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Dealing with debt collectors

Know your rights, what to do and how to get help

Page reading time: 4 minutes

If you fall behind on your loan, credit card or bills, a debt collector might contact you.

A debt collector is a person who collects overdue debts. This could be for themselves, or for a lender (such as a bank), service provider or debt collection agency.

Debt collection is legal. The people you owe money to (your creditors) have a right to get it back. But it's not okay to harass or bully you.

If you receive a notice about being taken to court, get free legal advice straight away. If you ignore it, you risk your goods being repossessed and sold.

Changes to bankruptcy laws to help people in financial difficulty as a direct result of coronavirus apply until September 2020. The changes include increasing the period for temporary debt relief and changes to bankruptcy notices. See the AFSA website for more details.

What debt collectors can and can't do

What debt collectors can do

Debt collectors must respect your right to privacy. They can contact you to:

There are restrictions on how and when debt collectors can contact you:

By phone

Face to face

Email and social media

What debt collectors can't do

By law, debt collectors must not:

These protections also apply to your family.

If a debt collector's behaviour is unacceptable

If a debt collector threatens you with violence or physical force, contact the police immediately.

If they're harassing or intimidating you, ask them in writing to stop it. The Financial Rights Legal Centre has a letter template you can use.

If the behaviour doesn't stop, contact the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) to make a complaint and get free, independent dispute resolution.

How to deal with a debt collector

Be honest and cooperative

If a debt collector contacts you, it's your responsibility to:

Keep good records

Keep a record of all your communication with the debt collector. Include:

If you're struggling to pay the debt

If you know you owe the debt but are struggling to pay it:

1. Work out what you can afford to pay

Use our budget planner to work out what you can afford to pay. Calculate your income and expenses to work out how much, if anything, is left over.

If you can't afford to pay anything, call the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 for free, confidential advice about what to do. The helpline is open Monday to Friday, 9:30am to 4:30pm.

2. Propose a payment plan with the debt collector

Contact the debt collector, say you're in financial hardship and you want to work out a payment plan. They must consider your request.

They may ask for financial details to show how much you can afford to pay. Only offer an amount you will be able to stick to.

The debt collector may agree to:

Ask the debt collector to put the agreement in writing.

If they reject your request, put it in writing (if you haven't already). If they still won't agree, you can make a complaint.

3. Do your best to stick to the payment plan

If you have trouble paying, contact the debt collector immediately. Explain why you're struggling and discuss a new arrangement.

If you want to dispute the debt

You can dispute (disagree with) a debt if:

Contact the debt collector and tell them why you're disputing the debt.

If you're not sure about the debt or amount owed

If you think a debt isn't yours, or you disagree about the amount owing, ask for:

If you're threatened with legal action

Ask the debt collector to delay legal action to give you time to get legal advice.

If you've already paid back the debt

If a debt collector contacts you about a debt you've already paid, explain that in writing. Include copies of records that prove it.

Where to get help if you need it

Talk to a financial counsellor

Financial counsellors offer free, independent and confidential help to people with money problems. They may also negotiate with creditors on your behalf.

Get free legal help

Community legal centres and Legal Aid agencies offer free legal advice and can help you with disputes and debt recovery through the courts.