debt-collection-250x250

The debt collection process

Find out how debt collection works, when you may be contacted and what you can do about it.

If you’re behind on repayments for a loan, credit card or utility bill, a debt collector may get in contact with you about it. While dealing with an overdue debt can be overwhelming, it’s usually easier to manage when you understand the process. So if you’re worried about debt collectors contacting you, use this guide to learn more about what’s involved and the different options you have for dealing with your outstanding debts.

When will a debt collector contact me?

Every credit provider has a different policy when it comes to overdue debts and debt collection. But generally, if you’re late with a payment, you won’t hear from a debt collector straight away. Instead, your provider may contact you by phone, email or letter reminding you of the debt and requesting payment.

If you haven’t responded to your provider or made a payment, they may then refer the account to a debt collector. This could be the case if you have a payment that’s more than 30 days overdue. It’s even more likely that you’ll hear from a debt collector when your account is “in default”, which can happen if you haven’t made a payment for at least 60 days and owe at least $150.

Different types of debt collectors

Some providers and banks have their own, internal debt collection teams to help with overdue accounts. Others may pass the debts on to third-party debt collection companies (which is more common for larger debts that have been in default for several months). Whatever the case, you should be able to discuss a range of options for dealing with the debt in a way that’s manageable for you.

How will debt collectors contact me?

The most common way for debt collectors to contact you is via phone, either on your given landline or mobile number. However, they can also contact you by letter, in-person or online through email or social media.

The government also has strict recommendations around how often a debt collector can contact you, which are outlined in a debt collection guideline booklet created by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC). We’ve summarised these recommendations in the table below:

Type of contactTimesContact recommendations
PhoneMonday to Friday:
7:30am to 9pmWeekends: 9am to 9pm
You could be contacted up to 3 times per week or 10 times per month in total.
Other (letters, emails, social media etc)No specific hours listed.You could be contacted up to 3 times per week or 10 times per month in total.
Workplace contact9am to 5pm on weekdays or your normal work hours (if known)You could be contacted up to 3 times per week or 10 times per month in total.
In personWeekdays and weekends: 9am to 9pmDebt collectors should limit in-person contact to once per month and only when absolutely necessary.

Debt collectors are also advised to respect any reasonable requests you have for contact within specific hours, based on your circumstances. If you think a debt collector is contacting you too often, or not giving you an opportunity to respond, you can contact the company to complain or call the Credit and Investments Ombudsman on 1800 138 422 to submit a formal complaint.

Debt collectors and privacy

As well as recommendations around how often a debt collector can contact you, there are also regulations and requirements that help protect your right to privacy. For example, a debt collector is not allowed to give anyone else details about your financial situation or to reveal that they are a debt collector unless you give them permission to do so.

This means if a debt collector contacts you at home or work and you’re not there, they can’t tell anyone else about the situation. Similarly, if they contact you online, they have to be reasonably sure that no one else will see the information.

What can I do when debt collectors get involved?

hand_calculator_compute_Shutterstock

If a debt collector contacts you, it’s ideal to respond to them as soon as possible so that you can deal with the overdue account. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to consider some of the following options:

  • Keep a record of the contact. Take note of when a debt collector has contacted you and what they said. This will help protect your right to privacy and may be used as evidence if you have to lodge a complaint.
  • Explain your situation. Let the debt collector know why you haven’t made a payment. If you’re experiencing financial hardship, they may be able to offer you a payment plan without taking further action.
  • Work out how much you can afford to pay. Debt collectors may suggest a repayment plan for you based on the amount that you owe. When that’s the case, make sure you can afford the repayments based on your current circumstances. If you can’t, suggest a repayment amount that would be reasonable for you or ask about other options.
  • Request a hardship variation. This is a formal request for a variation in the terms of your loan or account. For example, you could request smaller repayments over a longer period of time, postponement of payments for a fixed amount of time or a combination of both these options. You’ll need to submit your request in writing and the credit provider must respond within 21 days.
  • Get professional advice. If you’re unsure of how to deal with your debt, contact the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 to speak to a financial counsellor for free.

What if I am contacted about a debt that’s not right?

If a debt collector has contacted you about a debt that you don’t think is yours, or if the amount of debt seems wrong, ask for a copy of your account information and contract. Check these details against your own and then contact the provider to dispute the debt.

If necessary, provide copies of any additional details, such as payments you’ve made that aren’t recorded on your account. If the situation still isn’t resolved, you can get free legal advice through the National Association of Community Legal Centres (www.naclc.org.au).

Dealing with overdue debts can be overwhelming, but there are many ways to get back on track. So now that you know how the process works, you can take steps to deal with your repayments in a way that works for you.

Pictures: Shutterstock

Back to top

Amy Bradney-George

Amy is a Senior Writer at finder.com.au with more than 10 years experience covering credit cards, personal finance and various lifestyle topics. When she’s not sharing her knowledge on money matters, Amy spends her time as an actress.

Was this content helpful to you? No  Yes

Related Posts

NAB Premium Card - Exclusive Offer
NAB Premium Card - Exclusive Offer

Interest rate

19.74

Annual fee

90
St.George Vertigo Platinum - Online Offer
St.George Vertigo Platinum - Online Offer

Interest rate

12.74

Annual fee

99
Woolworths Everyday Platinum Credit Card
Woolworths Everyday Platinum Credit Card

Interest rate

19.99

Annual fee

49

Ask an Expert

You are about to post a question on finder.com.au:

  • Do not enter personal information (eg. surname, phone number, bank details) as your question will be made public
  • finder.com.au is a financial comparison and information service, not a bank or product provider
  • We cannot provide you with personal advice or recommendations
  • Your answer might already be waiting – check previous questions below to see if yours has already been asked

Finder only provides general advice and factual information, so consider your own circumstances, read the PDS or seek advice before you decide to act on our content. By submitting a question, you're accepting our Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.

10 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    VickiJanuary 17, 2017

    My son has a credit card debt of $3954 and the debt collection agency adds 20% interest per month is this fair? should he only be paying the debt amount at time the bank sold it to debt collection?

    • Staff
      MayJanuary 24, 2017Staff

      Hi Vicki,

      Thanks for your question.

      Sorry for the delayed reply. Basically, debt collectors will set up a debt payment agreement with you through their agency. There may be an interest rate depending on the particular debt agency, although generally there is only an agreed amount and payment term. If you disagree with the amount that is owed, you have a right to legally dispute it. The ACCC has detailed information on the different ways you can dispute debts based on different circumstances. You can find more information on this page on how to deal with credit card debt collectors.

      Cheers,
      May

  2. Default Gravatar
    samAugust 23, 2015

    Hello

    I have a number of outstanding debts in my name, all debts are 7+ years ago, these include- a credit card, mobile phone bill & unpaid train ticket fines.
    I’d say in total just under $10,000 max would be no more than 12-15000.
    I was contacted by sheriffs over 8 or 9 years ago on one occasion but this was never followed up.
    I relocated 7 years ago and none of the debts were ever chased. I have not received a phone call, letter or notice for over 7 years.
    I was wondering if the Limitation of actions Act would apply to me in this case?
    Thank you kindly

    • Staff
      SallyAugust 25, 2015Staff

      Hi Sam,

      Thanks for your inquiry.

      The Limitation of Actions Act varies and depends on which part of Australia you’re in.

      One thing’s for sure though, if you wish to ensure financial freedom, you need to settle your debt.

      To serve as your guide, kindly check our Dodging Debt Collectors – A Very Bad Idea and How To Find Relief From Your Debt pages.

      I hope this has been helpful.

      Thanks,

      Sally

  3. Default Gravatar
    AndrewJuly 25, 2015

    Hi Jonathan,

    I have 100k in credit card debt and I am in currently overseas and will not be able to pay the even minimum payment.

    My concerns are below

    1) If I return after 1 year will I be in any trouble at immigration ?

    2) What action can be taken by my credit providers?

    Thanks

    • Staff
      JonathanJuly 27, 2015Staff

      Hi Andrew, thanks for your inquiry!

      Immigration is mainly concerned with an individual’s citizenship/ visa eligibility and is not directly affected by credit history.

      Unpaid credit card debt can be sold by a bank/ lender to a debt collecting agency. Debt collecting agencies can possess international jurisdiction to collect debts. Please refer to this page for more information on the debt collection process.

      Cheers,

      Jonathan

  4. Default Gravatar
    SashaApril 30, 2015

    I got a 21,900 credit card & 20,000 personal loan with CBA, outstanding balance is 33,000 combined. I am currently on a 3month payment plan of $400 paid out to each account in half.
    In arrears $890 CC, $500 PL.
    On completing 3 months it would be very hard for me to catch up with the payments
    1. Will I be getting another extension of 3months payment plan
    2. Can I offer a lump some amount after 3months to settle the account. If yes how much amount would that be?
    Thanks

    • Staff
      JonathanMay 1, 2015Staff

      Hi Sasha, thanks for your inquiry!

      Please note that finder.com.au is a comparison service and is not directly affiliated with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. It would be best to contact them directly in regards to this inquiry. Please refer to the contact details I have sent to your email for the financial hardship department.

      Cheers,

      Jonathan

  5. Default Gravatar
    AnneApril 25, 2015

    I had a unpaid $10,000 CBA credit card under my ex-partner’s name in 2011. The debt collector contacted my ex-partner to demand $28,000 repayment. (CBA sold that debt and listed my ex-partner $13,000 unpaid credit card on credit report in August 2011). Please advise what I can do because my ex-partner wanted me to clear this matter.

    Kind Regards

Ask a question