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If you’ve already received calls demanding payment for owed debt, there are ways to handle the situation without hiding or disconnecting your phone. In fact, it can be helpful to actually communicate with your debt collectors, forcing them to identify themselves and provide full disclosure of the circumstances surrounding your debt. Establishing communication with your debt collector can also help you protect against abusive debt practices.

Create a plan
Before you borrow any amount of money, you should create a quick budget. If you’re investing in a more expensive financial choice like buying a house or car, you should make an extremely detailed budget, so that you are fully aware of what you can afford. Your lenders may try to convince you that you can afford a larger loan amount, but if you have a written, detailed budget you can help stay within your financial means.

Do your research
If you have fallen behind on your debt payments, you should look up the Fair Debt Collections Act and the statute of limitations on revolving debt in your state. The Fair Debt Collection Act contains 15 laws to protect against unfair debt collection practices, specifically detailing what kind of behavior is considered unacceptable. You can also request a debt verification letter, which requests that your collection company verify that it legally owns your debt obligation.

Avoid conceding what you owe
Your creditor will try to get you to agree to a repayment plan. Before accepting a payment plan, be careful about saying yes when they ask you questions about your debt, as they may be trying to reopen debt past the statute of limitations. They may also try to upset you so that you say something on tape that can be used against you in future court proceedings.

Your first words to an unfamiliar debt collector should be asking for a debt verification letter.