Older Americans are struggling, possibly more than ever.
In 2019, the Congressional Research Service completed a study that found that 61% of households led by an individual aged 65 or older are dealing with a median debt of $31,500. Given that the average social security benefit is roughly $1,500 monthly, there is quite a gap to overcome.
With finances so tight for older Americans on a fixed income, it is not uncommon for accounts to fall behind. This leads to debt collection trouble. From phone calls and collection letters to late fees and high interest charges, it can be a lot to deal with.
The team at National Legal Center advocates for older Americans and helps them overcome debt collection trouble.
If you are an older American dealing with debt collection trouble—or care for someone who is— a few action items can make a world of difference.
Acknowledge and Assess
First, get a complete understanding of the situation.
Obtain a free copy of your credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com. Usually, you can obtain one free copy per bureau per year. However, at the time of this writing, you can get free reports weekly due to the pandemic.
Once you have the report, compare the information on your credit report with what the debt collectors claim you owe. If anything does not match up, make a note of it so you can consider disputing the debt when you develop your action plan.
Know Your Rights
Second, know your rights.
It may be helpful to speak with a debt attorney or do some careful research to understand what a debt collector can or cannot do or say. Many consumer protection laws are meant to prevent a debt collector from doing and saying certain things. Many of these are provisions of the FDCPA (Fair Debt Collections Practices Act).
Just because it is a law, though, doesn’t mean they don’t step over the line from time to time. Knowing your rights will help you know when a collector is in violation, potentially allowing you to take action against them.
Know Your Risks
In addition to knowing what your rights are, it helps to know what risks you may be facing.
When the legal team at NLC speaks with older Americans about their debt, we spend a lot of time understanding their risk. This will help determine the most appropriate approach to dealing with debt.
An older American on a limited, fixed income who does not own property will likely have different risks than a homeowner working a part-time job.
These details, and many others, will determine what a creditor can and cannot do in their efforts to collect on a debt. By understanding your risks, you can then see if there are ways to minimize them proactively.
Develop a Plan
Lastly, make an action plan.
Once you understand the details of your situation and your rights and risks as a person with delinquent debt, you can make a plan of action to deal with the situation.
Your plan may simply be to make payment arrangements with the collectors. In other situations you may want to write letters to dispute the debt or inform them of your hardship and your inability to pay. If you aren’t sure, consider speaking with an attorney familiar with state and federal laws surrounding debt to help you develop your plan of action.
Stand Up To Debt
Whatever your action plan proves to be, ensure it is achievable and affordable. Affordability is especially important for older Americans who are dealing with debt on a fixed income. Follow these steps, and you’ll have the best chances of success. We wish you luck in standing up to debt!