The NFCC often receives readers questions asking us what they should do in their money situation. We pick some to share that others could be asking themselves and hope to help many in sharing these answers. If you have a question, please submit it on our Ask an Expert page here.
This week’s question: All my debt has gone to collections. The collections change hands from time to time. How do I make arrangements with the right people to pay my debt and improve my credit score?
It’s very common for debts to be sold multiple times to different debt collectors. It’s a practice highly inconvenient for debtors attempting to pay off what they owe. But, if you are ready to pay off your debts, you could identify your collectors in two ways. One way is to wait for the collector to contact you and ask for a debt validation letter. And the other is to review your credit reports to determine who is the collector reporting your debt.
Request debt verification letters
Federal law gives you the right to request the debt collector to prove that you owe the debt. When you first establish contact, ask the collector to communicate with you in writing and send you a debt validation letter. The collector should send it to you within five days of your conversation. If they don’t, send your request in writing within 30 days of the first contact. The letter sent by the debt collector should include details about how much you owe, the identity of the original creditor, and what to do if you don’t owe the debt.
If the collector cannot provide this letter or refuses to mail you one, most likely, they are not the current owners of the debt. Moreover, they should stop collection immediately.
Review your credit report
Another way to verify who owns your debt is to review your credit reports. Most debt collectors report your debts on your credit reports once they own them. So you can expect to find the original creditor, listing your account as charged-off, and the current debt collector. Once you have the collector’s name, get their address online and request a debt verification letter. If you have multiple collectors for the same debt, initiate a dispute with the credit bureaus to delete duplicate accounts. You can easily dispute incorrect information initiating a dispute with each credit bureau where you found the mistakes.
Paying the right collector
When paying the right collector, never pay with a personal check or any payment method that gives them access to your accounts or personal information. As an alternative, you can send them a money order or cashier’s check. These are relatively affordable options and allow you to communicate via certified mail with a return receipt to keep proof of delivery. Keep detailed documentation of all letters and payments, and ask all creditors to send you proof of payment. Then, review your credit reports to ensure they show your debts as paid.
Paying off your collections is a good start to rebuild your credit and increase your score. However, it is not enough. You need a strategy based on your current situation. In very general terms, a good score comes from paying on time, keeping balances low, and getting new credit sparingly. If you think you need additional help to pay off your debts and rebuild your credit, don’t hesitate to contact and an NFCC Certified Financial Counselor. They can help you understand the collection process and develop a personalized strategy to boost your score in time. Counselors are available over the phone and online. Good luck!