Getting contacted by debt collectors can be a scary thing but it’s actually a natural step in the debt collection process.
However, it can be especially scary if you’re being contacted by collectors for a debt that you may be unable to pay.
While it’s definitely intimidating, it’s important to note that debt collectors are not bailiffs and thus, they don’t have any extra-legal authority.
Furthermore, not being able to pay your debts does not mean you’re out of options.
On the contrary, there are actually several options you can pursue in order to write off your debts without actually having to pay your debt collectors.
Is the Debt Collection Agency Contacting Me Legit?
This is the first thing that you should find out as impersonating a debt collector is a very common way in which scammers extort money from people.
You may truly have a debt with a collection agency but it’s important that you confirm this to be true first.
Debt collectors are legally obligated to be completely transparent about all the information related to your debt as well as information about the debt collection agency they are working for.
You can ask them about their debt collection agency and quickly make sure whether it’s legit and registered in England or not. Furthermore, under the Financial Conduct Authority guidelines, if a debt collection agent shows up at your house, they are legally obligated to show you their ID.
Once you have made sure that they are indeed legit, you can start worrying about your debt.
Is My Debt Valid?
There are certain cases in which your debt could be considered invalid and thus, written off. It’s important that when you’re contacted by a debt collector that you check whether or not you’re even responsible for the said debt or not. There are many cases in which you can call off debt collection agencies trying to collect debt. Some of the cases are:
- It has been six years or more since you last made a payment to your original creditor or were last in contact with him/her.
- You signed the agreement under invalid circumstances. For example, you were forced or coerced to sign the agreement or the agreement was not clear.
- The original creditor did not properly check whether or not you would be able to repay your debts when you first signed the agreement.
Being an Additional Authorised Cardholder
In the case of credit card debt, if you were an additional authorised cardholder on someone else’s credit card account (for example, your partner or spouse), then the credit card company cannot ask you to repay their debts. These debts are always the responsibility of the primary cardholder.
Being Under the Age of 18
If you are under the age of 18, you can only be held accountable for debts you may have taken for your day-to-day needs. These may include things like mobile phone contracts, food or clothes.
I’m in a Vulnerable Situation, Should I Let my Debt Collectors Know About This?
Dealing with collectors can be a lot more challenging if you are in a vulnerable situation. Vulnerable situations can vary a lot in terms of severity. For example, you could be dealing with the loss of a loved one at the time or you could be dealing with a chronic mental or physical illness. Other difficulties may include general anxiety in regards to speaking over the phone or struggling with a learning disability.
If you are suffering from any such difficulty when a debt collector contacts you, it’s important to let them know but without disclosing too much personal information. This will help them understand your situation so that they can better negotiate your repayments.
What Can I Do if My Debt is Valid and I Can’t Afford to Pay it?
If you’ve been contacted by a debt collection agency (or debt collection agencies) regarding debts that are definitely valid and you can’t afford to pay them, then you may have to start considering other options.
There is no need to worry, however, as all of these options are structured in a way so that they accommodate the interests of all parties involved, especially the debtor. Here are some of the options that you can consider:
Debt Management Plan (DMP)
A Debt Management Plan is a monthly repayment plan that you can set up with your creditors with the help of a third-party. We recommend that you opt for an independent charity such as StepChange or Payplan to help you set up your debt management plan as they don’t charge a fee for setting it up and handling it.
If you go to a private debt management company, they will most probably charge you a fee for handling the plan throughout its entire duration. This fee is normally incorporated to be a part of the monthly payments you would make to your creditors.
A debt management plan may be a viable option if you can’t afford to pay debt collectors immediately as this breaks it down into a reduced monthly repayment plan which is much easier to afford. Furthermore, your interests will always be given top priority and it will be ensured that you’re only paying what you can afford. Most creditors also agree to reduce charges or stop adding interest to the debt you owe during a debt management plan.
While a debt management plan may seem like a great option, there are certainly some downsides to it as well that you should be aware of.
Firstly, a debt management plan does not protect you from your creditors like an IVA or a DRO does. Your creditors may still contact you about your debt throughout the course of your debt management plan and this could be a source of great stress for you. This also means that they could take legal action against you regardless of your debt management plan.
Secondly, a debt management plan will have quite a negative impact on your credit score.
Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA)
An Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) works a lot similar to a DMP in that you have to make monthly payments to your creditors over the course of a certain duration. Usually, this duration is about five years. The amount of money you pay during each monthly payment is agreed upon by you, your creditors and an Insolvency Practitioner (IP).
Note that the amount you pay is decided based on how much you can afford to pay. Thus, once the agreed-upon duration is over, if any of your original debt has not been paid off, it will simply be written off. Your creditors are legally obligated to honour this agreement and not contact you further regarding your debt once this is over.
An IVA is definitely an attractive option for people who can’t afford to pay their debts but it also has some downsides.
One example is that you have to be very diligent with your payments. If you fail to submit too many of your monthly payments, it can cause your IVA to fail. If that happens then your creditors could come after you with court action. Furthermore, an IVA stays in your credit file for a year after it’s finished. Thus, it will keep having a negative effect on your credit score for at least six years (five years being the duration of your IVA and one year after it has finished).
Debt Relief Order (DRO)
A Debt Relief Order (DRO) is an option you can pursue to have your debt written off. However, it’s only possible if you owe a relatively low amount of money (£20,000 or less).
If you are not a homeowner and have very few assets, you can opt for a debt relief order. During a debt relief order, your repayments and interest on these repayments will be frozen for a period of 12 months.
By the end of these 12 months, if your financial situation does not improve and you are still unable to pay off your debt, then it will be written off. Note that during this 12-month period, neither debt collectors nor your creditors are allowed to contact you in regards to your debt.
A Debt Relief Order does mean that your name and other basic information will appear in the Insolvency Register and it will have a negative impact on your credit score. Furthermore, if your financial situation tends to improve over the 12-month period then you will be obligated to make payments to debt collectors in order to repay your debt.
Should I Give Money to Debt Collectors?
If a debt collector contacts you or shows up at your house, you don’t need to give them money in cash during that point even if your debt is legit. It’s a much better choice to go over what options you have. After that, you can set up a payment plan with the debt collector at a later time after you’ve considered what you can realistically afford.
Always remember that a debt collector does not have any extra-legal authority and he/she cannot strong-arm you in any way. If you do, at some point, happen to give money to a debts collector that showed up at your residence, be sure that you see their ID first and always get a receipt for your payment. Never let a debts collection agent pressure you into paying more money than what you can afford.
It may seem like you’re trapped when you’re being hounded by debt collection agencies in regards to a debt that you know you can’t realistically pay off. At times like these, it’s important to know your rights and do the right research.
Understanding your financial standing and knowing what tools you have at your disposal can definitely save you from financial ruin and propel you towards a prosperous, debt-free future.