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Beating bill collectors

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The following strategies for surviving economic hard times are applicable until Congress makes changes to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

For some of us, times are tough – even if you are lucky enough to have a job. After eight years of supply-side economics under George W. Bush and nearly six more under Barack Obama – national unemployment according to the Department of Labor is 6.2 percent, although many economists put “real unemployment” closer to 12 percent. And when viewed for some minorities, the rate of joblessness hovers just under 20 percent. For many paying their bills often comes down to putting food on the table or a check in the mail.

Despite actual unemployment, the most important metric for most of us is whether we can meet our obligations. Being under-employed is only slightly better than not having a paycheck , if on the first on the month there is not enough money to maintain some semblance of the American Dream.

Until the economy improves or you find a better paying job, you may be among the millions of Americans who are further stressed by bill collectors. To them, there is nothing wrong with earning a living off the hard times of someone in debt. More often than not the person demanding payment on the other end of the phone is nothing more than an underachiever enjoying the power they have to scare people. But you do not have to sweat every time the phone rings if you know the rules of the collection game. Knowing them can change you from a victim into a debtor who can sleep at night.

As more people face foreclosure, many will have to choose between making a mortgage payment to stave off losing their home and paying the bills for their consumer debt like credit cards. Do not be intimidated by tough-talking collectors. There are strict rules for them to follow. Not knowing the law can allow them to deny you government protected rights.

The first thing to do when you get a call from a bill collector is never go on the defense. One of the first ploys debt collectors use when they call is to disregard proper phone etiquette. They usually call and address you by your first name without first identifying themselves. Do not let them get away with demeaning you or not giving information about their collection company. Instead, make impropriety your opportunity to put them on their heels. Remind them what proper phone behavior is and your unwillingness to be called by your first name except by friends and family.

After the bill collector recovers and shows respect, he or she will usually read their script which often includes something like the following "for quality purposes, this conversation is being recorded." This is where you really can stop them dead in their tracks. In most states and the District of Columbia, you have the legal right not be recorded. Make them aware you are knowledgeable of your rights. Most collection companies are unable or unwilling to turn off their recording systems for one call. If the collector tries to continue, simply tell them they are violating your rights which can cost them $1,000 for every instance. When you ask the caller for his or her name, you can be sure they will hang up faster than you can repeat the request.

Another way to stem annoying calls from collectors is to use the words "cease and desist." Those two words tell the blood sucker you will only communicate with them by mail. If they do not stop the call at that point, it is your right to hang up. If they call again, make sure you get their name and number. Their calling after being told not to call you is a direct violation of the law, providing you sent a formal letter telling them to only contact you by mail. It is wise to send it registered or by "Priority" mail with a tracking number.

For those receiving calls from collectors at work, a solution could not be easier. Tell the slime-ball on the other end of your company's strict policy of no employee receiving calls on their business phone about personal finances. The law requires a collection company to immediately place you on their not-to-call-at-work list. There are very stiff fines for any company crossing the line. Having a little knowledge about how the game is played can allow you to send bill collectors running with their tails between their legs.

While any debt you incurred is a legal responsibility, these are tough times. If you are like more than 10 million people in this country suffering from circumstances beyond your control like our whole economy, then it behooves you to spend more time trying to rebuild your financial well being than talking to people without a shred of compassion for your situation.

For more detailed information on your rights, please visit the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to get the comprehensive low-down on beating the bill collector.