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What Happens if You Ignore Debt Collectors?

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In a Nutshell

Most of us don’t like talking to debt collectors. Anxiety over past-due bills runs high enough. No one wants the added pressure of collection calls and threatening letters. To make matters worse, many people who have collection accounts feel powerless. When there isn’t enough money to go around, it may seem pointless to pick up the phone and talk to a collection agency. Even talking with an original creditor can be tough once your account moves into collection status. Fortunately, you have options for taking charge of your debt and rebuilding financial security. Upsolve is here to help you find the information you need to make the right decision for you and your family.

Written by the Upsolve TeamLegally reviewed by Attorney Andrea Wimmer
Updated December 11, 2021

Most of us don’t like talking to debt collectors. Anxiety over past-due bills runs high enough. No one wants the added pressure of collection calls and threatening letters. To make matters worse, many people who have collection accounts feel powerless. When there isn’t enough money to go around, it may seem pointless to pick up the phone and talk to a collection agency. Even talking with an original creditor can be tough once your account moves into collection status.

The bad news is that dodging collection calls generally doesn’t work. You may be able to ignore the problem for a time, but it won’t go away on its own. Piling up collection notices unopened and rejecting calls can make a bad situation much worse. And, it can rob you of the chance to resolve debt and leave your financial stress behind.

Fortunately, you have options for taking charge of your debt and rebuilding financial security. Upsolve is here to help you find the information you need to make the right decision for you and your family.

Consequences of Ignoring Debt Collectors

Collection Activity

For many people who have been avoiding debt collectors, the best first step is simply to pick up the phone. Some creditors and debt collectors will work with you if you talk to them about your circumstances. For instance, some might let you move a payment or two to the back end of the loan, so you have a month or two without a payment. Some will take off some late charges to help you bring your account current. Others will work out a payment plan that lowers your payments or stretches them out over time. 

Of course, not all collectors will be flexible. You may try to work something out with your creditors and fail. But, you can be pretty sure that creditors and debt collectors aren’t going to cut you a break when you ignore them. Instead, your debt is likely to move through the collections process. That usually means increasing attempts to collect the debt. This may begin with notices in the mail or in some digital format, followed by debt collection calls. Some creditors and debt collectors will call repeatedly if you don’t pick up the phone. 

If calls and threatening letters fail, collection efforts often get more aggressive. An original creditor may pass your debt to a collection agency, sell it to a debt buyer, or file a lawsuit against you. Debt buyers may also sue you. Once a creditor files a lawsuit, ignoring the collection action is even riskier. If you don’t respond in time, a default judgment will likely be entered against you. Depending on your contract with the original creditor, you may also be responsible for collection costs and the creditor’s attorney fees. These add-ons can increase the total amount you owe by quite a bit, making it even harder to resolve the debt. 

What Happens When a Judgment Is Entered?

If a creditor gets a judgment against you, the creditor has more options for collecting. Post-judgment collection is the same whether you went to court and the creditor won a judgment or you didn’t show up and the creditor got a default judgment. The process works a little differently from state to state. Usually, if the debtor continues to ignore collection activity after a judgment is entered, one of two things happens. If the creditor has enough information, it may ask the court for a wage garnishment order or an order attaching your bank account. The amount of a wage garnishment depends on your income and where you live and work. In some cases, the creditor may be able to take up to 25% of your income to pay off the judgment.

If the creditor needs more information to move forward, the debtor is typically ordered to appear in court to answer questions about their income and assets. An order to appear has the force of law. Debtors who fail to appear for these hearings are sometimes arrested

It’s also important to note that some creditors can garnish wages and seize certain assets without filing a lawsuit and getting a judgment. One of the most common examples is collection of federally guaranteed student loans. The government can garnish wages, attach bank accounts, and seize tax refunds to collect on student loans in default, even without going to court. 

The FDCPA Limits Debt Collectors

The debt collection process described above may make it seem that debt collectors hold all the cards. Many people struggling with debt already feel that way. Fortunately, it’s not always true. Many state and federal laws protect people with debt in collections. One of the most powerful is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). 

This federal law creates a debt validation process to protect consumers. The statute also limits the tactics debt collectors can use. Some of the most commonly-violated provisions include: 

  • A ban on repeatedly calling a consumer to harass them

  • Limits on calling a consumer at work or contacting friends and family

  • Rules against misleading the consumer about a debt being outside the statute of limitations

  • A ban on obscene language

  • A prohibition on falsely making documents look like they came from an official source

  • A requirement that collection efforts stop while a timely dispute is investigated

Ignoring debt collectors may also mean ignoring violations of the FDCPA and other consumer protection laws. In some cases, those violations could put money in your pocket. In others, they could provide a powerful tool for negotiating with your creditor. So, in some cases, ignoring debt collectors means lost opportunity. 

Collection Accounts and Credit Reports

You probably know that your credit report and credit scores matter. Black marks on your credit report or a low credit score can mean:

  • Loss of access to new credit

  • Reduction in existing credit limits

  • Higher interest rates and fees on new credit

  • Difficulty renting an apartment

  • Higher rates on some non-credit items, like car insurance

Depending on the state and your industry, a bad credit history can even limit job opportunities.

If you’re like most people who are struggling financially, you just want to make the debt collector stop contacting you. But, it’s important to know that even if the phone calls stop, old debt doesn’t just vanish. Most unpaid debt remains on your credit report for seven years after it first goes past due. That means unpaid credit card debt, medical debt, and other consumer debts may continue to haunt you long after active collection efforts die off. Those old debts can keep you trapped by creating financial obstacles and making debt more expensive.

People who are ignoring debt collectors usually don’t monitor their credit reports. That’s bad, because credit reporting isn’t always accurate. If you’re not keeping an eye on your credit history, there’s a good chance that one or more of the three major credit bureaus has something wrong. One study conducted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) showed that about one in five consumers has errors on at least one of their credit reports. If you haven’t looked at your credit report, you may be denied credit or pay higher rates because of an error you don’t even know about.

Another federal consumer protection statute, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) gives consumers a way to challenge inaccurate information on their credit reports. The law even allows for damages if the credit reporting agency doesn’t properly investigate or creditors and debt collection agencies keep making inaccurate reports. Like FDCPA claims, FCRA claims can create bargaining power to help you resolve your debt. You’re entitled to a free credit report from each one of the three consumer credit reporting bureaus; make sure to take advantage of this to monitor the information contained in your credit reports.

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Take Action to Resolve Debt

The bottom line is that waiting and hoping doesn’t usually work when it comes to financial problems. The right solution for you depends on many different factors, including your income, the type of debt you have, how much you owe, and what property you own. You may want to negotiate with creditors, talk to a non-profit credit counselor to see if a debt management plan might be right for you, or consider a debt consolidation loan. You may want to seek legal advice to help decide which debt relief option might be best for you. Or, you may want to learn more about bankruptcy.

The important thing is that you don’t just turn off the ringer on your phone and hope that past-due debt goes away. Do your homework, get the assistance you need, and move forward. The process can be stressful, but it’s short-term. Living under a cloud of unpaid bills and financial stress long-term can hurt you in many ways. Financial stress can affect sleep, physical health, job performance, family relationships, and more. 

Upsolve Helps People Struggling with Debt 

Upsolve is a non-profit organization created to help people get out of debt. We provide free tools for many people who want to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy without an attorney. For those who don’t qualify for our free service or who are interested in exploring other options, we offer extensive information about debt resolution options. We can even connect you with a local bankruptcy attorney

Written By:

The Upsolve Team

Upsolve is fortunate to have a remarkable team of bankruptcy attorneys, as well as finance and consumer rights professionals, as contributing writers to help us keep our content up to date, informative, and helpful to everyone.

Attorney Andrea Wimmer


Andrea practiced exclusively as a bankruptcy attorney in consumer Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 cases for more than 10 years before joining Upsolve, first as a contributing writer and editor and ultimately joining the team as Managing Editor. While in private practice, Andrea handled... read more about Attorney Andrea Wimmer

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    Upsolve is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that started in 2016. Our mission is to help low-income families who cannot afford lawyers file bankruptcy for free, using an online web app. Spun out of Harvard Law School, our team includes lawyers, engineers, and judges. We have world-class funders that include the U.S. government, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and leading foundations. It's one of the greatest civil rights injustices of our time that low-income families can’t access their basic rights when they can’t afford to pay for help. Combining direct services and advocacy, we’re fighting this injustice.

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