20 Debt Collection Questions Answered

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Going through a debt collection can be a daunting experience.

If you’re dealing with debt collectors and are full of questions…

…You’re not alone.

Most clients when they walk in our practice for the first time have lots of questions for us about things like:

  • Their rights as a consumer
  • What to do to resolve a debt
  • How to tell if a debt collector is legit
  • How to negotiate with a debt collector

…and more.

So, to help them, and you, we made this list of the 21 most frequently asked debt collection questions, so you can get all your answers in one place.

Btw, you might want to bookmark this page, to come back to it whenever you need.

Let’s start off with:

1. What is a debt collector?

A debt collector is a company or individual who attempts to collect outstanding debts due to a 3rd party organization, for example, a bank or credit union.

There are generally two types of legitimate debt collectors:

  1. Appointed debt collectors:

These debt collectors act as representatives to the original creditor. They are typically paid on a commission for each debt settled, typically as high as 25% to 45% of the debt amount collected.

  1. Independent debt collectors:

These are people and agencies who purchase a debt account from a 3rd party at a discount. For example, if you owe target an old debt of $1000, they may sell that to an independent debt collector for $40 (4 cents on the dollar is typical in the debt collection industry).

Target is happy because they are able to write off the debt and cover administration costs doing so while the debt collector has a chance at significant profits to be made.

2. How to tell if a debt collector is legit?

There are scammers out there.

The quickest way to verify whether a debt collector is real is to ask them for their name, the company they work for, their office’s street address, their office phone number and their debt collector’s license number (if your state issues licenses).

This information can then be verified with simple Google searches and by searching in local business records.

As a rule of thumb:

Never give out sensitive or financial information to a person calling themselves a debt collector.

In fact…

Don’t even admit the debt is yours unless you receive validation that the debt is real.

You can do this by asking for a written “validation notice” to be sent to your home address. This is a document that proves the debt belongs to you and the validity of their collection authority.

(Btw, if you ask for a validation notice, the debt collector is not permitted to contact you until you have received the notice in writing)

3. What is the fair debt collection practices act?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a Federal law that restricts the actions of third-party debt collectors attempting to collect debts on behalf of the original creditors. It’s a branch of the consumer credit protection act.

A few ways in which the FDCPA restricts debt collectors’ actions include:

  • Prohibiting harassing or abusive behavior.
  • Forbidding misrepresentation and misinformation (lying).
  • Requiring debt collectors to identify themselves, their motives, and to inform the debtor of their right to dispute debt claims

4. Can debt collectors call you at work?

Debt collectors can call your work for the purpose of getting in touch with you.

But, they are not permitted to discuss any details of your debt with others or even the fact that you have an outstanding debt.

Likewise, debt collectors are not permitted to harass you at work, enter your workplace to collect a debt, threaten you or contact you after receiving a cease and desist letter.

5. Is it legal for debt collectors to call family members?

It is not illegal for debt collectors to call your family members. But, like colleagues and employers, debt collectors are not permitted to discuss your debt with anyone other you or your nominated representative.

This means:

If they discuss the details with anyone other than you, no matter how close the relationship, they will be in violation of the FDCPA, and could be liable for damages.

5.a Why would a legit debt collector call your family?

Debt collectors will often contact the family members and friends of debtors if they are unable to reach the borrower directly.

They can, by law, ask for up to date contact information or the debt collector’s whereabouts for the purpose of contacting them.

5.b Can you ask debt collectors to stop contacting your family?

Yes, you can. In fact, it is illegal for a debt collector to call you or your family after receiving a written request to stop contacting you regarding the debt. Doing so is in direct violation of the FDCPA.

6. How many times a day can a debt collector call

The law does not state a precise number of times a debt collector may call you each day.


It does clearly state that a debt collector cannot harass you.

This means:

A debt collector may try to reach you multiple times in a day, within reason.

But, if the call is intended to harass, abuse, threaten or annoy, they would be in direct violation of the Fair Debt Collection Protection Act.

The best practice is to keep a log of every time a debt collector calls you and the number they call from.

This is considered evidence if you end up filing a lawsuit. It is especially if the debt collector is found to have contacted you an unreasonable number of times.

7. What is skip tracing in debt collection?

Skip tracing in debt collection is when a debt collector (or skip tracer) applies specific methods to try and locate an individual with delinquent debts whose contact information is not readily available.

The term skip tracer comes from “tracing” or looking for someone who has “skipped town.”

Skip tracers generally use a borrower’s name, email, telephone number, place of employment or other information provided on their original loan application to do one of the following:

  • Locate friends and family members who may have their current contact information
  • Locate new places of employment
  • Find the individual through social media accounts
  • Search for new residential addresses

8. What should you do if a debt collector is harassing you?

If a debt collector is calling you multiple times a day at odd times or acting in a harassing or abusive way…

…you should contact an FDCPA lawyer straight away. It’s likely that you have a case against the debt collector and will be able to both stop the harassment and receive monetary damages for their unethical behavior.

We’ve also created an informative infographic about the steps to take when harassed by a debt collector, called; 5 Steps to Handle Debt Collectors’ Harassing Calls.

9. can you go to jail for debt collections?

You cannot go to jail for an outstanding civil debt; like a credit card bill or a medical bill.

You would see jail time if you don’t pay:

  • Federal taxes
  • Child support

Even so, many debt collectors still use scare tactics and threats of jail time to try and bully consumers into paying delinquent debts.

However, this is in violation of the FDCPA, because…

Debt collectors are not permitted to threaten you with criminal punishment, mislead or threaten you while attempting to collect a debt.

10. can you join the army with debt in collections?

When you enlist for the army, it’s common practice for the military to conduct a credit check on you.

And, if you’re found to have substantial outstanding debts with no evidence that you can pay them off…

…chances are your enlistment will be denied.

But keep in mind:

This is not an indefinite reason to deny your application. The army will reassess your situation if you can clear up your debt issues, which could be done in a few ways.

  1. You could renegotiate the terms of your debts, so you can pay them off in affordable installments. This would demonstrate to the army that you can pay off your debts.
  2. If your debts are older than seven years, they can be stricken from your credit report.
  3. If the debts are not yours or are inaccurate, you could speak to a lawyer about filing a dispute. Once the erroneous debt is stricken from your record, your application can be reevaluated.

But why does the army care about your debt?

Officials say that because debt can influence a person’s motivations and behavior, making them more prone to errors of judgment and partaking in questionable activities.

11. How to deal with debt collectors?

Here are the 6 steps to dealing with a debt collector:

  1. Keep all evidence of your communications.
    Note down their name, business, contact information, information regarding the debt and the time they called. If you can record the calls, even better. Let them know you are recording the call to avoid future legal issues.
  2. Do not admit a debt is yours unless you are sure.
    Mistakes are often made, and there are scammers out there. Request written confirmation of the debt to be sent to your address and refrain from communicating with the debt collector until you have reviewed the information.
  3. Strictly provide necessary information.
    Do not tell a debt collector how much you earn or give them detail regarding your financial information or sensitive information. Anything you give them can and will be used against you in future calls.
  4. Know your rights.
    Debt collectors are restricted in the ways they can interact with you. Learn more about what a debt collector can and cannot do, so you can keep an eye out for illegal or wrongful behavior.
  5. Keep your cool.
    Getting emotional on the phone or losing your temper can lead to things being said or done that could hurt you in the future. If you find yourself losing your cool, ask the debt collector to hold and walk away to breathe and collect yourself.
  6. Try to negotiate.
    Debt collectors only make money when they collect a debt. The longer they spend on a debt, the higher their cost. Negotiate payment terms that are suitable for your situation and don’t be afraid to ask for a discount on your debt if paying an early lump sum.

12. How to negotiate with debt collectors?

Here are some steps you can take when negotiating with debt collectors:

Firstly, learn how debt collectors work. Find out how they make money and what their priorities are. That way you will have a better idea of their motivations and how to deal with them.


You should know your legal strengths and rights.

Read as much information around the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) as possible to learn more about your legal rights and the restrictions placed on debt collectors.

Then, Assuming the debt is yours:

(many scammers pose as debt collectors)

Make a plan.

Do the calculations yourself to see what you can, realistically, payback and over what period. Being realistic is crucial.

Debt collectors will often push for the highest payments within the shortest timeframe.

Only agree to this if it’s suitable for your situation. Debt collectors simply prefer this because they know the longer a debt is outstanding, the less likely they are to collect on the debt and because they want to make a profit.

In many cases…

You can negotiate by offering a lump-sum payment in exchange for a substantial discount on the amount owed.

Remember, debt collectors often buy the debt wholesale at as low as 4 cents on the dollar.

If the debt collector demands a payment plan that doesn’t work for you, don’t be afraid to counter their offer


Get any agreement in writing to avoid any future confusion or disputes.

We suggest keeping as many notes as you can from every conversation with the debt collector for your records.

13. Can a debt collector refuse a payment plan?

Unfortunately, debt collectors are not required by law to accept a payment plan. Whether or not they decide to take payments towards an outstanding debt depends on the debt collector, the debt, the debt holder, and other circumstances.

The reason why a debt collector wouldn’t accept a payment plan:

Debt collection agencies typically only make money once they have the retrieved outstanding debt.

Statistically, the older a debt is, the less likely it is to be paid off.

That’s why debt collectors would be more likely to accept a payment plan that assures a debt will be paid off quickly.

When negotiating a payment plan, know that:

Debt collectors generally hold onto debt accounts for around 6 months.

This means that they may be more willing to accept a payment plan on the first or second call, rather than 3-4 months into their holding period.

14. How to pay debt collector?

Before we get into how to pay, think about what you are paying for – a clean credit report.

There are three ways in which a debt collector can change an outstanding debt notice on your credit report.

The best of which is to have the record erased of course.

If the debt collector does not agree to this:

Negotiate with them to list the debt as “paid in full,” even if you only pay a settlement amount.

If neither of these is accepted, the debt should be listed as settled.

Although always try to get it changed to paid in full or erased entirely.

The payment methods most commonly requested by debt collectors are:

  • Bank account draft
  • Personal check
  • Debit/credit card
  • Money transfers
  • Money orders
  • Paypal

We advise against giving a debt collector access to your bank or credit card information, in case of fraudulent use.

15. Can debt collectors garnish wages?

Most often, when a debt collector threatens to garnish your wages, they are bluffing. Debt collectors are not permitted to take money straight from your account or paycheck without a court order.

However, if they do have a court order:

A debt collector can and will garnish your wages. They won’t need to call you about it.

The other case in which debt collectors may garnish wages is when collecting federal debts, such as federal student loans delinquent income taxes.

16. When will a debt collector sue?

Debt collectors are most likely to sue you if:

  1. a) a debt is more than 180 days delinquent, and
  2. b) the debt is substantial in size. It is much less likely for a debt collector to sue if your debt is small, such as less than $5,000, due to the significant cost and time it takes to sue someone.

If you do receive a notification or legal documentation stating that you are being sued over a debt…

Take it seriously. Ignoring these letters will not make the problem go away.

17. How to answer a summons for debt collection?

There are three ways you could respond to receiving a court summons for an outstanding debt. You could

A) ignore it,
B) contact the creditor to negotiate a settlement prior to the court date, or
C) go to court.

We DO NOT suggest for you to ignore a legal summons.

This will lead to the court to enter a default judgment against you which could lead to more severe consequences such as wage garnishment, property liens or bank account levies or restrictions put in place.

Depending on your situation:

When receiving a summons for debt collection, we would suggest to first call the creditor listed on the summons to attempt to negotiate a settlement before going to court.

If pursuing a settlement…

Make sure to have it complete by the date stated on the summons by which you will need to file your response to avoid further legal issues.

Unable to reach a settlement?

You will need to file your response to the summons by the assigned response date.

On every summons, there will be a list of complaints made against you. It’s your responsibility to go through the list and respond to these allegations.

It must be done in writing and sent to the reply address prior to the date listed on the summons.

If you receive a summons, look through the allegations and gather any and all documented evidence for your case for each of the complaints.

This way, when your court date comes, you are well prepared to state your case.

You may also want to send the debt collector’s assigned lawyer a formal “request for production.”

This is a document that provides all the information your activity on the debt leading up to delinquency, including the initial agreement with your signature.

Most debt collectors will not be able to produce this as they are only given straightforward information about you such as your name, contact details and the debt you owe when they purchase your debt records.

18. What is the statute of limitations to collect a debt?

The statute of limitations is the period that something is legally enforceable.

It is noted as a maximum period after an event such as becoming delinquent on a debt or breaking the law.

The statute of limitations for debt is generally between 4-6 years from the last date of activity on the debt account.


  • From the date a debt became delinquent, or
  • the last payment was made toward the debt.

When a statute of limitations expires, the courts no longer have jurisdiction to pursue legal redress.

This is often the reason why certain debt collectors resort to harassment and manipulative coercion when attempting to collect on debts that have passed the statute of limitations. Because they have no legal foot to stand on.

Unsure of your State’s statute of limitation for delinquent debts? Get in touch with an FDCPA lawyer.

19. Can a debt collector collect after 10 years?

A debt collector can pursue a debt indefinitely unless the debtor has paid off the debt or they have filed for bankruptcy.

However, if your debt is older than the statute of limitations, it means that you can no longer be sued or legally held responsible for the debt.


Any outstanding debts you have will be listed on your credit report and visible to any bank or financial institution that reviews your report.

However, no matter whether a debt is paid or not, any delinquent debt older than 7 years must be erased from your report.

20. How to win a debt collection lawsuit?

You should speak to a debt collection lawyer for advice.

However, as we have mentioned in other answers provided above, here are a few good ways to raise your chances of winning a debt collection lawsuit:

  1. Know your rights. Research debt collection laws and regulations in your state to identify your strengths and your oppositions’ weaknesses.
  2. Prepare your case. Make sure to have as much evidence as you can in favor of your plea. If you believe the debt is not yours or inaccurate, provide supporting documentation. Sometimes debts that have already been paid off come up as unpaid, causing legal issues. This can be avoided when you have proof of payment. Also, collect any evidence of wrongdoing by the debt collector according to the Fair debt collection practices act.
  3. Don’t do it alone. As we said, you will have a much better chance of winning a debt collection lawsuit with the help of a professional. Especially when going up against debt collectors.

Btw, we also made a video about how to win a debt collection lawsuit.


We hope you’ve gained value from our 20 debt collection questions and answers. Did we miss something? Let us know your question in the comments section below.

Jordan Shaw20 Debt Collection Questions Answered

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