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What Happens if You Ignore Debt Collectors?

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In a Nutshell

Unfortunately, ignoring debt collectors won't make them go away, and it usually makes the situation worse. Here are some of the biggest consequences of ignoring debt collectors: - Your credit score will fall, which makes it harder to get new credit and sometimes even employment or housing - Debt collectors may get more aggressive in trying to contact you or your friends or family (though they're limited in what they can say) - Your stress is likely to increase - Your debt may increase, too, with the addition of late fees and penalty interest rates - You can be sued Empower yourself with knowledge and by knowing your rights, so you can confidently speak with debt collectors and deal with your past-due debts.

Written by Attorney Paige Hooper
Updated August 17, 2023

What Are the Consequences of Ignoring Debt Collectors?

Having debt you can’t pay is stressful, but dodging collection calls won’t make the debt disappear. Rejecting your creditor’s 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.

Here are some of the major possible consequences of ignoring debt collectors:

  • It will hurt your credit score. 

  • Debt collectors may get more aggressive in trying to contact you or your friends or family. 

  • Your stress is likely to increase.

  • Your debt may increase, too, with the addition of late fees and penalty interest rates.

  • You can be sued.

Ignoring Debt Collectors Will Hurt Your Credit

If an account is charged-off and goes to collections, it will show as a negative entry on your credit report, which can lower your credit score. Missed payments leading up to the charge-off will also be recorded and hurt your score. Creditors and debt collectors report these actions to the credit bureaus that formulate your credit report.

Most negative marks stay on your credit for up to seven years. That means unpaid credit card debt, medical bills, and other consumer debts may continue to impact you long after active collection efforts die off. That said, the older the mark, the less impact it’ll have on your credit score.

Having bad credit can lead to:

  • Difficulty getting 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, such as car insurance

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

Ignoring Debt Collectors Can Lead To More Contact From Them

Debt collectors will use every available tool to get in touch with you. This usually starts with phone calls to your home or work and written notices. But if they aren’t able to reach you through these traditional channels, they may try to contact your friends, family members, or employer. It’s also legal for debt collectors to contact you on social media. 

If calls and threatening letters fail, collection efforts often get more aggressive. An original creditor may pass your debt to a collection agency or sell it to a debt buyer.

No matter who it’s coming from, this contact can feel relentless. That’s why it’s a good idea to pick up the phone and see if and how the creditor or collector is willing to work with you to deal with the unpaid debt.

That said, know your rights! Debt collectors can’t:

  • Discuss details of your debt with any third parties (unless it’s your lawyer)

  • Continue to call you at work if you’ve asked them not to

  • Continue to contact you in any other way if you’ve asked them not to

These (and many other) protections are outlined in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). If a debt collector violates this federal law, you can report them to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), or your state attorney general’s office. You can also use this as a defense in court if the debt collector later sues you.

Also, be careful what you say to a debt collector. If the debt is time-barred by the statute of limitations, or will be soon, making or offering to make a payment could restart the limitations period, giving lenders more time to sue you. In some states, just acknowledging that you owe a time-barred debt is enough to reset the time limit. 

Ignoring Debt Collector Calls Can Increase Your Stress and Your Debt

It’s easy to tell ourselves that if a debt collector contacts us, it’s not a big deal. But finances are one of the top sources of stress, and being constantly reminded that you owe a debt you’re having trouble paying can be incredibly stressful. 

In addition to increasing stress, the total amount of debt you owe may also increase. That’s because debts like credit card debt often come with penalty interest rates and late fees. This is added on top of the debt you owe.

Here’s a potential silver lining of choosing not to ignore that next debt collection call: Some debt collectors are willing to work with you to figure out repayment. We’ll talk more about this below.

Ignoring Debt Collectors Can Lead to a Debt Collection Lawsuit

Worst-case scenario: They can file a lawsuit against you. Debt buyers may also sue you. 

Once a creditor or debt collection agency files a lawsuit, it’s even riskier to continue ignoring it. If you don’t respond in time, the judge is likely to enter a default judgment against you. This means you lose the case and the creditor has access to collection measures like wage garnishment or a bank account levy. They may also be able to put a lien on your property.

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How Do You Deal With Debt Collectors When You Can’t Pay?

For many people who have been avoiding debt collectors, the best first step is simply to pick up the phone. Early on, it’s also a good idea to request a debt validation letter. If the debt collection agency can’t prove it owns the debt or can’t provide you with the legally required information about your debt, they are likely to back off on trying to collect it. A debt validation letter holds them to this and shows that you know your rights.

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 may remove some late charges. Others might work out a payment plan that lowers your payments or stretches them out over a longer period of 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. 

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. 

Here are some ways you can work to tackle your debt:

Finally, if your debt feels overwhelming, you’ve tried other debt-relief approaches, and you still can’t see a way out, it might be time to consider filing bankruptcy. Many lawyers offer limited legal advice during a free consultation.

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 won’t last forever.

Upsolve Helps People Struggling With Debt 

Upsolve is a nonprofit 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:

Attorney Paige Hooper


Paige Hooper is a seasoned consumer bankruptcy attorney with 15 years of experience successfully representing debtors in Chapter 7, Chapter 11 and Chapter 13 cases. Paige began practicing bankruptcy law in 2006 and started her own solo, multi-state bankruptcy practice in 2012. Gi... read more about Attorney Paige Hooper

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