|Gary Foreman is a former Certified Financial Planner (CFP) who currently writes
about family finances and edits
The Dollar Stretcher website
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My husband and I have one credit card debt to the tune of about
$3,500. I cancelled the account so we can't charge any more. We have
been making payments of $100 every month, which is well below the
minimum payments that the credit card company requests. They call
nearly every day, most often more than once, hounding us for the
rest of our minimum payment, which has reached in the neighborhood
of $800 a month. Although we are not paying what they request every
month, we are making a payment. Is there any way we can stop the
phone calls? Are we breaking the law by not paying the entire
minimum payment? We do plan on making a large payment when we can,
but with 3 kids and one income, $800 is hard to come by.
Thanks for any help.
Tina's not alone. In calendar 2000
the average U.S. credit card debt per household was $8,123 according
to Cardfacts.com. The American Bankers Association indicates that
5.4% of credit card accounts were delinquent at the end of the year.
Recent reports show that there was a surge in bank card
delinquencies in the 2nd quarter of 2001. So a lot of people are
falling behind in their payments and will be dealing with bill
collectors. In fact, in 2000 the FTC received approximately 22,000
complaints about both 'in house' and 'third party' collectors.
To answer Tina's first question, yes,
she can stop the collection calls. The Fair Debt Collection
Practices Act prevents harassment by bill collectors. It is a
federal law so it applies to all 50 states. Section 806 specifies
that "a debt collector may not engage in repeated personal
contacts with a consumer with such frequency as to harass him".
If Tina notifies the collector in
writing that she wants all communications stopped, they must cease
any attempt at contacting her. This includes both phone and mail
contact. She would be wise to get a return receipt so that she can
prove that her letter was received by the collection agency.
Some bill collectors are persistent
despite the law. According to the Federal Trade Commission
approximately 500 consumers complained that notifying the collectors
didn't stop the calls. If Tina has this problem she can get relief
by contacting the FTC (1-877-FTC-HELP).
Tina didn't mention it, but
collection agencies are also prevented from telling others about her
situation. Nor can they threaten her with physical violence.
To answer Tina's second question, she
has not broken the law so she won't end up in jail. But she has not
lived up to the contract that she made with the credit card company.
Notifying the collection agency to
quit contacting her does not prevent the credit card company from
trying to collect the debt. In fact, they may be more likely to file
a law suit if Tina asks to be left alone. That suit could require
repayment or force bankruptcy.
So getting the collection agency off
her back is only the first step for Tina. The $3500 debt is costing
her over $800 per year in interest. And each month that her payment
is less than the minimum a penalty is tacked on. Her $100 payment
isn't really reducing the debt.
Now is the time to take drastic
action. At her current rate of payments Tina will be repaying this
debt forever. She needs to recognize that the longer this goes on
without a solution the worse her credit score will be. She could get
in a situation where it's almost impossible to borrow money to buy a
car or home for many years.
So getting the collection calls to
stop is only the first step. In fact, it's the easier step. The
bigger challenge is to get the debt current so she doesn't hurt her
future borrowing ability.
Hopefully Tina and her husband will
find a way to put this debt behind them.