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

People who are judgment-proof or plan to file for bankruptcy can usually ignore debt collection calls and letters. Others will want to develop a payment strategy.

Question

I'm behind on my bills, and I've been hoping to catch up. However, debt collectors are starting to mail notices and call my house. Should I ignore the collection calls and letters?

Answer

It depends. Your first step will be determining whether you can pay in the future or if you'll be filing for bankruptcy.

If the bankruptcy route appears likely, there won't be much reason to talk with collectors in most cases. Collectors who know bankruptcy will soon wipe out debt often double down on collection efforts—and you probably don't want to be harassed even more.

If bankruptcy isn't an option, you should talk with your creditors. However, you'll likely want to wait until you develop an action plan. The timing—and your situation—is everything. Here are a few things to consider.

Ignoring a Debt Collector's Calls and Letters When You're Judgment Proof

People who are judgment-proof don't need to talk with creditors. But being judgment-proof is rare. Even though most creditors must file a debt collection lawsuit and get a money judgment before collecting with wage garnishments, bank levies, and property seizures, money judgments last for years. So don't assume you're judgment-proof unless you're sure your financial situation is permanent.

Also, you'll want to know what a creditor might be able to take. Every state has laws protecting or "exempting" property like clothing, household goods, some equity in a car and home, and your retirement account. But exemption laws vary widely. Here's where you'll find your state's exemption laws (exemption laws apply during collections and bankruptcy).

Ignoring a Debt Collector's Calls and Letters When You're Not Judgment Proof

Debt collectors rarely give up. Here are some things to be aware of while you're formulating a way to pay your debt.

  • You can stop the calls. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) requires a collector to stop communicating with you if you send a written request, subject to a few exceptions.
  • Your credit will suffer. The creditor will continue to report the delinquency to the credit bureaus.
  • Your debt will get bigger. Expect the lender to add interest, late fees, and collection costs to the balance.
  • You might get sued. The debt collector might file a lawsuit and get a money judgment allowing the creditor to garnish your wages, go after the funds in your bank account, and seize property that isn't protected by an exemption. Learn about lawsuits stopped by bankruptcy.
  • You can protect some income and property. If you lose a lawsuit, review your state's exemption laws to find out what you can protect.

Reasons to Talk With Debt Collectors

  • Find out if the debt is legitimate. If you don't recognize the debt or aren't sure the amount is correct, write to the collection agency and dispute it. The FDCPA gives you the right to request debt validation.
  • Settle the debt. You might be able to get the debt collector to settle for a lesser amount. If you can convince the creditor you can't pay more—or if the creditor doesn't want to incur court costs—you might be able to settle the debt for far less than you owe.

Many people are uncomfortable asserting their rights or negotiating lesser amounts with collectors. An attorney can help.

Need More Info?

We want to help you find the answers you need. Go to TheBankruptcySite for more easy-to-understand articles, or consider buying a self-help book like The New Bankruptcy by Attorney Cara O'Neill.

We wholeheartedly encourage research and learning, but online articles can't address all bankruptcy issues or the facts of your case. The best way to protect your assets in bankruptcy is by consulting with a local bankruptcy lawyer.

Disability Eligibility Quiz Take our bankruptcy quiz to identify potential issues and learn how to best proceed with your bankruptcy case.

Talk to a Bankruptcy Lawyer

Need professional help? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
Get Professional Help

Get debt relief now.

We've helped 205 clients find attorneys today.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you