I know it’s emotionally draining, but dealing with the problem makes it go away much more quickly. Also, you’ve got to keep in mind that you created this debt and it is your responsibility to resolve it. Whether you do it on your own terms or being berated with phone calls is up to you.
This is basically what I've learned to do/say to appease my oppressors (lol):
Odds are you'll have an account in collections for a good 6 months or more. During that period, you're going to hear from them a lot. You'll need a buddy - try to work with one person for each account and develop a relationship with them. Don't wait for them to call you, you need to call them (or call them back, if they’ve already initiated contact). In order to get them off your back, you need to be the nice person they remember and want to work with.
BE POLITE beginning to end, regardless of what happens during the conversation.
Rudeness kills conversations and makes you the enemy. Don't curse, raise your voice, cut people off... let the agent/representative tell you how much you suck and how important it is to make a payment today, but be as kind and polite as possible.
Don't make excuses, show willingness to change.
With the current state of affairs, lots of people are having financial difficulties. If an account is in collections, clearly the account holder didn't have the money to pay at the time the bill was due (or a few months following). Instead of telling your new buddy your life drama, tell him/her that you realize made mistakes in the past and are working hard to become completely debt free in the next two years. Tell them you have several accounts in collections, but this one is your top priority. You don't want to take a settlement, you want to be responsible and pay the account in full.
Make a promise (and keep it).
As you probably already know, they'll keep saying you need to make a goodwill payment. Tell them your budget is completely overstuffed due to changes in job status (or whatever your hardship is) and you need time to sort out payment arrangements. Get the representative's full name (if they'll give it, otherwise the first letter of the last name works), phone number, and extension. Tell the representative work on improving your financial situation and will call them in two weeks with a status update, and hopefully will be able to sort out a payment plan at that time. Ask what time is good for them to receive your call on the 27th (or whatever day is exactly 2 weeks after your conversation - I'm just using the 27th because it's my favorite number). At this point they usually say you'll continue to receive calls until they receive a payment or set up a payment plan. Tell them you understand and, as you said before, you'll work on having a solution by the 27th.
Work on a solution.
Use those two weeks to figure out how you can squeak out of your budget an extra $10/collections account. It IS possible, no matter what budget you’re on. I paid off all of our credit/collections debt on one income (high school grad in early 20’s doing admin work doesn’t amount to a huge paycheck) while my husband was out of work. We weren't able to eat out and we never watched movies in theaters unless it was a $4 matinee and our bills were current. Our grocery budget was cut 75%. We only ran the air conditioning/heat for 3 hours/day. We got rid of all unnecessary expenses like cable and such, and watched TV shows on the computer the next day (most networks offer this service – it’s a great way to save money). You can find $10, but you have to look hard and be willing to make sacrifices if you genuinely want the calls to stop.
Accept phone calls from the agency, even after you talked to the rep mentioned above.
Don’t ignore phone calls. Pick up the phone. Tell the caller you spoke with Mr. _____ just _____ days ago and will call him again on the 27th. Usually that will be in the notes, so they’ll say they didn’t see that when they called and will notate your acct. They may ask for a payment. If so, just stick with what you said before – you’ll call on the 27th and hope to make payment arrangements at that time. Be firm, but not rude. Those constant, “spoke with _______” notes on your account really help show that you’re willing to resolve your debt with them (one of the agencies I dealt with confirmed this).
Keep your promise.
You have to call the representative on the date you promised, otherwise you lose any goodwill established by talking to them. Tell them you found a way to have an extra $10/month and see if they’ll let you pay that amount every month until whatever hardship you have goes away. Set up 6 months worth of post-dated payments, if you can. If not, do 3 months. That’s more than most people are willing to do, and speaks volumes when dealing with adverse accounts.
If they won’t accept a $10 payment plan, reaffirm that’s all you have to give. If they maintain that it’s not enough, ask how much they absolutely have to receive each month. If it’s more than $15 (or whatever you can afford), tell them you’ll have to call back in 2 more weeks so you can see if there’s another area of your expenses you can cut back on. Since they want money, they may or may not want to wait another 2 weeks. They already saw that you kept your promise and are willing to set up a payment plan today.
If they need more than $10 (hopefully they’ll tell you exactly how much they’re looking for), do your best to come up with the money. If you can’t, get as close to that number as possible and offer it to them during your phone conversation in 2 weeks. Usually they’ll take it. I’ve never had a collections agency turn down a payment, though they almost always want more. As long as you let them know this is the best you can do, there’s not much more to talk about.
For me, personally, they always took the $10. After a few months, I found a way to work up to $20, then $50 or $100 until everything was paid off.
With time, the calls should stop. Sometimes they stop a few days after your first payment is received, but that doesn’t always happen. Just remember to answer your phone and tell the caller you already set up a payment plan with Mr. _________, and thank them for calling.
One final note: If you can’t make a payment, DON’T! You’ll incur fees for the check bouncing and your word becomes unreliable. If you need to move or cancel a payment, call and let them know. They’d be much happier to have you postpone a payment than have it process as scheduled, bounce, and make them call you again. Aside from changing payment dates and such (which I’d refrain from unless absolutely necessary), there’s really no need to talk to them unless you’re able to give more money each month to pay off the account more quickly.
I hope sharing my experience helps some of you out!