These days, the question for most people isn’t whether they’re in debt, but if they’re managing to stay afloat — or sinking below the surface. And if you find yourself in the latter category, be assured that you aren’t alone. In fact, research shows that the average American dies with a whopping $62,000 in debt.

However, we aren’t interested at the moment in talking about the death and the afterlife (we’ll save that for another blog!). We want to talk about the here and now, which for you probably involves fending off increasingly aggressive debt collectors. You may have even reached the point where you brace for impact every time you hear your phone ring or reach for the mail.

But guess what? Somewhere buried in the background of those threatening and terrifying communications are four truths that debt collectors absolutely don’t want you to know. They include:

  • If you dispute part or all of a debt, you can shut debt collectors up with a cease-and-desist letter.

No, this won’t cancel the debt (sorry). But provided that you send the letter within 30 days of receiving all of the information about the debt in question, a debt collector must stop trying to contact you. Keep in mind, however, that they may pursue legal action and take you to court. But if they opt for that route, they must notify you in writing.

  • You do not have to give debt collectors any personal information.

Debt collectors who insist that you provide personal information — such as your SSN, date of birth, and so on — in order to verify your debt (or for any other reason they claim) are breaking the rules. You don’t even have to spell your name for them.

  • Nothing will happen to your wages or assets unless the matter goes to court.

Debt collectors routinely terrify folks by telling them that they’ll call their employer, and have their wages garnished. Or that they’ll show up at their house with a Sheriff to haul away their TV, couch, car, jewelry, and so on. Be assured that this is all hot air. Nothing will happen to your wages or assets unless the matter goes to court, and any ruling will be made by a qualified judge — not an angry debt collector who wasn’t loved enough as a child.

  • Most debt collectors will negotiate.

The goal of all debt collectors is to get as much money from you as possible, as quickly as possible. But what they don’t like sharing — and in fact, almost never will unless they have no other choice — is that they will negotiate a settlement that could be far less than what they are demanding.

What’s more, if you mention that you are seriously thinking of filing for bankruptcy, many debt collectors will be even more open to negotiating a settlement that you find favorable. Why? Because if you head in that direction, the debt collector must go in line with everyone else to whom you owe money, and it’ll take them months to get paid. In most cases, they’re better off just agreeing to something with you now vs. taking their chances in court.

By the way: if you are thinking of filing for bankruptcy, you should check out the excellent blog by experienced bankruptcy attorney Charles Huber. There are dozens of articles on everything from how to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, to how a filing will impact your credit score, how to deal with joint debts, and so on.

The Bottom Line

Being in debt sucks. And sinking in debt can seem unbearable. But remember: you have much more power than you may realize. Do your research, get the facts, and go from ducking and hiding to taking control of your financial life — and maybe freaking out a few nasty debt collectors along the way. After all, turnabout is fair play, right?