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Unfortunately, for many people, it is far too easy to fall into debt. It is a stressful time when you are struggling to pay your bills and are receiving calls and letters from debt collectors and collection agencies. A debt consolidation plan can certainly help.

There are three types of debt consolidation plans you can use to help with your debt so that you can pay off your creditors once and for all: debt management programs, debt consolidation loans and debt settlement plans. Using one of these options, you can get relief from debt due to student loans, credit cards and large purchases such as a vehicle or home.

The first step is to contact a nonprofit credit counseling agency. It should be a reputable company that is accredited by the Better Business Bureau. Once you are paired with a professional credit counselor who can help you, discuss your interest in a debt management program. While you are getting these services, however, you may still receive contact from debt collectors and collection agencies. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), part of the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA), clearly state what behavior is acceptable from debt collectors and what is not appropriate. It’s important to know your rights in this area.

You Don’t Have to Talk

You are under no obligation to talk with debt collectors when they call. If you want to put an end to the harassing calls, send them a cease and desist letter via certified mail stating that you no longer wish to be contacted. If the calls persist afterward, you can report them because it is a violation of the FDCPA. Keep all messages and documentation of contact and deliver them to an attorney.

You Can Negotiate

Negotiating with debt collectors is appropriate and legal. Either you or your lawyer can negotiate with them. Determine an amount you are able to pay and discuss with the collection agency if it is acceptable. It’s wise to wait until the end of the month to negotiate because debt collectors have deadlines and may be desperate enough at that point to accept the amount you propose. If the collection agency accepts your negotiation, always make sure to get it in writing so that you have documentation of it.

Statute of Limitations

There is a statute of limitations for creditors in most states to collect a debt until they are no longer able to obtain a court judgment against you. That time frame is typically six years. This doesn’t mean you no longer owe debt afterward, but collectors will not be able to do it with the court’s help.

Check for Fake Debt Collectors

Scammers are running rampant these days, so it’s absolutely essential to ensure that the debt collection calls you receive are from a legitimate collection agency. If you discover that you are receiving calls from a fake agency, get a name and contact information and contact the FTC immediately.

Big Early Payments Aren’t Required

If a debt collector tells you that you must make a big early payment, you should know that is false. There is also no deadline on paying. You pay your debt in your time.

Your Credit is Already Damaged

Debt collectors try to scare people. One way they do that is to issue warnings about your credit being damaged and that you may lose your possessions. The latter is untrue and your credit is already damaged when you are heavily in debt.

Don’t Give Personal Information

Always avoid giving personal information to collectors. This includes bank account numbers, social security numbers, your employer information and references. This can be considered phishing, which is illegal.

Collectors Can’t Cross State Lines

Debt collectors cannot cross state lines to enforce a judgment against you by creditors who sue for non-payment.

There are Garnishment Limits

Debt collectors cannot legally set limits on garnishment, such as from your salary or pension. The maximum that can be deducted from a paycheck is 25 percent. You can also file for complete exemption against garnishment if you can prove hardship.

There are Options for Student Loans

Thanks to the 1992 Higher Education Act, you can pay very little back toward student loans. This amount can be as low as only $10 per month.

Keeping all of these rules in mind will help when you are constantly being contacted by debt collectors. Knowing your rights is key to lessening your stress.