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BBB: Dealing with a Collection Agency

Caller to BBB: “Can BBB help me? I lost my job due to COVID and I fell behind on paying my bills. Now I am back working, but a collection agency keeps calling me demanding I pay off a bill. I have told them that I can make payments, but they are demanding all the money immediately and I don’t have it. I think they are just harassing me. How can I stop them from constantly calling?”

BBB says: There are several tips we suggest in situations like this. You might call the store or creditor directly and see if you can pay them rather than the collection agency. They might be more willing to accept payments. Perhaps if the agent you are talking to refuses payments, you could ask for a supervisor who might be more cooperative. One important tip; if the collection agency does agree to accept partial payments on the debt, be very careful to honor your promises. Make those payments exactly as agreed. In many cases, collection agencies will work with you if your payments are reliable.


When dealing with a collection agency, many consumers don’t know the laws that collectors much follow. For example, under the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, collectors CAN contact you by phone, letter, email, text message or social media (like Facebook) as long as they identify themselves as debt collectors. But they can’t pretend to be someone else, like a government agency or credit reporting company, or use a false company name.


Collectors CAN contact you at work unless you tell them that you are not allowed to get calls there. They CANNOT call before 8 AM or after 9 PM unless you agree to it. They CAN contact other people about you to find your address, phone number and place of employment, but they CANNOT contact them more than once or discuss your debt with them unless they are your spouse or attorney.


The law also says that debt collectors can’t use threats of violence or harm or use obscene or profane language. They can’t falsely claim you have committed a crime, misrepresent the amount of money you owe, lie about whether the papers they send you are legal forms or give you something that looks like an official document if it isn’t. They can’t tell you that you will be arrested if you don’t pay your debt or say they will seize, garnish, attach or sell your property unless they are permitted by law to do so. They can’t threaten you with legal action if they don’t intend to actually do it. They also can’t try to collect any interest, fee, or other charge on top of the amount you owe unless the contract that created your debt permits the charge. They can’t deposit a post-dated check early or contact you by postcard or other means that can be outwardly identified as coming from a debt collector.


We at BBB find that most debt collection agencies are cooperative and want to work with you if you are honest and follow through on your agreements with them. We encourage consumers to be forthright in talking to the collectors, and we ask the agencies to be open minded and respectful of the consumers who are often in difficult financial situations and need their help to pay off legitimate debts.


Important tip. Before you hire a company or buy from an unfamiliar seller, be sure to get a BBB report on the company. Go to or call (419) 531-3116 or (800) 743-4222.

Source: Dick Eppstein, Better Business Bureau

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