Should I ignore a debt collector's calls and letters?

Read about the pros and cons of ignoring debt collection calls and letters.

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Question

I’m behind on a lot of my bills and debt collectors are starting to call me. I’m also receiving collection letters in the mail. I don’t have enough money saved up to pay off the debts. Should I ignore the collection calls and letters?

Answer

If debt collectors are hounding you and you don’t have money available to pay off your debts, you may be tempted to simply ignore the collectors and hope they go away. However, putting your head in the sand usually isn’t the best strategy for dealing with debt. In fact, there are a lot more “cons” than “pros” when it comes to ignoring a debt collector’s calls and letters.

Upside to Ignoring the Collector's Calls and Letters

There’s really only one upside to ignoring the collection attempts -- the collector may give up and stop trying to get money from you. However, what are the chances of this actually happening? Not good.

The collection agency typically gets a cut from the creditor based on how much it collects (or it purchases the delinquent debt and gets to keep what it collects). In addition, the collection agency’s employees usually get bonuses based on the amount they collect from you. This means that the collectors are very motivated to keep hounding you for payment.

If, however, you are judgment proof (meaning you don't have any income or assets the collector can take if it gets a judgment against you) and believe you will be for many years to come, then ignoring or putting an end to the calls and letters might make sense. (See below for information on how to stop collector calls and letters.) To determine if you are judgment proof, see What Does Judgment Proof Mean? or talk to a local debt lawyer.

Downsides to Ignoring the Collector’s Calls and Letters

On the flip side, there are a lot of cons to evading a debt collector’s attempts to communicate with you. For example:

  • Ignoring debt collectors probably won’t make them stop calling or writing you. Again, debt collectors only make money when you pay up. This means they’re likely to keep trying to get in touch with you even if you ignore them. (On the other hand, under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, a collector must cease all communication with you, subject to a few exceptions, if you send it a written request. Learn more about the FDCPA in our article What to Do If a Bill Collector Crosses the Line.)
  • You’ll hurt your credit. If you ignore a debt collector and don't deal with the underlying debt, the creditor will continue to report the delinquency to the credit bureaus, which will hurt your credit. (Learn more in Nolo’s Credit Reports & Credit Scores area.)
  • You won’t find out if the debt is legitimate. If you receive a collection call or letter, at minimum, you should find out what debt you purportedly owe and, if you don't recognize the debt (or aren't sure the amount is correct), write to the collection agency immediately and dispute the debt. (Under the FDCPA you have the right to request validation of the debt. Learn more in Nolo’s Debt Validation article.)
  • Your debt will probably get bigger. If you ignore the debt, interest and collection costs will probably be added to your debt. This means that your debt will continue to grow.
  • You’re missing an opportunity to settle the debt. If the debt is yours and you can’t afford to pay it, you may be able to make arrangements with the debt collector to settle the debt for a lesser amount. You'll only be able to do this if you communicate with the collector. The amount that the collector says is due is just a starting point for negotiation. You can often settle the debt for far less than you owe. (To learn more about negotiating with debt collectors, see our Debt Settlement & Negotiating With Creditors area.)
  • You might get sued. The debt collector may file a lawsuit against you if you ignore the calls and letters. If you then ignore the lawsuit, this could lead to a judgment and the collection agency may be able to garnish your wages or go after the funds in your bank account. (Learn more about Creditor Lawsuits.)

In the end, it’s almost always better to focus on settling the debt or disputing its validity (depending on your situation) rather than ignoring the debt collector's calls and letters.

If you’re not able to reach an agreement with the debt collector (or the debt collector tries to collect a debt you don’t owe), you should consider contacting an attorney who can provide you with legal advice about your particular situation.

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