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What Happens If You Ignore a Debt Collector?

Debt collectors can be relentless – but you have rights

Owing money is stressful enough; without aggressive debt collectors hounding you. If they start calling, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed and want to avoid them. But is ignoring debt collectors a good idea?The short answer: no, probably not – but you do have rights they must respect. Ignoring them won’t make the debt go away, and could lead to more aggressive tactics or a lawsuit. The better approach is knowing your rights and using them to put boundaries around how collectors can contact you.

What debt collectors can and can’t do

Debt collectors play by a different set of rules than original creditors. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) (this link to the FTC explains the FDCPA) lays out what they can and can’t do when trying to collect a debt. Some key limitations:

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  • They can’t harass or abuse you with tactics like threats of violence or repeated calls meant to annoy you
  • They can’t lie about the amount owed, who they are, or threaten illegal actions like jail time
  • They generally can’t discuss the debt with others besides you, your spouse, or attorney
  • They can’t engage in unfair practices like collecting more than you owe or depositing a post-dated check early

If a collector violates these rules, you can report them and potentially sue them in federal court. Knowing your rights gives you more power in the situation.

What typically happens when you ignore debt collectors

While you have rights, simply ignoring debt collectors is generally not advisable. Here’s what could happen if you go that route:

  • More frequent calls and letters as they try harder to reach you
  • Calls to others like relatives, neighbors or your employer to track you down
  • A lawsuit filed against you to try to force payment through wage garnishment or bank levies
  • Negative marks on your credit report that can make borrowing more expensive

“Ignoring won’t make it go away – it’ll just make the situation worse,” says bankruptcy attorney (link to Nolo on hiring a bankruptcy lawyer) Ashley F. Morgan. “At some point, you have to deal with it.”

Steps to take when dealing with debt collectors

So if ignoring collectors is unwise, what should you do? Here are some better approaches:

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Respond and get details in writing

While you don’t have to take their calls, you should respond in writing to get key details like the name of the original creditor, amount owed, and instructions for disputing the debt if you don’t think you owe it. The collector must provide this information.

Try negotiating a settlement

If you legitimately owe the debt, you may be able to negotiate a lump sum settlement for less than the full amount. Get any deal in writing before paying. This could allow you to resolve the debt with a lower total cost.

Request debt validation

You have 30 days after being contacted to request debt validation – written proof you owe the debt they’re trying to collect. This can prevent being hounded for debts you don’t actually owe.

Limit contact per the FDCPA

You can send a letter telling the collector to only contact you in writing, or at certain times/places that are convenient for you. They must honor these requests under the FDCPA.

Consult a consumer lawyer

If the collector violates laws like the FDCPA, consult a consumer protection attorney (here’s a link to FindLaw’s directory) about your options for pushing back, which could include filing a lawsuit.

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Explore bankruptcy if overwhelmed

For overwhelming debt, bankruptcy (here’s a Nolo overview) may allow you to discharge certain debts and get creditors off your back through an automatic stay. But it’s a major decision with long-term credit impacts.The key is being proactive, not sticking your head in the sand. “Ignoring debt collectors gives them the upper hand,” says Morgan. “Exercising your rights and getting everything in writing puts you in control.”

Statute of limitations on debt collection

One thing to understand is that debts have a statute of limitations – a time window when they are enforceable in court. This resets if you make a payment or acknowledge owing the debt.In some states, the statute of limitations on consumer debts is as little as 3-6 years. So if you delay long enough, debt collectors may be unable to sue you over the debt.However, they can still attempt to collect the debt and it may still appear on your credit report. And the statute of limitations is usually longer for some types of debt like student loans.So while letting the clock run out can help in some cases, it’s not a surefire solution and you may still face collection attempts for years.

Debt collection scams to watch out for

Unfortunately, some unscrupulous debt collectors use outright illegal “scare” tactics like:

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  • Impersonating law enforcement officers or attorneys
  • Threatening arrest or seizure of property over consumer debt
  • Calling repeatedly with spoofed/blocked numbers to harass you

These are blatant violations of the FDCPA. If you encounter this, file complaints with the FTC, CFPB, and your state attorney general. You may also have grounds to sue the debt collector.Reputable debt collectors, even if aggressive, must still follow the FDCPA’s rules. If they don’t, they’ve broken the law.

When to talk to a lawyer about debt collectors

While you don’t need an attorney just to respond to a debt collector, it’s wise to consult one in certain situations:

  • The debt is very old and you’re unsure if it’s past the statute of limitations
  • You dispute owing all or part of the debt they’re trying to collect
  • The collector has violated laws like the FDCPA with harassment or illegal threats
  • You’re considering bankruptcy as an option to deal with overwhelming debt

An experienced consumer law attorney can review your situation, see if any laws were broken, and discuss options like negotiating with creditors or pursuing bankruptcy. It’s often wise to get professional legal guidance.

Key takeaways on ignoring debt collectors

While the temptation to ignore debt collectors is understandable, it’s generally not the best approach. Doing so can invite more aggressive collection efforts and won’t make the debt disappear.A better approach is:

  • Understanding your rights under laws like the FDCPA
  • Responding to requests for debt validation in writing
  • Trying to negotiate a settlement you can manage
  • Pushing back firmly on any violations like harassment
  • Consulting an attorney if you dispute the debt, the collector breaks laws, or you need bankruptcy guidance

“The goal is resolving it, not avoiding it,” says Morgan. “Ignoring debt collectors tends to make an already stressful situation worse.”With some proactive steps, you can deal with debt collectors properly while still protecting your rights and finances

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