Judgments are much more powerful than debts. A judgment can be used to grab (levy) your bank account or part of your wages, and sometimes even cause a Sherriff to auction off your property, to satisfy the judgment. Judgments can be recovered without phone calls or letters to you. Debts cannot be used to levy your assets, unless and until you are sued, to turn that debt into a judgment.
Debts (not judgments) are primarily recovered by phoning and mailing you; and occasionally suing you. This article is my opinion, and not legal advice. I am a judgment broker, and am not a lawyer. If you ever need any legal advice or a strategy to use, please contact a lawyer.
Debts and judgments both expire, however the time limits are usually different, and judgments can usually be renewed. If your debt collector sues you to get a judgment, the judgment timetable starts fresh.
If the debt collection Statute Of Limitations (SOL) has run out, tell the debt collector that; and that should be the end of it. How long is the SOL for your state? A web search will provide that answer. The state average nationwide is close to 5 years. If the SOL has not run out, and you cannot pay back your debt in full, then you can attempt to negotiate to try to settle your debt.
There are laws that restrict what debt collectors can do, however when you owe money; you have to expect your creditors to attempt to recover their debts. Most collectors comply with all laws. However, some do not, so it is good to know your federal and state debt collection laws. A web search will show you the laws, however the basics on how to deal with debt collectors include:
1) Know your financial condition, and do not offer to settle for more than you can afford to pay. For many people, it is a question on which creditor to try to repay first. The creditors that are nice, or who have leverage (for example those planning to sue you to get a judgment or evict you) are more likely to get some payment, than rude collectors having no real leverage.
2) Explain your financial situation. If you cannot pay the debt collector back in full, explain why. Show them some evidence that you have had a financial hardship, and do not have the savings required to pay back the full amount. Do not waste time on trivia, your life story; or how wrong the debt was, unless there was really an error made that you can prove.
3) Know what your rights are. Such rights include that debt collectors cannot contact you before 9 AM and after 9 PM, or threaten you with jail time, or threaten to sue you unless they actually are prepared to sue you. If your rights are violated, inform the collector that you are aware of your rights, and that you will take necessary actions if required.
4) As much as possible, try to communicate in writing. Consider sending all letters using certified mail with return receipt request. If you have to use the telephone, take down the name of the person you have talked to, and the time of the call. It might later come in handy.
5) Do not pay anything without a written agreement in place. Anything not in writing can turn into a misunderstanding.
6) Unless there is a judgment against you, you do not have to give the debt collector any private information; for example where you work. (When someone has a judgment, they can schedule a judgment debtor exam and document requests to learn your finances and income sources.)
7) Be patient, most debt collectors will start by rejecting your first settlement offer. Over time, your first offer may become more attractive to them. Getting the best deal requires patience.