In part one of "Games Debtors Play," I discussed some so-called gentle games and then began describing ways of handling more serious games. Unfortunately, debtors can be so creative in avoiding responsibility for paying in full and on time, that it's necessary to continue, on this document, with more of these creative games and how best to avoid getting manipulated by them.
1. Debtor sends a check but doesn't sign it. This could be an innocent oversight, but, even so, call the debtor, tell them you will be returning the check for signature, and will you please take care of that right away. You can even enclose a self-addressed and stamped envelope to help the debtor keep their commitment.
2. "I'm divorced. Call my spouse." Both spouses are responsible if the debt was incurred before the divorce. In that case, tell the divorcee that you will bill the spouse, as a courtesy, but if it's not paid in 10 days, we will look to you for payment.
3. "My attorney is handling this." You respond by asking debtor to have the attorney contact you within 24 hours. If no response, send attorney a certified letter that states, "Unless we hear from you within 48 hours, we will assume that you are no longer the attorney of record." That usually gets a response.
4. "I'm bankrupt." Ask, "When did that happen? Please send me a copy of the bankruptcy notice." If your debt was incurred prior to bankruptcy, you may be out of luck in collecting, and you may not pursue the debt further. If the bankruptcy is Chapter 7, a Liquidation Bankruptcy, you cannot do anything to pursue collection. If it's Chapter 13, the "Wage Earner's Plan," fill out the form you'll receive, and you'll probably receive something, usually within three to five years.
5. "Your product (or service) is no good." Respond by stating that you stand 100% behind your products. Ask debtor to return that product, you'll send another one, and the balance of $200 is due now. But, what do you do if the customer claims that they don't want the product, it isn't what they expected, it's too expensive, they've changed their mind, the product has since gone on sale, or whatever? Your policy should include a willingness to accommodate a reasonable customer request, but state that products kept or services received must be paid for.
6. "I'm not paying, period." Great. Now you don't have to waste time. You can use a third party collection source right away, but it can't hurt to first ask debtor what is the reason for saying that. Maybe you can come to some agreement.
7. "I need an extension on this." Ask, "How much time do you need to clear this in full?" Also, "What is your financial situation?" Then you negotiate, but you decide if you're willing to accept the maximum the debtor agrees to or if it's out to collection it goes.
8. "My husband handles all the bills." You say, "Well, I'm sure he doesn't want to be called at work, so why don't you have him call me today at this number." You don't volunteer to call him, at first. And, if husband doesn't call in a day or two, then you call him at work. But, if hubby or a supervisor tells you not to ever call him again at work, you cannot. In that case, you let the wife know that she needs to arrange payment or it's out of your hands.
9. I can't pay it all now." Now you negotiate. Propose half now with the balance due in a week or two, paid with a post dated check, sent along with the original check.
10. "We'll pay you when our customers pay us." You say, "I wish we could do that, but we can't." Then recommend places where people can get money - bank loans, relatives, line of credit, home equity line. If they have access to one or more of these sources and refuse to use them, you are getting evidence, sooner rather than later, that you may have to turn the account into collection.
11. "As long as I pay you a dollar a month, you have to accept it." Wrong. That's a throwback to the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act of World War Two, and it did apply to service persons in uniform. That law is long since off the books, but some old timers fantasize that it may still apply.
12. "As long as I make regular payments, you have to accept them." Wrong, again. The unpaid balance is always due, and you are entitled to pursue the full balance or turn it over to collection.
13. "Why are your prices so high?" You can acknowledge that prices often do go up. Say, "You're right. They do seem high. It's amazing how high things are these days. I remember when milk was $.50 a half gallon and gas was $.75 a gallon. However, you do owe $500 on this account, and we can accept cash, check, or charge card. Which would you prefer to clear the balance in full?"
14. A small payment is offered and that's the most you can get. You can ask them to come to the office and fill out a statement of income and expenses, with as much evidence as they can bring. If they will do that, it's a sign of responsibility, and you may want to accommodate them on a payment plan. If they refuse, you may decide to let the collection agency spend their time to deal with the debtor.
15. "How can you ask an old lady like me to pay?" Your debtor's heart won't break if you tell her, "I'm truly sorry if this is causing you distress, and I wish I didn't have to call you, but you have ignored several statements, and you do need to take care of this now."
16. "No speak English!" If no one does speak English, you might be able to guess the language - Spanish and Chinese languages are fairly recognizable - you could send a message in the mail in that language. For a large enough bill, you may be able to get someone who speaks that language to call the debtor. One technique used by some collectors is to say the word "COLLECTION" distinctly into the phone. They say that often smokes out someone faking the inability to speak English.
17. Accusations - "You're harassing me, you're dunning me, you're a money grubber, you can't get blood out of a turnip, etc." Simply deny the allegation. "I'm not harassing you and you are not a turnip. You're a human being, and we need to discuss how you plan to take care of this bill in full."
This brings me to the end of Games Debtors Play. There are others, and this gives you a good general approach for finessing typical excuses, stalls, and evasions. For any of my comments that were legalistic in character, since I am not an attorney, please check with your attorney to be sure you are operating within the law in your state.