Monday, November 26, 2007

Credit Collectors: Stay strong, join forces

Don't you just love the generic, creative commons stock art theme that's saturated the blogging realm? I understand it gives an over all "professional" theme to the blog, but some of them can be so passé. I'm going to do my best to find something unique and interesting for each post. Click on the images, too. Many of these folk are real artists.

Let's start with a little history, shall we? There was a time not too long ago where I did not touch our collective finances. I had never been very good at math and frankly, I had never had the opportunity to handle my money completely on my own. To be honest, the prospect scared me a little. My partner in debt had a dual major in accounting and education. She seemed to know what she was doing.

So I let her handle everything. She cashed the checks, she paid the bills and she ferreted away the savings. Unfortunately we began living well beyond our means. We were (and still are in some respects) just kids. We made unwise decisions. It's a learning process

Eventually, as our debt grew our creditors began to call. And then collection agencies. It grew to a certain point at the height of our despair, we received calls from attorneys. Handling all the finances for a household is a big enough job, but handling all the finances and dealing with people whose job is to essentially extort money from you?

The weight was unbearable. It became a serious stress related problem.

Pretty guilty for letting my own ignorance and fear to get the better of me, I reluctantly took the reigns. I now deal with all creditors, collection agencies and attorneys. But we now share the responsibility 50/50. We discuss every decision together until we come to a logical decision. And I, being the intellectual bully I am implement our decisions through mail and telephone.

I think this is the most important step in any debt resolution. One absolutely has to share the burden if the issue involves two or more people. It is essential.

And I'm not talking about one person doing all the work while the other simply gives a thumbs up. All individuals involved have to become knowledgeable enough so if everyone else simply poof, disappeared, they'd be able to tread water without breaking down.

Issues have to be discussed at length until a mutual conclusion is reached. If this is what you do already, kudos to you. But you probably think everyone handles it this way. You'd be surprised at how wrong that thought would be.

You likely got into the mess together. You should get out of it together. You're comrades in arms, and the enemy is likely several multinational corporations who really, really want their money.

If collaborating, you can catch one another's mistakes. You can give one another mutual support. And heck, if the situation isn't too unique, it could probably save you money. And a bill for anti-depressants.

Perhaps the most grueling aspect of working one's self (or partner[s]) out of debt is dealing with creditors and collection agencies. You're likely fairly adept at your job. So are these folk. And their jobs essentially involve bullying you, your spouse, or partner into giving them their money.

This is how they pay off their debt. Sure, they're people too. But they don't really come off as nice people, do they? Of course not, you don't want to give them money you don't have.

Depending on how the corporation is run and what kind of personality you have, your experience can range from mildly annoying to feeling out right violated. Neither is a very acceptable outcome. But I've learned a couple of tricks that have helped me in the recent past. Feel free to comment and leave your own. I'll link back to your blog in my next post.

  1. Designate: Simply put, while you're sharing financial responsibility, it's still good to keep things organized. Designate one individual per debt as a contact. This person becomes the main contact for all issues in regards to the outstanding balance. This removes any chance that a misinformed partner can make a decision that may put the whole team at a disadvantage.

    However, it is still important to share every decision and piece of information.

  2. Get a plan: Sure. Creditors call all the time. Don't deal with them immediately. Get their name, number, issue, and what it is in regards to and promise to call them back. Call a team meeting so to speak. Discuss how the issue will be resolved with your partner(s). Once you've drawn up a plan as to what you're going to say and do, call them back.

  3. Don't rush: Discuss the situation in a timely manner, but don't handle it immediately in a rush. You may make unwise choices and become irritated in the process.

  4. Hold your meeting in a comfortable place: For us, this is our living room or bedroom. You want to be relaxed and at ease. You're making important choices that will affect your life as a whole. Make sure you're comfortable while you make decisions.

  5. Stick to the plan: A forceful collector can derail your neat and tidy plans in an instant, and an unsavory one may attempt to manipulate you into making choices you could regret later on. Follow your prepared plan to the dime, if this is not acceptable to them or their company, write down their thoughts on the matter and promise to call them back. But only after discussing it fully with those you share the responsibility with.

  6. Make yourself comfortable: Sometimes you're going to get calls at inconvenient times. Say they somehow got a hold of your work number. Or your cell phone, and you don't like it. Keep in mind that you are well within your rights to request they do not call you. If you're more comfortable, inform the creditor you prefer only to deal with the account over a specific phone number, or through mail.

    You absolutely do not have to discuss your finances at work, or on your cell phone should you chose not to.

  7. Go into it relaxed: You could be on the phone for awhile. Make sure you have all your game plan laid out, a pen, a pad of paper and a comfy chair. Watch some TV before you call back. Chances are it'll be stressful, so you should go into it as relaxed as you possibly can. Becoming angry and hanging up isn't going to help anyone.

  8. Turn the tables: So you've done all the above mentioned things. Good. But keep in mind the person you're on the phone with is a human being too. He doesn't want your money personally. The poor guy is just doing his job. And that's to deal with you. Chances are he's probably hung up on a daily basis and yelled at even more frequently. He might make less than you.

    Cut him some slack. Be polite. You'll notice he'll continually mention that you're "in good standing" with his company and you're "a respected client" and you're "a very smart person." These are common tactics. He'll also likely try to make it seem like he's your only hope, or he's only there to help. Sometimes this is accurate, but more often than not it comes off as insincere no matter how true it may be.

    Take a page from his handbook, turn the same tricks on him. Mention that you usually have had a good experience with his company, that he seems to be a fair and smart guy, that he's only trying to do his job and you're not going to hold it against him. He'll be more willing to compromise and cut you some slack if you extend the same courtesy.

  9. Bust out the black list: Record the name, extension (if applicable), time and date of everyone you speak with. Was someone especially difficult to deal with? Were they too pushy, too manipulative? Ask to speak to the supervisor on duty. These people want money from you. They're not going to get it by alienating you and making your life difficult.

    As such, they're going to bend somewhat if you have simple requests. So make one. Ask that you not have to speak with that person ever again. Do it politely and mention you're not trying to get the poor guy in trouble, but you'd be far more cooperative in the future if you either spoke with a supervisor directly, or someone else. Chances are they'll grant your request with a little apology.

  10. Remember: What you're saying is being recorded. Any information you provide them will be used to further help them collect their debt. They are by law required to say this before you begin any relevant conversation, but it is worth mentioning again. And if you're an angry, very difficult person, every representative from their corporation will know it. So don't be a dick.
These are just a couple points that I've picked up along the way. Your experiences may differ depending on who you have to deal with, but the general principles are the same. Share responsibility, discuss everything, be strong, and don't be a dick.

You'll be surprised how far it'll get you.



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