stuff like, "Don't you want me to help you to help yourself?" in a very warm and midwestern voice that reminded me of my stint at a born-again summer camp. Polite and succinct and willing to get off the phone once I stated my intentions one way or another would have been perfect.

A Debt Collector

@jamielee Thanks for the kind words. We do some original debts, and some assignees. I never thought about those from your side of the deal, but strangely, I don't think we get many suits dismissed for that reason. But we are pretty persnickity about getting documentation for everything before we start working a file.

miss.amErica

I did this from the time I was 18 to 20. I really enjoyed it. Being so young, I'd be able to get people on the phone because they expected me to be a push over. I eventually worked on the 90-days past due accounts for small loan companies and a furniture store. I loved my job. I loved being able to talk to someone when they feel so helpless and help them take it one step at a time. That's all it is but people don't think of it that way nor do a lot of collectors explain it that way.

D.@twitter

Hmn, I wish /my/ university had offered a degree in Capitalizing on Human Greed &/or Misery. But no, they insisted on giving us a "liberal arts" education.
That said, now I'm a debt collector too...and my collection continues to grow b/c I don't have any money.

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@A Debt Collector remember when you guys weren't quite so clever as you are now, back in the early 90s, when I just changed all my phone numbers to your own numbers, several times in a row, so that you'd lose the record of my previous previous previous phone numbers? I have no idea why that worked, but it did.

When I finally paid my debts I wrote "a thank you would be nice" on my last check. Yeah, boy oh boy, when I was in debt you guys couldn't get enough a me.

whateverlolawants

@carolita Wait, what did you do? You changed your number 4x in a day?

carolita

@whateverlolawants Ha, ha, I just changed my number online with the company that was harassing me, time after time, to their own number. It might not have been 4x in a day, because I have a feeling they'd have given me a message something like "the change will take effect in 24 hours," maybe. Anyway, I'd heard that they only keep the last three recorded numbers, or something like that. So I did that to all the companies that were chasing me. Used the number that showed up on my caller ID, or on their own websites. I did it because my previous phone number was my parents, so they were pestering my poor parents, which made me feel bad for them. And it was kinder than making up a random number and letting someone else get those calls. I'm pretty sure they just got busy signals forever. This was back in the late 90s, so I'm not sure that would work now. But you could try, just for the fun of it. ;)

Mr. F

I am intrigued by this "skip tracing" that you speak of. What sorts of information are you able to find out?

Since I might never get the chance to Ask A Debt Collector again....here's my situation: I was young and stupid once and no one ever taught me how to use credit and as a result, I now have a debt in collections that is just about a year away from the statute of limitations. I mostly just ignore it because it is pretty minimal and, like I said, almost at the SOL. I also have a judgement that I've been paying off for several years. I work for a non-profit so I don't make very much money, but I recently received a gift that will allow me to pay off the remainder of the judgement I owe. I am worried that this will trigger the collections on the other debt though...is that true? Like, they'll see that I paid off this other debt and think I am good for the money I owe them?

Maria Smith@facebook

To the ignorant people out there that don’t pay their obligations. Stop stalling & just pay up. Don’t blame or punish the messenger for your own lack of responsibility. You got your own self in debt! When you file these claims, it is the individual collector that has to pay out of pocket, not the company that provided no training and no support. It is the 25 year old mother of two or the 32 year old graduate student that needed a job that you are attacking. Stop being a dead beat and pointing fingers at the people hired to recover money you basically stole. You pay your debt, you don’t get called – it’s that simple!
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Bill Collectors Hate Me!!!

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