Financial Tip: Answer the Phone So a Debt Collector Can Help

The Switchboard
Professional debt collectors share insights about accessing hardship programs aimed at assisting consumers through challenging times like COVID-19.

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Kim Coghill

Kim Coghill

VP Communications, ACA International

There’s no question that the COVID-19 crisis has taken a lot from us, but it has given us a lot as well. Think about—more time with family, less time sitting in traffic – and more time to address financial matters.

Various sources around the debt collection industry report that inbound calls have been on rise since the crisis bubbled up in March, meaning perhaps consumers are spending free time addressing their finances. Given some of the negative and inaccurate news surrounding our industry, ACA staff thought it would be a great time to remind consumers, the media and others about the ways our industry helps consumers resolve financial issues, particularly during difficult economic times such as those many of us are facing due to COVID-19.

Financial Tip: Debt Collectors Can Help

Consumers who can’t quite make ends meet are urged to contact their creditors or debt collection professionals. If a debt collector has called you, answer the phone or return the call because we can help. Debt collectors have access to hardship programs designed to help you through your crisis. To learn more, take about 20 minutes to listen to this informative episode of ACA’s podcast titled, “ACA Cast: Answer the Phone so a Debt Collector Can Help,” featuring industry professionals Scott Hearn, president of Universal Fidelity in Katy, Texas, and Kenlyn Gretz, CEO of Americollect in Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

Before you read further, please note that the content provided in this podcast is presented for educational and general reference purposes only, and is not intended to serve as legal advice. Third party content is not endorsed by ACA nor does it necessarily reflect the opinions of ACA International.

Hardship Programs

During this podcast, Hearn and Gretz answer questions like: “How do you determine whether a consumer qualifies for a hardship program?

Gretz’s response:

We would have no way of knowing if they qualify for a hardship program if the consumer doesn’t pick up the phone, give us a call based on the statement that we have sent them, or return our phone call, or just generally answer the phone call.

So, the idea that consumers should avoid collectors is probably a bad idea in general. There’s fear…but the fear that they are hearing is fear from the one-off case of some particular company, pretending to be a collection agency, abusing consumers. That’s not who ACA International is, and that’s not who their membership is. So, when we learn of their situation, when the patient tells us about their situation, and we look at it and say: “they might be eligible for our [hospitals or medical providers] charity and financial assistance programs.” We’ll look at the data service and we’ll look at the particular client – and ask if the patient qualifies? Are there other specific programs that the client might have? And then offer up direction on how that patient could dig deeper into finding out.

Here is Hearn’s response to the same question:

We try to give the consumer the benefit of the doubt. It’s very difficult to verify if someone is actually being truthful with you. So, you actually have to trust in what they’re saying. And we reflect back on previous conversations that we’ve had with a particular consumer or even their payment history that they’ve had with our company or the most recent payment they’ve made to our client, to kind of get an idea of the type of payer that they were before. And then we have to take that information and put it together to come up with the best decision.

But at the end of the day, it really comes down to giving the consumer the benefit of the doubt and trusting in what they’re telling you. I think that’s one of the ways that you can build a good relationship with the consumer, because throughout the process of the debt collector talking with the consumer regarding a delinquent balance, it’s a learning process on both sides of the telephone. You have the debt collector, who’s trying to really learn about the consumer and what it will take to resolve that balance. And then you have the actual consumer that’s on the phone with a debt collector, trying to find out what will they need to do to resolve the balance. Generally, I think people really have the desire to resolve the obligations they have. It’s just finding a suitable avenue to be able to do that.

“ACA Cast: Answer the Phone so a Debt Collector Can Help,” and other ACA Cast recordings are available on ACA’s website at www.acainternational.org/acacast.

You can also subscribe to ACA Cast on Apple podcast or wherever you download your podcasts. So you never miss a show until next time. Thank you for tuning in to this episode of ACA Cast.

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Disclaimer

Information contained in The Switchboard is not intended to be legal advice and may not be used as legal advice. Every effort has been made to ensure that this information is up-to-date at the time of publication. It is not intended to be a full and exhaustive explanation of the law, nor should it be used to replace the advice of your counsel. The views and/or opinions expressed in content provided by third-parties are solely those of the third-party and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ACA, and inclusion of such third party materials does not constitute an endorsement by ACA.