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How to Pay a Debt in Collections Without Getting Ripped Off

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Updated – Nov 5, 2018

If you’ve received a call or letter from a collections agency and you have reached an agreement with a debt collection agency,  you’re are now ready to make a payment but you’re wondering what to do next, this guide is for you.

Before you give them your account number or write a check, make sure you protect yourself. Once a debt collection agency has your account number, they can (and sometimes do) use that information to take more money from your account. But with the right precautions, you can protect yourself.

You may be asking yourself: is this legal? Can a collection agency really just take money from your account, even if you don’t give them permission? Unfortunately, the debt collection industry is a dark and murky place. Agencies regularly try to blur the lines of legality, and their sole objective is to get as much of your money as possible. Although there are a few exceptions, most collection agencies are incredibly small and scrappy.

If you’re starting to panic, know that you’re not alone. According to a recent study by the Urban Institute, 71 million Americans are estimated to have debt in collections. Fortunately, there are laws that protect you from getting hounded by collectors and steps you can take to resolve the matter.

In this post, we’ll explain how you should handle debt collectors, as well as the steps to take before, during and after repayment to avoid being ripped off. We’ll cover:

6 steps to take before you make a payment

1. Commit to action

According to Rachel Kampersal, marketing communications and programs associate at American Consumer Credit Counseling, as soon as a debt collector contacts you, take action.

“Whether it is to confirm the debt, to negotiate the payment or settle it, [taking] action will help get the problem solved much faster than avoidance,” Kampersal said.

2. Know your rights

Your rights are protected under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). You need to know what collection agencies can and can’t do when trying to get money from you. “Harassment and false statements are prohibited under the act,” Kampersal said.

Debt collectors can only call you during certain times and are required to give you a written notice of the debt. You have the right to challenge your debt, and you can even ask in writing for a debt collector to stop contacting you. The letter you send doesn’t mean you no longer owe the debt, Kampersal said. But it can put a stop to unwanted calls.

Here’s a list of a few of your rights from the FDCPA:

  • Debt collectors can only call you between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. unless you consent to another time.
  • Debt collectors shouldn’t be contacting you directly if they are aware you have an attorney representing you on the matter.
  • They can’t contact you at work if they know your employer prohibits it.
  • The debt collector can’t communicate with anyone other than you, your attorney or a consumer reporting agency about your debt without consent.
  • If you notify a debt collector in writing that you refuse to pay a debt or that you no longer want to receive communication, the debt collector can’t contact you unless they’re acknowledging your request or informing you of a remedy to the situation.
  • Collectors can’t abuse or harass you. They can’t make threats, use obscene language or call you incessantly.
  • They can’t lie about the debt you owe.

– Click here to view how to handle debt collection calls

If you believe a debt collector is violating your rights, report them to the Federal Trade Commission or the attorney general’s office. You can learn more about your rights under the FDCPA here.

3. Confirm your debts

Don’t start making payments until you confirm the debts. “If you believe the debt in your name was an error or fraud, the first thing to do is see if you’re truly responsible for repaying the debt,” Kampersal said.

According to Kampersal, even one payment on a debt can mean you assume responsibility. You can double-check that the debt is yours by looking at your credit report or contacting the original lender. If you don’t agree with the amount that’s being collected, you have the right to dispute it under the FDCPA. Filing a dispute starts an investigation to determine if the debt is yours.

Another thing to double-check is that the collections agency isn’t collecting on debt that should have been cleared. “There is a bad practice among debt collectors of selling debt that’s discharged in a bankruptcy or [debt where] the statute of limitations has expired,” said Elizabeth Hubbard, executive director of 1 $ Wiser Consumer Education based in Krum, Texas. “Legally, they’re not supposed to be collecting on this debt.”

Sometimes, creditors will also sell an unpaid balance even if you made a settlement agreement. For example, say you pay $3,000 to settle a $5,000 balance and you have the agreement in writing to prove it. The creditor could sell the remaining $2,000 to a collections agency despite making an agreement with you. In this case, instead of making a payment, you need to pull out your records and dispute the balance.

4. Look at how old the debt is

It’s not uncommon for debt collectors to seek payment on old debt where the statute of limitations has expired. The statute of limitations is the number of years someone can sue you for a debt. Debt, where the statute of limitations has expired, is called time-barred debt. The collector has less power to make you repay this debt because they can’t take you to court over it. You can review the statute of limitations on debt for each state here.

Here’s the important thing to remember: Agencies are allowed to contact you about time-barred debt. It’s generally advised that you do not make any payments on it. Making even a partial payment could restart the statute of limitations timer.

Not sure how old your debt is? Ask for a debt verification to include the date of the last payment. The date of the last payment is typically the start of the timer for the statute of limitations.

Pay attention to dates and stand your ground. You may still receive regular communication from an agency trying to collect time-barred debt. Don’t give in to pressure tactics. Seek counsel from an attorney or credit counselor if you’re unsure whether you need to pay. If collectors continue calling you about an old debt, send a written letter asking them to stop contacting you.

5. Check your budget

You’ve done your research and confirmed the debt is one you need to pay. The next step is taking a look at your budget and savings accounts to see what you can afford to pay per month toward the debt. Think twice before wiping out all your savings to repay it. If an emergency happens, you could end up relying on debt again, which can get you into more trouble.

6. Set up a payment plan or negotiate a settlement

You have a few options once you have an idea of how much you can afford to pay. You may be able to work out a payment plan. A payment plan is when you agree on an amount that you’ll pay incrementally toward the debt until it’s paid off.

Another option is negotiating a settlement. A settlement is when you pay a lump sum that’s less than your balance to settle the debt. As part of the settlement agreement, you may be able to have the collector delete the account from your credit report, according to Kampersal. This is called a pay-for-delete agreement.

One thing to note with a settlement is that you may owe taxes on the debt amount that’s forgiven. Kampersal suggested speaking with a tax professional before settling in case it’ll have an impact on your tax filing.

Be wary of debt settlement programs that negotiate on your behalf. You may be charged a fee for the service, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll get a settlement. Settlements with collections agencies can be worked out on your own.

If you run into trouble, you can seek guidance from credit counseling organizations. Don’t go with any credit counseling service either. Interview counselors and check their credentials. The Department of Justice keeps a list of counselors that are approved for pre-bankruptcy courses. Bankruptcy may not be on your horizon, but these counselors may also offer basic credit counseling services. You can check out the list of counselors here.

Ultimately, the payment strategy you decide on will depend on your finances. If you go with the installment plan, Kampersal recommended avoiding an extended repayment schedule because it can increase the amount of time a negative remark stays on your credit report. All agreements made should be received by you in writing before you pay.

3 Rules for making payments to collections

1. Do not give access to your bank accounts

A collections agency may ask to make automatic withdrawals from your bank account. Do not allow this to happen. According to Hubbard, when they have access to your bank account, they could potentially take more money than authorized. We will mention this more in a section below!

You should be controlling your payments at all times and not allowing someone else to make withdrawals.

2. Pay with certified funds

There are a few reasons why it’s better to pay with certified funds than other methods.

The first is that certified funds are like cash. There can be no dispute about declined payments or bounced checks because they’re guaranteed funds. The second benefit is that both the bank and you have a record of the certified check. If the payment is ever called into question, there’s more proof to show you made the payment.

3. Keep record of your payments and communication

Lastly, your job throughout the process of paying a debt in collections is keeping highly detailed records of each payment and communication. If you have phone conversations where changes to the agreement are made, request a written copy of the details.

How to avoid being ripped off

Here are the ways you should never make a payment:

  1. Do not sign up for an electronic payment, which requires you to disclose your routing number and account number. By doing that, you give the agency access to your checking account. If they take more money than you agreed to, it will become your word versus their word. And, if you owe the debt and have the money, it could be difficult to defend yourself.
  2. Do not write a personal check. Your routing number and account number are written at the bottom of your checks, and a devious collector could use that information to extract funds from your account.
  3. Do not pay with your debit card. Again, this makes it easy for the agency to process payments electronically.

3 steps to take after your last payment

1. Get a letter of completion

Ask for a letter of completion from the collections agency stating you have paid in full. Hubbard told MagnifyMoney that consumers shouldn’t ask for a confirmation letter from anyone who answers the phone at the collections agency office. The letter should come from an authorized signatory. If you make a settlement agreement with your agency, you get it in writing. The last thing you want is for them to come back and ask for more money.

2. Check your credit reports

When you pay off a debt, your credit reports should be updated to reflect it’s paid off. But this may not happen right away. According to Hubbard, the collections agency has 30 days to report to the credit bureaus. If the account isn’t updated within that time frame, you can contact the credit bureau and send a notice to the collections agency. Again, any contact you have with the credit bureau or collections agency should be in writing.

Typically, collections accounts impact your credit for seven years. But the length of impact may be shortened in some cases. Learn why debt in collections doesn’t always hurt your credit for the entire seven years.

3. Put your records in a safe place

Even after repaying your debt, you need to hold on to your paperwork.

“Keep your records forever and ever and ever because debt gets sold so many times,” Hubbard said. You could get a call five, 10 or 15 years from now about a debt you paid off or settled. Debt can be sold in batches, which means collectors may not go in and check every individual account for accuracy before purchasing.

The collections process can be somewhat of a free-for-all in this regard, and the onus is on you to know what you owe. It will ultimately become your word against the collection agency, and the only proof is paperwork. So, make sure you have a file and store all of your history in it.

Facing your debt

Getting a call or letter from a collections agency can be unpleasant and even embarrassing. Don’t ignore the situation and let the debt pile up. Avoidance can cause bigger problems. Instead, come up with an action plan using the steps above.

Now, we are not saying that all collection agencies are evil or have the intent to break the law. We are just saying that there is an elevated risk, and you can easily defend yourself. If something bad happens, it can be very painful. At worst, a dubious collection agency cleans out your checking account.

You may win the money back in the end, but being without cash can be very difficult. Avoid the risks by planning ahead when you make a payment to a collection agency. And if you need help, find a credit counselor or attorney who can provide guidance.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

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Nick Clements is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Nick at

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Disclosure : By clicking “See Offers” you’ll be directed to our parent company, LendingTree. You may or may not be matched with the specific lender you clicked on, but up to five different lenders based on your creditworthiness.

Before you read on, click here to download our FREE guide to become debt free forever!

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Updated – January 10, 2019

Digging out of credit card debt can feel frustrating, intimidating and ultimately impossible. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be any of those things if you learn how to take control.

Paying down debt is not only about finding the right financial tools, but also the right psychological ones. You need to understand why you racked up credit card debt in the first place. Perhaps it was a medical emergency or a home repair that needed to be taken care of immediately. Maybe you’d already drained your emergency fund on one piece of bad luck when misfortune struck again. Or maybe you’re struggling with a compulsive shopping problem, so paying down debt will likely result in you accumulating more until the addiction is addressed.

You also need to understand what motivates you to succeed. Do you want to pay down your credit card debt in the absolute fastest amount of time possible that will save more money or do you want to take some little wins along the way to keep yourself motivated?

Here’s a couple strategies consider as you learn the best way to handle credit card debt — and pay it off quickly.

2 common credit card debt repayment strategies

These repayment strategies can help you pay off credit card debt quickly. Keep in mind, you can use these strategies even for non-credit-card debt:

  • Debt avalanche: Focus on paying off the credit card with the highest interest rate first. Then, work your way down. This strategy can save you money on interest and get you out of debt sooner.
  • Debt snowball: Pay off your smallest debts first. Doing so can motivate you to continue making payments as you climb out of debt.

You don’t necessarily need to pick the repayment strategy that gets you out of debt the fastest. After all, if your repayment strategy doesn’t keep you motivated, you may not stick to it.

Using a personal loan or balance transfer credit card

As you seek to repay your debt, you could consider a personal loan or balance transfer credit card with a lower interest rate than on your existing debt. Transferring your debt to one of these financial products could help you reduce long-term interest costs.

But you’ll first need to learn whether or not you’re eligible. Your credit score will play a big role in determining your eligibility for a personal loan or balance transfer card. Use our widget below to figure out if a personal loan or a balance transfer is the best option for you!

What’s the best option for me?

Please enter information below and we’ll provide the best option to consolidate your credit card debt!

If you have a credit score above 640, you have a good chance of qualifying for a personal loan at a much lower interest rate than your credit card debt. With new internet-only personal loan companies, you can shop for loans without hurting your score. In just a few minutes, with a simple online form, you can get matched with multiple lenders. People with excellent credit can see APRs below 10%. But even if your credit isn’t perfect, you might be able to find a good loan to fit your needs.

Not sure what your credit score is? Click here to learn how and where to find out. If you know your credit score needs some work but not sure of what can be done, click here.

If you have a score above 700, you could also qualify for 0% balance transfer offers. We will talk more about balance transfers below but this option is the best way to pay off credit card debt if you’re able to qualify for a 0% APR balance transfer credit card.

A credit score of less than 600 will make it difficult for you to qualify for either option. If you have a credit score less than 640, struggling to make monthly debt payments and would like to explore your options to reduce your debt by up to 50%, then please click our option below to customize a personal debt relief plan.

Custom Debt Relief Plan

Now let’s talk about the financial tools to add to your debt repayment strategy in order to dig out of the hole.

Let’s say you have $10,000 in credit card debt, and are stuck paying 18% interest on it.

You already know that putting as much spare cash as you can toward paying down your debt is the most important thing to do. But once you’ve done that, so what’s next?

Use your good credit to make banks compete and cut your rates

You could save $1,800 a year in interest and lower your monthly payments based on several of the rates available today. That means you could pay it off almost 20% faster.

Here’s how it works.

Option One: Use a Balance Transfer (or Multiple Balance Transfers)

If you trust yourself to open a new credit card but not spend on it, consider a balance transfer. You may be able to cut your rate with a long 0% intro APR. You need to have a good credit score, and you might not get approved for the full amount that you want to transfer.

Your own bank might not give you a lower rate (or only drop it by a few percent), but there are lots of competing banks that may want to steal the business and give you a better rate.

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MagnifyMoney regularly surveys the market to find the best balance transfer credit cards. If you would like to see what other options exist, beyond Chase and Discover, you can start there.

promo-balancetransfer-halfIt also has tips to make sure you do a balance transfer safely. If you follow them you’ll save thousands on your debt by remaining disciplined.

You might be scared of a balance transfer, but there is no faster way to cut your interest payments than taking advantage of the best 0% or low interest deals banks are offering.

Thanks to recent laws, balance transfers aren’t as sneaky as they used to be, and friendlier for helping you cut your debt.

Sometimes the first bank you deal with won’t give you a big enough credit line to handle all your credit card debt. Maybe you’ll get a $5,000 credit line for a 0% deal, but have $10,000 in debt. That’s okay. In that case, apply for the next best balance transfer deal you see. MagnifyMoney’s list of deals makes it easy to sort them.

Banks are okay with you shopping around for more than one deal.

Option Two: Personal Loan

If you never want to see another credit card again, you should consider a personal loan. You can get prequalified at multiple lenders without hurting your credit score, and find the best deal to pay off your debt faster.

Personal loan interest rates are often about 10-20%, but can sometimes be as low as 5-6% if you have very good credit.

Moving from 18% interest on a credit card to 10% on a personal loan is a good deal for you. You’ll also get one set monthly payment, and pay off the whole thing in 3 to 5 years.

Sometimes this may mean a higher monthly payment than you’re used to, but you’re better off putting your cash toward a higher payment with a lower rate.

And you’ll get out of debt months or years faster by leaving more money to pay down the debt itself. If you want to shop for a personal loan, we recommend starting at LendingTree. With a single online form, dozens of lenders will compete for your business. Only a soft credit pull is completed, so your credit score will not be harmed. People with excellent scores can see low APRs (sometimes below 6%). And people with less than perfect scores still have a good chance of finding a lender to approve them.



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If you don’t want to shop at LendingTree, you can see our list of the best personal loans here.

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How to Manage Debt as a Single Parent in 2019

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When student loan deferment ended for Samantha Gregory, a single mom and founder of site Rich Single Momma, she had one reaction to her payments: sticker shock. “The amount they were asking for was so astronomical, it was bananas,” she said.

As a single mom in debt, these high payments were added to the already steep financial demands of covering household expenses and supporting her children, including one with special needs — all on one income.

Adding debt to the significant challenges of single parenting “puts a strain on not just your finances, but your emotions, your mental health,” she said. “It’s like, ‘I have this burden over my head so how am I going to take care of it and take care of my family?’”

It’s a question any single parent in debt may find themselves asking. There’s no one right answer, but the good news is that there are smart steps a single mom or dad can use to tackle debt. Here are some tested and certified strategies for how to manage debt as a single parent.

8 strategies for a single parent in debt

1. Keep debt on your radar

A key to managing money as a single parent in debt is to keep an eye on what you owe. Gregory warned against letting debt slip in your money management juggling act. “I know for me in the past, I’ve tried to ignore it and hope it would go away,” she said. “But it doesn’t go away. It’s still there, lingering.”

Keep your debts on your radar, so you’re not losing track of them, falling behind on payments or damaging your credit. If you don’t know what you owe, pull your free credit report and look up each outstanding debt you have and record the balance, interest rate, monthly payment and due date. Start a habit of reviewing these accounts regularly.

2. Work with your lender

Once you know what you owe, see if your lender offers any help or accommodations that can make this debt easier to manage.

You’ll have the most options for dealing with federal student loans, as servicers must provide you with options to forbear or defer payments, or switch to a different repayment plan.

Even for other types of debt, it can’t hurt to ask your lender if they’re willing to work with you. They might be open to giving you an extension on your payment, and some lenders will let you skip a payment now and tack it onto the end of your repayment period instead.

3. Claim benefits and support

Help isn’t always easy to come by as a single parent, so make sure you’re claiming the benefits and child support to which you’re entitled.

Federal assistance programs such as Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and school lunch programs can ease pressure on your budget while keeping everyone fed, for example. Other programs can assist with fixed monthly costs such as housing, child care or health insurance. Many state and local programs can offer additional help.

Single parents should also consider filing for child support. If you’re already entitled to such payments but the other parent isn’t paying, or you feel it’s not enough, consider pursuing legal steps to get adequate support for your family.

4. Revisit your budget

As a single parent with debt, living within your means is the foundation of your financial security. Review your budget to see if there are areas you’re wasting money on things you don’t need or use, whether it’s a neglected gym membership or a house you’re realizing is roomier than necessary. Consider lifestyle changes and sacrifices — big or small — that you could make to lower your monthly costs.

Look for ways to free up some of the mental space you’re using for your money, too, Gregory suggested. She likes to automate payments, for example, to ensure they’re going out on time with less effort on her part.

5. Sell your extra time and stuff

To the single mom in debt, Gregory suggested looking for ways to generate some extra cash. “I’m a firm believer in side hustles,” she said. “There are so many options out there available to create a side hustle, start a business or just get another part-time job or work-from-home job.”

Then, “look around your house and if you have something valuable you can sell, sell it,” she said. Doing so can bring a fast cash infusion that can help you stay current on debt payments, or even make an extra payment.

It can be a tough and even emotional to sell some belongings, Gregory acknowledged. But, “It’s just things and they’re replaceable, whereas your peace of mind, your family and kids, and your health are not replaceable,” she said.

6. Make extra debt payments

If you can carve out extra savings, that’s money you can use to pay off your debts faster. One method to do so is the debt snowball:

  • Figure out how much more of your monthly income you can afford to devote to making extra debt payments. Include this as a line item in your budget.
  • Put that extra cash toward your debt with the lowest balance, and make the minimum payment on all of your other debts.
  • Watch the balance on your high-priority debt decrease faster.
  • Once your first debt is gone, “roll over” the funds budgeted for your monthly payment and the extra payment and apply them to the next low-balance debt.

Making extra debt payments will lower your principal faster which will, in turn, lower your interest costs. As a result, this strategy could avoid hundreds of dollars in interest and shave months or even years off your debt repayment.

7. Consider debt consolidation

For a single parent, debt consolidation can be another way to get ahead. Consolidating debt makes the most sense when doing so will lower the interest rates you’re paying.

A credit card balance transfer is one way to accomplish this. You can open a credit card with a 0% introductory rate. Then, transfer existing balances to this new credit card (note that this will often incur a balance transfer fee) and you can repay this debt interest-free.

If you have higher debt balances or prefer a fixed repayment plan, a personal loan could be the way to consolidate debt. To do so, you can take out a new personal loan with the rates, term or payments you would prefer and use the loan funds to pay off and replace existing debts. You can compare various lenders with our debt consolidation comparison page to get an idea of the terms and rates for which you could qualify.

8. Tap your community for support

Managing debt as a single parent can be hard on you because, at the end of the day, paying them comes down to you alone. “In the back of your mind, you’re thinking ‘There’s no one who can help me with this,’” Gregory said.

However, you don’t have to go it alone — there are often people who are ready and willing to help as close as your own backyard. So let them! Family and friends can help you out in a variety of ways, from spotting you cash in a tight month to helping with child care. You can also get assistance from your church, community and local nonprofits or programs.

Even if you don’t always find the help you need right away, asking around can start you on the track to getting the recommendation or referral that leads you there. Gregory also suggested online communities, such as local or single-parent Facebook groups, as a way to crowdsource solutions and get connected with helpful resources.

Pass your debt and money lessons on to your kids

Debt can be a big regret for many single parents. “If I had more information when I was going to college, I wouldn’t have taken out so many loans,” Gregory said.

But these ideas for how to manage debt as a single parent can help you push past regret into action. In doing so, you’ll be creating the financial security that your kids need, all while modeling what good money and debt management look like in action.

Gregory, for example, used her experience with student debt to warn her daughter away from borrowing to pay for college. As a result, “She’s really blessed that she doesn’t have to take out student loans, so she won’t be saddled with that big debt when she graduates from college,” she said.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Elyssa Kirkham
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Elyssa Kirkham is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Elyssa here


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