Being pursued by debt collectors can be a nightmare. They can be aggressive and relentless when trying to collect money from you, so it’s understandable if your first instinct is to hide from your debt collector.
Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to escape debt collectors, especially in this day and age when the Internet has made our personal information more accessible than ever and tracking technology is getting increasingly advanced. Moreover, if you refuse to respond to your collector, you could face some serious financial and legal repercussions.
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Can I ignore debt collectors?
Yes, you can ignore debt collectors—though that won’t stop them from contacting you, nor will it make your debt magically disappear. In fact, rejecting their calls could actually make the situation worse if they’re persistent because they’ll start looking for other ways to contact you. If they get desperate, they might even resort to suing you.
If you have a debt that you just can’t afford, it’s best to contact your debt collector and explain that you’re unable to pay it. They may be able to arrange a repayment plan for you so that you can repay the debt in more affordable monthly installments. They might even agree to settle for a lower amount (known as debt settlement), since it’s better than receiving no money at all.
3 things that can happen if you ignore a debt collector
Ignoring debt collectors may be a temporary escape, but it does have consequences. Three things can happen if you decide to ignore your debt collector.
1. Your debt could get bigger
When you don’t repay a debt, it often accumulates interest. That interest then compounds on itself, causing your debt to grow exponentially. Even if your debt was charged off and sold to a debt collection agency, it may still be accumulating interest at the interest rate specified in your contract with your original creditor, or even at a higher one (some states allow debt buyers and collectors to raise the interest rates on debts they’ve purchased). 1
If your debt is accumulating interest, the longer you wait to repay a debt, the more you’ll have to pay in the end. This is a good reason to pay your collection account as soon as you can.
2. Debt collectors might contact your family and friends
If debt collectors can’t get a hold of you, they won’t just give up—instead, they’ll try other means of tracking you down, such as contacting your friends, family, employer, or even neighbors.
Fortunately, federal law prohibits debt collectors from telling any third parties about your actual debt (except your spouse, guardian, or attorney). 1 However, they can ask for the following information:
- Your address
- Your phone number
- Your workplace
3. You could face a lawsuit
Debt collectors may be able to sue you over your debt, and they’ll be more inclined to do so if you ignore them and they think it’s the only way that they’ll be able to get money from you.
Lawsuits are stressful, and they also have some serious consequences. If you lose the case or miss your court hearing, the court may issue a judgment against you.
- Freeze or collect money from your bank account
- Garnish some of your wages (up to 25%, depending on your income level)
- Place a lien (legal claim) on your property
However, it’s worth noting that debt collectors cannot sue you over time-barred debts that are past their statute of limitations. Most states have a statute of limitations on debt that’s between 3 and 6 years, after which debt collectors can’t legally pursue you for the debt and force you to pay it. 4
What to do if you’re sued over a time-barred debt
If you’re sued over a time-barred debt, you still can’t ignore your debt collector. You should still appear in court to state your case. Failing to do so could cause the court to enter a default judgment against you, even if your debt is past the statute of limitations.
Make sure to bring relevant documents to court with you, such as a record of your last payment and any information on your debt provided by the collector. If you’re unsure how to handle the situation or if the case escalates, consider consulting an attorney that’s familiar with the laws in your state.
What is the best way to respond to a debt collector?
The best way to respond to a debt collector is to challenge the debt by sending a debt verification letter within 30 days of receiving your debt validation notice (which includes initial information about your debt). Until they provide proof that you owe the debt, they won’t be allowed to contact you or take measures to collect payments. 1
You also have the option to tell debt collectors to stop contacting you altogether. It’s a myth that there’s a special 11-word phrase for stopping debt collectors—all you need to do is state your request clearly and send it in writing, and they’ll be obligated to comply. 1
If your situation is getting out of hand, don’t hesitate to ask for help with debt collectors. For financial advice or help managing your debts, you can also seek out a nonprofit credit counseling agency.