The natural response to a phone call from a debt collector is to ignore it. After all, that's what voice mail is for, right?
In my opinion, it's better to answer the phone. Here's why:
1. You need to know who is calling and how the call was placed.
Many debt collectors use automated phone dialing systems. These systems dial several numbers at once and connect the collector when a person answers. There's usually a significant pause between picking up the phone and the collector getting on the line. Letting the call go to voicemail does not give you this bit of information.
Additionally, given that so many debts are collected and purchased by third parties, it is useful to know who is calling to collect on which debt. In some situations, simply calling you is a violation of the law. If you've received a discharge in bankruptcy, but are still receiving collection calls, you want to know who is calling you. Not finding out is like throwing away money.
2. Talking to debt collectors can uncover violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
A phone call with a debt collector is almost never pleasant. However, that phone call may give you the right to sue the debt collector. In a perfect world, all debt collectors would follow the law. In reality, this is not the case. Many debt collectors do follow the law, but it is often easier to collect debts while not following the law. Debt collectors cannot insult you, swear at you, threaten you with arrest, just to name a few types of prohibited conduct.
If you never take the phone call, then you'll never know if the person calling was a law-abiding individual or someone fully prepared to break the law to collect a debt.
3. If you don't take the call, you may never learn what debt is being collected.
Debt collectors will continue to attempt to collect a debt for years. In some cases, the debt itself may be too old for the debt collector to file a collection lawsuit. This won't stop the collector from trying to collect the debt. Attempting to collect an old debt that cannot be sued upon may violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
If you don't answer the phone, then you won't know whether such a potential violation exists.
Quite simply, speaking to debt collectors can give rise to violations of the law that give you the ability to fight back. When speaking to a debt collector, remember one very important rule: never state that you owe the money and never say that you will make a payment.
Additionally, if you are dealing with a debt that has been sold to a third party or has been assigned to a debt collector, then you'll want to request that they verify the identity of the original creditor and the debt itself. Telling a debt collector that you dispute the validity of the debt triggers an obligation to provide verification of that debt. Failure to do so violates the law. You do not have to submit the dispute and verification request in writing.
Long story short, while debt collection phone calls are a nuisance, you can better protect your rights by answering the call instead of letting it go to voicemail.