Johnny the Debt Collector
Imagine your dream job. Maybe you're in an office, maybe a construction site, or possibly a baseball field. You might aspire to do make your living playing poker, serving booze at a nightclub, writing movie reviews, or even simply being an accountant. But no matter what your dream job is, I'm willing to bet it has nothing to do with collecting bills. And if it does, you're out of your mother fucking mind.
For a six month stint, that was my job. I made an average of around two hundred phone calls a day, got hung up on, got called names, got threatened, and once in a great while, I managed to collect some cash.
The debt collector is the unlucky person who gets to call up people who owe money and try to convince them to pay up. If someone insists that they cannot pay the bill, the collector has to try to find a way to convince them to rebalance their budget. If someone doesn't want to pay the bill, but are financially able to, the collector has to explain why this is a bad idea.
The good side of the job- I got some seriously funny stories. Man, did I ever get stories. But sadly a bill collector is forbidden by law to discuss any specific debts he has attempted to collect or successfully collected. So any stories herein are based upon a true incident, but the names and facts have been mangled, burnt, snorted and then reassembled. Any similarities to true life events are entirely coincidental. Ass covered!
So there I was, wrapping up another shift at the collection office when I decided to look up my daily statistics on the auto-dialer. Now what an auto-dialer does is makes two or three calls per phone line, holds them in a queue until someone is free to take a call, and thusly transfers the call over. Our auto-dialer kept our statistics on our computer, and on the day in question it showed that I had made just over two hundred phone calls. On over one hundred of these calls I left messages on answering machines. On around sixty calls I got hung up on, usually right after someone tells me to go fuck myself. On another twenty calls, the debtors told me that they would not pay the bill, ever, period, and then told me to go fuck myself. All but one of the remaining calls involved someone asking me to call back tomorrow or around Friday. And on call out two hundred, they actually paid twenty bucks towards a bill that was over $1000. I spent eight hours of my life making phone calls, and managed to collect twenty bucks.
Now one might think that the people who asked me to call back later were planning on paying. This is not always the case. Ninety percent of these debtors would never answer their phone again (oh, the joys of caller ID). The remaining ten percent would want to pay their bill, but could only afford five bucks a week. Of course, I accepted the five dollars a week, it's better than nothing, but it was exceedingly rare for me to get payments over two hundred dollars.
I think one of the things I hated most about this job was the fact that I was just plain lousy at it. To date, this is the only job I've had that I actually sucked at. And the basic reason for that is that it's actually a sales job in disguise. You're selling people on the idea of paying their bills. And I am possibly the worst salesman in history. I couldn't sell a sandwich to a starving man. If you're in the market for a refrigerator, a few minutes of my sales pitch would leave you thinking you'd rather let all of your food go rotten.
Of course, there were other factors in the job that I hated. First, the human race is full of assholes, and I called every single one of them on the planet. It only took me a few days on the job to realize that the people who hung up on me without saying a word were the nice people. Everyone else who hung up on me would start throwing out profanity or insults first.
Another interesting breed of debtor was the person who didn't think they should pay the bill. They were not saying that they couldn't afford to pay, or that they had a reasonable basis for not paying, but that they just didn't want to. This has always astonished me, because I'm of the mindset that if you owe money, you pay it. Seems pretty simple to me, but some people flat out disagree.
Then you have the people who try to reason their way out of the bill. One of the most common is that they were dissatisfied with the services rendered. At this point you explain that this is not an excuse, and the proper way to handle this was to pay the bill and then take the company who was billing them to court. Another classic excuse was that they didn't understand what they were getting into when they signed the papers (generally when agreeing to a monthly service or something). This one I can sympathize with, but the fact that you signed the papers or agreed to the service means that you owe it. This sucks, I know, but if you can show a quality legal reason as to why the deal was misleading, fraudulent or that it was not properly explained, again, you pay the bill then get a lawyer for a civil suit.
And finally, the brand of asshole I hate most, is the person who thinks that they know the collection laws, and in fact, don't know shit. Every collection outfit in the US is overseen by a set of Federal and State laws, telling what one can and cannot do in the course of collecting a bill. Now state laws will obviously change from state to state, but they will likely have some rules that are the same across the board. No making threats to do something illegal, I.e. I cannot threaten the your safety for any reason. No threatening anything you cannot carry through with, such as placing something on a credit report or filing a lawsuit. And also, no lying to the debtors. But make sure you check your local laws before taking my word as gospel.
The people who cannot possibly afford to pay the bill are the ones I sympathize with the most. I've had money troubles before, I've been overwhelmed by bills. The biggest factor here, though, is that some people lie. I can tell you that I have five children, two of which have some nasty and costly medical problems, that my wife got laid off and I can't get any overtime at work, but that is all a complete fabrication. Someone with a slight bit of acting talent can pass this off pretty convincingly.
One thing that does work highly in favor of bill collectors, though, is the credit report. This was pretty much the only card I could play that would get me any money. Say anything about a bill going on someone's credit report, they suddenly want to talk. But was this fool proof? No way. Some people don't care about their credit report, others already have a crappy credit report and one more mark against them won't matter a bit. I worked with a guy who once mentioned a debt going on the individual's credit report and learned that the debtor had recently won the lottery and had no need to take out a loan ever again (possibly a lie, who knows). And then there's the greatest response to the credit report warning I've ever heard: "I don't know what a credit report is, but it doesn't sound like anything I need to worry about", followed by the sound of them hanging up the phone.
So it seems likely that someone has stumbled across this article wondering how to dodge the bill collector. Now I could write a lengthy diatribe about the importance of paying your bills, and how not doing so raises the interest rates for everyone else, but I'm not going to. Furthermore, I'm not going to give out advice on how to evade the collector. First, because I pay my bills. And second, it might be illegal. I'm sure there are plenty of websites out there willing to help you with this cause, you don't need anything from me. But I will give you a few tips on the matter.
First, pay your bills on time. If you don't owe, then the collector will have no reason to call you.
Second, get to know the bill collection laws (I seem to remember them being called the Fair Debt Collection Practices or something). They're pretty easy to read, a lot of common sense stuff in there but also some things you may need to know. If you think that a bill collector calling you three times a day is illegal harassment, check the law on it before you start ranting and raving to the collector. Nothing irritates a collector more than someone who thinks they know the law but has everything totally wrong. If a bill collector has broken the law, call your state attorney general. But I'll warn you that the attorney general gets a lot of calls from deadbeats trying to stumble upon a way out from under the debt collector's thumb, so have your facts straight.
And in an another cover-my-ass move, I will say that the American Bar Association would prefer that you have a proper lawyer explain the laws to you, and you should be careful when interpreting the law yourself.
Third, get specifics on the bill in question. Don't assume that the bill is erroneous simply because you've never heard of the company you owe, because it could be the parent company of a subsidiary that you do owe. Get the date that the service was rendered, what services were rendered, and all that info pertaining to the bill. If you didn't actually have a colonoscopy last January, but that's what the bill is for, someone is making a mistake.
Fourth, if you think you paid a bill, be prepared to prove it. Bill collectors make mistakes too, and records can get screwed up. But any collector worth his salt won't just take you at his word. Keep receipts, credit card statements, and get copies of cancelled checks. This will prove that it's been taken care of.
Fifth, if it's a medical bill, don't blame your insurance company for not paying it. Chances are, insurance was billed, paid what they think was their fair portion, and left the remainder to you. If you tell the bill collector to call your insurance company and hang up on him, the bill isn't going anywhere. By the time it's in collections, it's not the collector's job to bill your insurance. Call your insurance company and call the hospital's billing people, make sure insurance was charged and that you are not covered any more then what they have already paid.
And finally, inquire about a settlement. Once you have enough money to pay the bill off, try to settle it. This can possibly save you a few bucks, as well as getting the bill off your hands. Not all collection agencies will settle, but a fair amount will. Keep a calculator handy when doing the settlement, because they may ask you to make the first settlement offer. If they do, aim for fifteen to thirty percent off the total cost of the bill, and quote them the figure. They'll likely counter with somewhere around five to fifteen percent off, and I could recommend taking this offer, but you can try a slightly lower amount if you feel your powers of negotiation are up to the task.
I include the six months of my life as a bill collector to be a pretty low point for me. I had some great coworkers and bosses, but the job was depressing, annoying, and could get pretty stale. But no matter how much I disliked it, I have the feeling that the people I called hated it even more.
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