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Debt Collector Duties and Responsibilities

Detail-oriented and excellent record-keepers, debt collectors' core tasks include:

Communicate with Debtors Debt collectors' communicate with individuals, usually via telephone, to collect payment on delinquent accounts, either on behalf of the original creditor or a third-party debt collection agency. They frequently handle debtors avoiding their phone calls, trying to keep them from hanging up when they realize the call is an attempt to collect a debt. Additionally, some customers are hostile or rude when dealing with a collections agency.

Negotiate Payments and Settlements Debt collectors negotiate payments and settlements on behalf of their agency or company. Working with customers, they develop, recommend, and enact payment plans to eliminate the debt which are manageable for the customer, preventing the account from falling into delinquency again. Alternatively, debt collectors may negotiate for a settlement in which the customer pays a percentage of the debt to clear it from collections.

Maintain Collection Records Debt collectors keep records of all customer communications, including agreed-upon settlements and payment plans and amounts paid via telephone. Many collection agencies use software to manage customer records, maintaining oversight of debts and payments; debt collectors ensure that records are entered and maintained accurately throughout the debt collection process to avoid legal or financial complications.

Locate Debtors Many debt collectors utilize skip-tracing methods to locate debtors to begin the recovery process. This can involve accessing public databases, pulling up credit reports, and locating relatives and other individuals to update debtor information in adherence to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Debt collectors research and process high volumes of information to maintain up-to-date records of debtor addresses and phone numbers to support debt recovery efforts.

Post Customer Payments Debt collectors may post customer payments, either by check or credit card. They apply payments to customer accounts, providing reports to accounts payable or legal departments, ensuring that debtor accounts reflect the updated amounts and that payments are properly applied and recorded in internal systems.


Debt Collector Skills and Qualifications

Debt collectors locate and contact customers with overdue balances and negotiate payments to settle debts. Companies tend to hire debt collectors with a high school diploma or GED, some customer service or telemarketing experience, and the following skills:
  • Customer service - this is primarily a customer-facing role, so experience providing customer service or working in telemarketing is vital
  • Negotiation - debt collectors work with customers to resolve their debts, either through a payment plan or a lump-sum settlement amount
  • Persuasion skills - to convince debtors that they need to quickly resolve their outstanding debts and bring their accounts current
  • Patience and diligence -especially helpful when tracking down debtors and dealing with customers who avoid calls from debt collectors or quickly hang up
  • Problem-solving skills - to develop payment plans, manage customers whose debts are particularly difficult to resolve, and ensure that slow-moving accounts are paid off

Debt Collector Education and Training

Debt collectors typically need at least a high school diploma or GED. Additionally, many companies hire applicants with experience in customer service or telemarketing, although there are also many opportunities for on-the-job-training. In addition, some organizations may require debt collectors to be certified by the American Collectors Association. Finally, debt collectors should be familiar with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which sets rules for debt collection and customer communications.

Debt Collector Salary and Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), debt collectors earned a median annual wage of $35,350 (or approximately $17 per hour) in 2016. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $23,610, while the highest earners in this field made as much as $54,970 annually. In addition, many debt collectors also receive a commission based on debts collected. The BLS expects employment in this field to decline three percent between 2016 and 2026 as more companies utilize automated collections systems and outsource debt collection work to overseas call centers.

Helpful Resources

We found many resources on the web if you're interested in learning more about working as a debt collector:

Basic Strategies to Promote Debt Collection Success - Find out about what works in debt collection and how to get customers to pay.

Debt Collection Simplified - Experienced debt collector Bill Lindala provides tips and advice from a long career in the collections and recovery industry.

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act - The federal government's guidelines provide legal advice and guidelines for consumer debt collection.

Telephone Collection Call Scripts & How To Respond to Excuses: A Guide for Bill Collectors - This handy reference guide provides scripts and advice for dealing with non-paying debtors and collecting payment.

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