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Should You Communicate with a Debt Collector in Writing or by Telephone?

Chloe Meltzer | December 08, 2023

Legal Expert
Chloe Meltzer, MA

Chloe Meltzer is an experienced content writer specializing in legal content creation. She holds a degree in English Literature from Arizona State University, complemented by a Master’s in Marketing from California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo.

Edited by Hannah Locklear

Hannah Locklear
Editor at SoloSuit
Hannah Locklear, BA

Hannah Locklear is SoloSuit’s Marketing and Impact Manager. With an educational background in Linguistics, Spanish, and International Development from Brigham Young University, Hannah has also worked as a legal support specialist for several years.

Summary: Phone calls are convenient. But is the telephone the best way to communicate with a debt collection agency? Do you really need to get everything in writing? Find out what method you should use when discussing your debt.

If you are being sued for a debt, or are in the process of a debt collection, there are two main methods of contact: writing and telephone. Oftentimes, a debt collector may contact you by both methods, typically sending you a letter first to notify you of your debt. The collection calls typically follow, and it can feel overwhelming.

Whether you do not owe the debt, cannot pay it right now, or are looking to fight it, it is good to know how to respond to the debt collector. If you communicate in writing, you will have proof of everything they say to you, and you fact-check and take your time when it comes to responding. If you are on the phone, you may want to record your conversations (but be sure to notify the debt collector beforehand).

Below, we discuss everything you should know about communicating with debt collectors.

It’s better to communicate with debt collectors in writing

You might be wondering if it’s better to communicate with debt collectors over the phone or in writing. In short, it is almost always better to keep all communications with debt collectors in writing. Here are several reasons why:

  • Collectors are better negotiators than you. Negotiating asynchronously evens the playing field.
  • Written communication is recorded. It can serve as proof if you need it in the future.
  • Debt collectors often go back on their word. If you reach a settlement with them, it’s not uncommon for them to change their minds.
  • Collectors can be tricky and get you to say things, or agree to things, that you don’t understand. Getting everything in writing gives you time to research and respond in the best way possible.

So, if a debt collector calls, explain that you want them to cease contact through the phone and request that all future communications be made in writing. You can even record the phone conversation to serve as proof if they ignore your request to communicate in writing.

Is it legal to record my conversations with debt collectors?

According to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), only one party needs to give consent to record a phone call. This means that, under federal law, you do not need to inform the debt collector that you are recording the phone call. Only your permission is required.

That being said, there are some states that prohibit recording calls unless the consent of both parties is granted. The following states require that you inform a debt collector if you plan to record your phone conversation with them:

So, even if you can’t record your conversations with debt collectors without their permission in this states, it’s a good idea to ask for their consent and try your best to record everything if possible.

The graphic below further illustrate which states require all parties to consent to phone recording:

Phone Call Recording Consent Laws by State

Record telephone calls with debt collectors to protect yourself

Recorded telephone calls have been the basis for many FDCPA debt collector lawsuits. So, if you’re thinking about recording your telephone conversations with a debt collector, we’re here to tell you that it’s a good idea.

Just make sure that you abide by your state's laws. As listed above, some states require both parties to give permission if a recording is going to take place. In the other states, you can begin recording as soon as you please.

Here’s how to record your phone calls with a debt collector.

  • If you have an iPhone, put your phone on speaker and open the Voice Memos app to record.
  • Invest in an inexpensive tape recorder. You can find them for less than $25 on Amazon.
  • Put the call on speaker phone and have someone else use their phone to record it.

If a debt collector has used unfair collection practices when contacting you, recording your conversation with them can serve as proof. If the debt collector knows they are being recorded, they might even refrain from abusive or unethical collection tactics. For this reason, it’s always a good idea to record your debt collection conversations as long as you abide by the law.

Use these tips for communicating with a debt collector in writing or by telephone

The number one thing to remember is never to admit guilt to the debt. If you do so, then you will be required to pay the debt in full. Even if you go to court, you may not be able to obtain a settlement.

If the debt is not yours, or you have already paid it, you can explain this in either writing or on the phone. You can also legally notify the debt collector in writing to stop communicating with you. This can be done by sending a cease and desist letter.

If the debt collector is calling you at an inconvenient time or place, then you also have the right to ask them to call you at a more appropriate time. Legally, they must comply. If you have requested such things from the collector and they have not complied, you may be able to file a countersuit.

It must be disclosed that this communication is from a debt collector

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), §807(11) states:

“The failure to disclose in the initial written communication with the consumer and, in addition, if the initial communication with the consumer is oral, in that initial oral communication, that the debt collector is attempting to collect a debt and that any information obtained will be used for that purpose, and the failure to disclose in subsequent communications that the communication is from a debt collector, except that this paragraph shall not apply to a formal pleading made in connection with a legal action.”

This means that when a debt collector contacts you for the first time, whether it is over the telephone or in writing, they must inform you that they are a debt collector attempting to collect a debt—thus the famous phrase, “This communication is from a debt collector.”

If the debt collector fails to tell you who they are and what their purpose is, they have violated the FDCPA, and you may be entitled to compensation of up to $1,000 per violation.

Respond to debt collectors the smart way

When a debt collector first contacts you, try responding with a Debt Validation Letter. This forces the debt collector to validate the debt before they can keep contacting you about it. If they don’t have all the documentation and evidence needed to validate the debt, they will probably stop calling.

If you have been sued by a debt collector, the first step to beating them in court is to file a written Answer to the lawsuit. In your Answer, you should respond to all the claims against you by admitting or denying them (denying is usually best). You should also assert your affirmative defenses. Finally, file the Answer in court before the deadline in your state and send a copy to the collector’s attorney.

SoloSuit can help you draft and file your Answer in just 15 minutes.

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Ignoring a debt collector has consequences

If you choose to not respond whether via written correspondence or on the phone, your debt will still go to collections. This will lead to added fees, and finance charges. Other consequences include:

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  • Wage garnishment
  • Bank account seizure

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