In Good Health March 2016, Issue 127
Medical Debt Collectors: What You Need To Know
According to CNBC, unpaid medical debt is the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the country. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reports that 43 million people – nearly 20% of adults in America – have unpaid medical debt.
If you find yourself unable to pay medical debt, you will probably receive phone calls and letters from debt collectors, and that can be unsettling or even intimidating. But you shouldn’t let the debt collectors scare you. Here are answers to some questions that you might have when dealing with debt collectors.
What should I do?
If you don’t recognize the debt, your first step is to send a letter to the debt collector informing them that you (1) dispute the debt, (2) request verification of the debt, and (3) request the name of the original creditor. You MUST send this letter within 30 days after you receive their first collection letter. After they receive this letter, the debt collector is required by law to stop collecting until it sends you verification of the debt. If debt collectors are calling you too much, you can also send a letter requesting that they cease communications. You must also make this request in writing. The law then requires the debt collector to obey this request.
Should I pay?
You should only pay if the debt collector seems legitimate and if you recognize the debt.Remember that legitimate debt collectors will not ask for your social security number—they can
only ask for the last four digits in order to confirm your identity. If the debt collector seems legitimate and you recognize the debt, you should ask the debt collector if they can settle the debt for a lower amount. You can also try to negotiate a payment plan.
Are they breaking the law?
Debt collectors have to follow the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). According to that law, debt collectors are not allowed to harass or abuse you when collecting. That means they
cannot curse, yell at you, or otherwise try to intimidate you to pay the debt. They also are prohibited from misrepresenting any information about the debt or using deceptive practices
when collecting. If you think that they might be violating the FDCPA, you may wish to contact an attorney.
What if they sue me?
If a law firm sues you for the debt, you should contact an attorney as soon as possible. If you don’t answer the lawsuit in time, the debt collector can obtain a judgment against you. After that, the debt collector can garnish your paychecks and freeze your bank accounts. Dealing with a debt collector can be difficult and scary. However, if you follow the above suggestions, you can navigate this process in the least stressful way possible.
Alexander J. Douglas is a Rochester attorney with Gesund & Pailet, LLC, a consumer protection
firm. He focuses on filing lawsuits against debt collectors for deceptive and unfair practices.