Debt can feel stressful and overwhelming, especially when you’re struggling with payments. And if you end up on the receiving end of a debt collector’s call, it can feel scary.
But while it’s tempting to ignore debt collectors, that can even make the situation worse.
You know what else is not a good idea? Uttering a specific 11-word phrase billed to stop debt collectors.
What Is This Phrase to Stop Debt Collectors?
It’s “Please cease and desist all calls and contact with me immediately.”
The truth is that using this phrase won’t necessarily stop debt collectors. They may stop contacting you, but it doesn’t mean they won’t stop from trying to collect the debt you may owe. Besides, if you cease all communications, you’ll risk missing important information about the debt, putting you at further risk. Also, the debt could end up being reported to the credit bureaus and you could end up being sued so the debt collectors can receive what’s owed.
The good news is that there are better ways to respond when you’re contacted by a debt collector that’ll hopefully get you on the right track financially.
What You Can Do Instead
It’s important that you don’t give the debt collector any personal information or confirm that you owe money on the debt because this can be used against you.
As soon as a debt collector contacts you, it’s important to find out exactly what the debt is for and when you started owing money.
More specifically, you’ll want to find out who the debt collector is, including their name, phone number and address. You can look them up to get intel on the company and decide whether it looks legitimate.
Then, look at the amount that the debt collector claims you owe to see whether you recognize the amount. The debt collector should be able to tell you exactly what the debt was for, including the name of the original creditor, and when you incurred the debt. For example, the debt collector could tell you that the debt was for an unpaid doctor’s bill on January 15, 2022 for $600, plus $60 in interest.
When debt collectors contact you first in writing, they are legally required to provide you with a notice or letter with certain information, such as the amount owed, the debt collector’s information, and the date you incurred the original debt.
However, if the debt collection agency calls you first, before going any further, ask them to contact you in writing first. This is for two reasons. One, so you have the exact information on hand so you can figure out the next steps.
And two, you want to make sure that you can confirm the debt and the debt collector are indeed legitimate. Whatever initially happens, don’t offer any financial or personal information over the phone unless you’ve already confirmed the debt and debt collector is legitimate.
Once you’ve determined more details about the debt and the debt collector, you can then decide the next steps.
Different Ways to Respond to a Debt Collector
If you want some relief from debt collectors, you can limit the ways in which they contact you.
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, debt collectors are legally not allowed by federal law to contact you at a place and time they know is inconvenient for you. For instance, debt collectors aren’t allowed to contact you at your workplace if your employer doesn’t want them to.
By limiting how debt collectors contact you, you can still remain in contact, but more so on your terms. For instance, if you hate phone calls, you can request the debt collector to contact you in writing instead.
Or, if you rather the debt collector not calling you at all, you can send a letter requesting that all communication be done through your lawyer if you’ve hired one to handle the debt.
What if you find out that the debt isn’t yours, or that you’ve already paid off the debt? You can respond by disputing it in writing. There are several options to respond in this scenario, such as requesting proof that you owe the debt, or going further and requesting that they don’t contact you unless they have proof.
Again, if you request that they cease contact with you, you may still be deemed responsible for the debt.
How to Make a Request to a Debt Collector
Generally, the best way to make any request to a debt collector is to do so in writing. That way, you have a clear record of your communication with the debt collector.
When crafting the letter, be sure to include important details such as your name, up to date contact details, the debt in question, and what your request is. When sending it, keep a copy for your records and it may be worth the expense to send it as certified mail. That, or another way that you can be certain or receive a notice when the recipient has gotten it.
We know dealing with debt collectors isn’t fun, but it’s necessary you’re not going to face further financial consequences.
Sarah Li-Cain is a personal finance writer based in Jacksonville, Florida, specializing in real estate, insurance, banking, loans and credit. She is the host of the Buzzsprout and Beyond the Dollar podcasts.