Help! A company just sold my debt to someone else. What happens next?


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If you find yourself struggling with debt, it’s important to understand what may happen to your debt so you can better work through the situation. Along the way, you may come across either a debt buyer or a debt collector. Both of these services are used by lenders, like banks, to move debts off of their liability balance sheets.

While these two services may sound similar, a debt buyer vs. collector performs different tasks. Debt buyers purchase past-due accounts from lenders, whereas debt collectors work on behalf of whoever owns the debt in an attempt to get the borrower to pay.

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When and Why Do Companies Sell Your Debt?

A borrower will likely only ever deal with the company they’re borrowing from — so long as they make payments on their debt regularly and on time. However, if the borrower does not make timely payments, the debt may get sold to a third party, known as a debt buyer.

The lender will sell the debt in an effort to lower their liability. There’s no real timetable for when debt may be sold or go into collections — it can depend on the state you live in, the lender’s policies, and the type of debt it is. Debt collectors can then attempt to collect the debt from the debtor.

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What Is a Debt Buyer?

Technically a type of debt collector, a debt buyer is a company that purchases past-due accounts from a business, such as a bank. They typically purchase the debt for a small percentage of what’s actually due to the original lender. The amount a debt buyer pays for debt can vary, but it’s often just cents on the dollar.

For example, a debt buyer may only pay $100 for a $1,000 debt from the original lender. This means that if the new debt buyer actually collects the debt they purchased, they will make a $900 profit. Debt buyers can typically purchase older debt for even lower amounts because it’s less likely to actually get collected.

Debt buyers don’t typically do this as a one-off purchase. Instead, they’re usually in the business of purchasing many delinquent debts at once to increase their odds of turning a profit. This strategy has the potential to be quite lucrative. If, for example, a debt buyer purchases 10 different $1,000 debts at $100 apiece, the buyer needs just one person to pay their debt to break even, and just two out of the 10 people to pay their debts to turn a profit.

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What Is a Debt Collector?

Debt collectors are third-party companies that collect debts on behalf of other companies. They can attempt to collect debts on behalf of the original lenders, or they can attempt to collect debts for debt buyers.

Debt buying companies may also function as debt collection agencies to collect the debts they’ve purchased. But a debt-buying company can also assign debts to another third-party debt collecting company, paying it a portion of the profit they make when the debt is paid.

To get the debt paid, debt collectors will typically attempt to contact the original debtor through letters and phone calls, letting them know what’s owed and attempting to convince them to pay the debt. Collectors will often use the internet to find a person or even go as far as hiring a private investigator. Debt collectors also can look into a person’s other financial information, such as their bank or brokerage accounts, to assess if they’re theoretically able to repay their debts.

However, a debt collector typically cannot seize paychecks. The only way a collector may be able to seize a paycheck or garnish wages is if there is a court order, known as a judgment, requiring the debtor to pay. For this to happen, the debt collector must first take the debtor to court within the debt’s statute of limitations and win the judgment. Still, there could be other negative consequences, such as collectors reporting a debtor to credit agencies, which could affect their credit score for some time to come.

Debt collectors often get a bad reputation for using aggressive tactics. The federal government introduced the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to protect people from predatory practices. The law dictates certain reasonable limitations under which a debt collector can contact the debtor. If the collection company violates the law, the debtor could bring a lawsuit against it for damages.

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How to Avoid Collections and Pay Off Debt

Paying off all debt on time is the best way to avoid encountering either a debt buyer or a debt collector. But if you’ve found yourself in debt, don’t despair. Rather, take a bit of time to plot out the best method of repayment for your financial situation, which could entail getting into the nitty gritty of your spending or crunching the numbers with a personal loan calculator.

Here are some of the different strategies to pay off debt you might consider:

  • Creating a monthly budget: This can help to track spending and identify potential areas to cut back in order to pay off debts faster. After sitting down and looking through your monthly expenditures, you might be surprised how much fat there is to trim. Then, put all of that extra cash toward paying down your debts.
  • Using the snowball or avalanche method: The snowball method focuses on paying off your debts in order of smallest to largest balances, while continuing to pay the minimum due on each debt. With the avalanche method, you’d target the debt with the highest interest rate first while continuing to make minimum payments on other debt balances. In both methods, after the first debt is paid off, the amount that was going toward that debt is put toward the second debt on the list, and so on, thus helping to pay down each consecutive balance as fast as possible.
  • Consolidating your debts: Another option to try is consolidating debts with a debt consolidation loan, which is one of the types of personal loan. Typically, a debt consolidation loan offers lower interest rates than credit card interest rates, which can make those debts more affordable and easier to pay off. This is why debt consolidation is among the common uses for personal loans. Plus, with a debt consolidation loan, you’ll just have one monthly payment to stay on top of.

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The Takeaway

A debt buyer vs. collector plays a different role when it comes to debt, but they are both parties you might encounter if you’re way past due on payments. Debt buyers purchase debt from lenders, often for pennies on the dollar. Meanwhile, debt collectors can take a number of steps in an effort to collect owed debt on a company’s behalf, including reporting that debt to the credit bureaus.

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