My Experience with a Debt Collector

I’ve never had to deal with a debt collector before. This is because I generally pay my bills well in advance or at least exactly on time.  I use Bank of America’s online bill pay system to make sure everything goes off without a hitch.

Say what you will about BoA, I have had EXCELLENT experience with their billpay customer service people. They follow up on payment inquiries quickly and have always gotten my issues resolved very quickly. By the way, none of the (very few) issues I’ve had have been with the BoA system, but rather with the USPS or with the filing systems at various offices who receive my payments.

Anywhoodles, I moved out of my last apartment and there were some damages that were assessed.  I did not challenge the assessment for a number of reasons and simply paid the amount of $250 as soon as the bill came to me in the mail. Now, two months after paying the bill, I received a letter from a collections agency saying I needed to pay the bill immediately.

I checked the BoA system and it said that the sum was paid on 10/1 and they verified that the check had, in fact, been cashed.  I wanted to call my old apartment complex, but they weren’t open yet, so I called the collector. That’s when the real fun started.

I introduced myself and waited for her to pull up my file. I was prepared to explain my situation, but she launched into a lengthy lecture about the terms of my lease with my old apartment complex — as if I were disputing whether or not I owed money even though I had yet to state why I was calling.  I interrupted her when she stopped to take a breath and explained that I was aware of all that and really I was just calling because I paid and I wanted to know how to get the issue resolved.

So, she explained that I needed to fax to them proof of payment. I said that I could have my bank do that right away.

So, then I asked, “Once I get this done, will this affect my credit?” See, I was (and remain) concerned that merely having the bill sent to collections even in error might result in some lengthy, irritating, and possibly litigious situation trying to get my credit score ironed out.

“It could.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“Well, just because you called me and said you paid does not immediately close the account.”

“That’s not what I’m asking. I’m going to have proof sent over to you that shows I paid. I want to know if it will affect my credit after all that.”

“I’m saying that it could. Just because you called does not put your credit into any kind of protected status. Once we receive proof, there’s a validation process.”

“Right. I’m assuming that your validation process will reveal what I know to be true. I paid this bill. My question is whether my credit will be affected simply because I had to go through all this with you.”

Her tone was patronizing from the start and now it’s becoming hostile. “Your credit is not in a protected status simply because you called me.”

“You’re not answering my question or being very helpful at all. I think I know what you need at this point and I will assume for the moment that the answer to my question is what I want it to be. I will reach out to you again later to follow up on this.”

So, anyway, I had BofA send over proof of payment. I waited several hours and I gave the debt collector lady a call back, but she did not answer the phone. I left a message asking her to call me back and tell me what the next steps are.  She didn’t call back.

But I was able to reach my old apartment complex and they said they would look into it on their side as well. Sadly, they did not call me back, either.

I realize that I am but a fleck of dust in this cosmic ocean of particulates that are these companies’ business lives, but their actions are having a direct impact on me in a way that really scares and angers me. (I am very proud of my >800 credit score.) So, I will be the fleck of dust that lands right in their eyeball if I have to!

This morning, I called the debt collector lady back and she was immediately hostile. Again, she did not let me state the purpose of my call before launching into a lecture. I would like to assume the best of her and think that her hostility and frustration is the result of having to deal mostly with people who don’t pay their bills, who don’t want to talk to her, who don’t fully grasp the facts of their situation, who don’t abide by rules of professional conduct. But I really think that she finds herself frustrated by being forced to deal with someone who is at least as tenacious as she usually has to be and who is fueled by the righteous fire of a guilt-free conscience and the knowledge that he can afford a lawyer to get this resolved in a way that will be very satisfying in how painful it is for the other parties. I also suspect that she has her job because she is more willing to be rude than she is able to think critically.

“I remember you. Look, if you sent over proof, it has to go through the system. I won’t have it for several days.”

“Oh. OK. Well, will you call me and let me know that this is resolved, then?”

“No. I don’t call people when things are resolved. That’s not what I do unless I get an email from client services telling me to call.”

“But how will I know that this is closed out with you?”

“Well, if you paid it and your old apartment complex is satisfied that you’ve paid, then they will tell us and we will close it out.”

“Will I be notified when you’ve done that?”

“Let me put it this way: When this is resolved and client services closes it out and sends me an email, I will call you.”

“Ok. So, you will call me?”

“If I get an email from client services.”

“Ok. How do I make sure that client services sends you an email?”

She is completely exasperated at this point. ”You don’t. We are not legally obliged to do anything for you. ”

“Well, how will I know when this is done and closed and everything?”

This went on for a few more rounds. She insisted that she would not call me and no one would notify me that this was resolved unless she got an email from client services and there is no way for me to make sure client services sent that email. Finally, I asked for her manager’s number. She wouldn’t give it to me, but she did transfer me to his voicemail and assured me that he would not call me back.

I left him a voicemail asking him to call me back and explain the resolution process to me. I hope those poor souls don’t think that I will stop calling them every single day until I have answers to my questions, but they probably don’t know who or what I am.

I called my old apartment complex and they are aware of my issue. They said they would look into it but they had not had a chance yet. I offered to have proof of payment sent to them, too, but they said I should just wait for them to review everything and then they’d get back to me.

My worry is that these people are sitting around meandering their way through the day and the fact that this has been sent to collections is going to get reported to the credit agencies and once that happens making sure this doesn’t affect my credit score is going to become a real pain in the ass.

I called the debt collection company back and tried to speak to someone else, someone in client services. They wouldn’t transfer me. The operator, though, said that I just need to call back to get the verification I need.

Fortunately, one of the credit card companies that I’ve paid a fortune in interest to over the years — but never late! — gives me free credit monitoring.  So, I will keep an eye on that. But I really hope these people get this worked out before anything happens.

2 Comments

  1. Kelly Valenzuela December 4, 2012 10:35 am

    Maybe someone that’s more knowledgeable of the business can chime in, but I think these bill collectors are paid on commission, so it’s in their best interest to get someone to pay. Since you’d already paid, she has no incentive to help you. I think you should stay in contact with the manager of your former complex until it’s resolved. They don’t want bad referrals, and it sounds like you were a good tenant, so you’ll probably get farther with them, and with less stress on yourself! You have my sympathy! How annoying! =/

  2. Ken December 4, 2012 11:34 am

    Not being as assiduous as you in paying my bills and having taken risks in the past which have not always panned out, I’ve dealt with more than a few collectors. They are hostile because most of their customers are hostile and their employers look for those who can be as hostile as possible on the phone. I also worked next to collectors for a major credit card firm and I heard many of their conversation. There are some nutty people out there.

    But here’s what you don’t know. They have very little power unless it’s an actual credit or bank account. Having a charge to you from your previous landlord will not affect your credit score because it’s not a credit account. The only way it will get on your credit is if it goes to court and you lose the judgment, both very unlikely to happen. If you do lose a judgment, then that shows up as a judgment and I’m not sure how that affects score, but it has to be paid or you’ll find it very hard to get credit anywhere. Even “late” in credit card parlance is 30 or more days overdue.

    The collector was doing anything she could not to tell you that your credit has nothing to do with this process. They think you owe money, so you should just prove that you don’t and move on. She’s a bitch because that’s her job.

    By the way, if it’s their fault, you are perfectly within your rights to sue them in small claims for loss of time and any money spent fighting their mistake. You can always ask the bill collector for documentation and contact information just in case, you know you decide to pursue a claim against them.

    Really, you shouldn’t worry about it other than to make sure you don’t get a notice of claim demanding you show up in court. Then you best do so. But, for $250, no one goes to court.

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