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Confessions of a lousy debt collector

This confession certainly won’t make me very popular. I’d also like to preface this post by saying that if you see a girl who bears resemblance to me at your local grocery or mall, please refrain from chucking fruit at her head.

I was a debt collector.

Tracking down delinquent payments was just one of the many random tasks I had to perform at my last part-time job at a busy health care clinic. Every week or so, my boss would hand me a list of names with a smiley face and a “thanks” written at the bottom of the page.  I’d cringe, stash the paper at the bottom of a pile and bury myself in other tasks until the invariable question came: “Cara, did you talk to Bob*, yet?”

I never wanted to talk to Bob. Bothering somebody about medical debt who was trying to regain his health isn’t exactly on my list of the top 10 ways to feel good about myself.

In the beginning, I’d have to mentally prepare. I scripted some lines to say in case the debtor answered the telephone. (Seriously, it almost made me feel like I was about to break up with them.) I’d dial the number, my heart thumping nervously in time with the ringing. Eight out of 10 times, an answering machine greeted me, and then I’d awkwardly read my lines and hang up.

“Hi, Bob. My name is Cara from the clinic. You have an outstanding balance. We’d like to get this taken care of soon. Please call us so we can update your credit card information. Thanks!” Occasionally, to spice it up, I’d throw in something about the insurance fraud that they were currently committing by not paying.

This wasn’t the bullying, conniving, good-cop, bad-cop scenario that is usually imagined when thinking of collections work. No harsh words were ever exchanged. People either called back to give me their credit card information or they simply never answered my calls.

Still, it was a really weird experience. I’m a 21-year-old college student who is incapable of sounding intimidating, and really don’t understand what it feels like to be in debt. Therefore, calling these people about the sometimes hundreds of dollars that they’d accumulated on their accounts was uncomfortable. I managed to get out of making collections calls about a month into that job. I guess my return rate wasn’t very good.

I did learn the following, though:

  • Debt collectors will keep calling you back. That’s what the “good” ones are supposed to do.  Yeah, what can I say, I wasn’t a “good” one.
  • Make sure you find out what penalties are associated with your tardiness.  If you are working with a smaller company, try to see if you can get out of any late fees or penalties with kind words and promises of immediate payment.
  • Make sure the conditions under which you pay are guaranteed by that employee or someone in the company with the power to authorize account payment changes. Something in writing is advisable.
  • If you’re mired in debt, figure out what you have to pay off first. Not all debts are equal. Get rid of the ones that are most detrimental to your credit score.
  • Talking about debt is awkward but necessary.
  • Debt collecting isn’t going to be something that decreases during a recession. Collection techniques are becoming more advanced and personalized. According to a New York Times article, collectors are starting to use intimate information about the debtors’ lives in order to find psychological approaches that work on various people. Great, right?

*Bob is not a real patient and I am in no way implying that all Bobs are in debt!

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  • I hope all debt collectors are like you. You may not be a good debt collector from their perspective, but in our book, you’re number one. And thanks for giving us all those recommendations for they will certainly help us deal with the next not-so-good- debt collector.

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  • I am just curious to learn more about your debt collection experience. What would you do in the event your debtor decided to call your bluff? What if the debtor counter sued you? Or initiated a law suit against you just because they did not have the money to pay you. What would you do then?
    There is a new movement where people are representing themself to fight their debts. The theory is that they have plenty of time on their hands because they are jobless and broke so why not use the legal system to get a deep settlement or a cancelation of the debt by instigating a suit for lets say malpractice, antitrust violations, ect.

  • Thanks for your comment.
    Whenever I called debtors, I didn’t lie to them. I only told them they were committing insurance fraud when they were indeed doing so. They’d probably rather hear it from some lowly clinic employee than the insurance company. But if we are talking about a debt collector who has lied, then yes, you are right; legal action may be appropriate. Debt collectors aren’t allowed to lie about or misrepresent the facts surrounding your case, according to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. As for the comment regarding people acting as their own counsel, that also incurs cost. Beyond that, can you imagine going up against a big company without proper representation? Even if the individual had eons and eons of time to perfect a case, I would be willing to bet that he or she would lose when dealing with a practiced attorney.

  • Thanks for your comment, Evelyn. I’m glad some of the suggestions are helpful.

  • Michael

    I call the bluff and report insurance fraud when a doctor sends a bill for services not rendered and other things like that. It is insurance fraud for billing the same thing more than once also.

  • profesional debt collector

    never the less there are many reason as to why some one may or may not pay a bill. There are even more variables in place then just a collection agent holding another responsible for there own commitments. Its not just about the legality of the debt, its about the morality. But as adults we all should understand WE WILL BE HELD RESPONSIBLE. There is no reason to accept service if there is no way to pay for it. Bottom line. NO MATTER WHAT THE SERVICES WERE (medical, funeral, credit, housing, child support,)

  • That is good that people can get the loan and that opens completely new chances.