What to Do When a Debt Collector Calls

Steps to Take Before, During, and After a Collection Call

Debt collector phone calls can catch you completely off guard. And when you’re unprepared for a conversation with a debt collector, you can end up making an agreement to pay a collection you can’t afford. Or, you may get into a heated argument with a collector who insists you immediately pay a debt you don’t think you owe. When you get a call from a debt collector, don't panic. Keep a level head and follow these steps.

Make Sure You Have Time to Talk

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If you’re too busy to write down some information about the collector, tell them you can’t talk right now and ask them to call back at a time that’s better for you. Even if you want the debt collector to stop calling you for good, you need to at least write down their name and address so you can send a written cease and desist letter. When you do have time to talk, go to the next step.

Get a Pen and Paper

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The debt collector will definitely take notes ​on your phone call. You should, too. Your notes will come in handy if you’re ever facing a collector in court or if you ever need to recall a previous conversation.

Here’s some basic information you should write down anytime you speak with a debt collector: date and time of the phone call, the name of the collector you spoke to, name and address of collection agency, the amount you allegedly owe, the name of the original creditor, and everything discussed in the phone call.

Ask the Collector to Send Information About the Debt

You can say something like, “I don’t believe I owe this debt. Can you send information about it?” The collector will need to verify your address before they can send a bill for the debt. It’s ok to update your address – they could get an updated address from the credit bureau anyway if you’re getting bills at your current address. Remember, not to say anything that makes you liable for the debt.

Don't Admit to the Debt

Close-Up Of Young Man
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Think of this phone call as an interrogation where you're innocent until proven guilty. Don't make a payment or make a payment arrangement until you’ve confirmed that the debt is yours and that the collector can collect on it.

It’s not uncommon for debt collectors to make up debts or collect on debts that have passed the statute of limitations. It’s up to you to verify these things through the debt validation process, which simply involves writing a letter asking the collector to send proof that the debt is yours.

Don't Give Information About Your Income, Debts, or Other Bills

Debt collectors can get some of this information from your credit report and may even use it to get you to make immediate payment. For example, they may say “I see that you’re current on all your credit card payments. Surely you can make payment on this debt.” Or “Aren’t you employed with ABC Company. That means you can pay this.

Remember any information you give during the phone call will be used to collect the debt. If you're not ready to pay, there's no use having a discussion about your personal or financial information.

Hang Up if Necessary

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If a debt collector catches you off guard, you’re in no position to negotiate. You need time to make sure the debt is yours and decide whether you can afford to pay the debt and if it even makes sense to pay off the debt. When a debt collector calls you, keep the conversation short. You only need to say a few things:

  • “This is not a good time. Please call back at 6:00.”
  • “I don’t believe I owe this debt. Can you send information on it?”
  • “I prefer to pay the original creditor. Give me your address so I can send you a cease and desist letter.”
  • “My employer does not allow me to take these calls at work.”

Anything else you say regarding the debt or your willingness or ability to pay could be used against you.

After the Call, Decide What to Do Next

Once you’re off the phone, you can do a few things: dispute the debt using the debt valbidation process, send a cease and desist letter, ask for a pay for delete, make a settlement offer, or pay the debt in full. You could just ignore the debt, but that’s not often the best solution, especially if it's within the statute of limitations and credit reporting time limits.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can you ignore debt collectors?

Ignoring a debt collector is not a wise move. If you do, they may resort to more serious methods of debt collection, such as filing a lawsuit.

Can debt collectors call you if you are on the Do Not Call list?

The Do Not Call Registry only prevents unwanted sales calls. Since debt collectors have a business relationship with you, this list doesn't apply to them. However, you can request (in writing) that a debt collector stop contacting you by phone, and they are required to comply with your request. Note that the debt collector may still use other methods to try to collect the debt.

How many times a day can a collection agency call you?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act lays out certain criteria defining when a debt collector is presumed to be overstepping their bounds. A debt collector is not supposed to attempt to contact you more than seven times in a seven-day period, and they can't contact you within seven days after discussing the debt with you over the phone.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "What May Happen If I Ignore or Avoid a Debt Collector?"

  2. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Can a Debt Collector Call Me If I Am Listed on the National Do Not Call Registry?"

  3. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "How Often Can a Debt Collector Call Me?"

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