Continuing our discussion of collection pressure tactics, I’ll focus on the “refusal to pay” tag-line frequently used by debt collectors.
Let’s say you’ve explained to a debt collector that you’re in a financial hardship situation and can’t make any payments. For the purpose of this discussion, it doesn’t really matter whether or not you’re actively trying to settle the account. Whatever your situation or intention, the goal of every debt collector is to extract a payment from you RIGHT NOW, usually by getting you to give them your checking account info so they can process an electronic debit. If the collector is not able to get a payment commitment from you, they may adopt a harsh accusatory tone and use the following line:
“Fine, then I’m going to note down here in your file that you are REFUSING TO PAY.”
Another variation on this line makes it sound even more threatening:
“Fine, the we’re going to report to our client that you are REFUSING TO PAY, and recommend they take aggressive action to collect this debt.”
Now, this statement about “refusing to pay” really gets people agitated. It’s an accusation and a threat all at the same time, and people get riled up when their personal honor is attacked like this. So what does the average person do? They fall right into the trap, by saying something like, “But I’m not refusing to pay!”
Then the collector can move in for the kill with, “Fine. Then let’s take care of this right now. Get your checkbook out and read me the string of digits along the bottom.”
There are several ways to respond to this type of “guilt-trip” pressure tactic. I’ll break it down into three different possible responses to the “refusal to pay” accusation. Choose whichever technique fits your personality and temperament:
1. Don’t even bother responding. Just hang up the telephone. It’s not necessary to have the last word on collection phone calls.
2. Respond in a very calm tone of voice, “I can see that you are going to make false statements about me to my creditor no matter what I say. So I guess we’re done here.” Then end the call. If you let the collector know they aren’t going to get under your skin with this type of approach, they will be less inclined to try it again later.
3. Take a more officious tone, and say the following: “OK, I can see that you are prepared to make false statements about me in my file. I intend to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and the Attorney General about your fraudulent business practices. I’ll be naming you personally in the complaint. Have a great day!” Then hang up with no further dialogue.
I generally recommend against getting into an adversarial conversation with debt collectors, since it’s usually counter-productive. However, once in a while, you need to give as good as you get. Once a collector realizes that you cannot be bullied, intimidated, or made to feel guilty, most of their grab-bag of tricks goes out the window and you can have a more productive conversation about resolving the situation.