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What to Expect When You Stop Paying Your Bills

by Emily Guy Birken

If your debts are piling up and you are feeling overwhelmed, simply not paying your bills may seem like an easy solution. It’s certainly the path of least resistance.

But not paying your bills will only give you a short reprieve. In next to no time, you’ll find yourself in a much worse situation. Here is what you can expect from your creditors and their collections agencies if you neglect to pay your bills:

Thirty Days Past Due

Stop paying your bills

What to expect when you stop paying your bills.

At this point, your creditor will start contacting you via phone, email, and mail to attempt to get your payment. Since you are only a month late, creditors will remain friendly and cordial during these first attempts. Now is the time to explain your financial situation and ask for help devising a payment plan. If you make promises to your creditor you don’t intend to keep, or if you simply avoid talking to them, things will only get worse.

Sixty Days Past Due

If you have not spoken to your creditor about why you are not paying, now is the time that your account will go into collections status. That means you will still be fielding calls and communications from your creditor, but the tone will change. This is when they will become more aggressive and potentially nasty. This is also the point in time when the credit bureaus will be alerted to your delinquent status, damaging your credit.

If you finally own up to your creditors at this point, you can still potentially set up a payment plan and salvage the situation. However, you will probably have to pay a penalty fee for your 60 days without payment.

Related: Understanding Debt Consolidation, Debt Management and Debt Settlement.

Ninety Days Past Due

By now, your creditors will likely shut down your credit card without prior notice. If you owe money to a utility, then it will be shut off by this point. Your creditor will still be contacting you in order to convince you to pay, and the phone calls, emails, and letters will certainly be more aggressive than in the past.

However, remember that no matter how aggressive a creditor might get, they cannot legally do anything other than ask you to pay.

Charge-Off Status

At some point after 90 days, your creditor will write off the account as uncollectible, and will pass the account over to a third-party collections agency. As determined as your creditor may have been to get your payment, collections agencies are even more tenacious.

It’s important to remember that collections agencies must abide by the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act. That means they cannot call in the middle of the night, they cannot contact your workplace after being informed that they may not, they cannot lie or misrepresent themselves, and they cannot harass neighbors and friends, nor can they communicate with any third party other than the debtor’s spouse or attorney. However, what they are legally allowed to do can still be quite unpleasant.

Judgment

Eventually, you may find yourself sued for the amount of the debt you owe, although lawsuits are rarely filed for debts smaller than $1000. After the suit is filed, the court will issue a judgment against you, which provides your creditor with leverage for payment. They can garnish your wages or repossess certain types of property. In addition, if you have a judgment issued against you, you will also be on the hook for attorney fees, interest, and court costs.

The Bottom Line

Ignoring your bills may seem like an easy solution, but it is much better for your finances and your peace of mind to contact your creditors early and try to figure out a payment plan. They will appreciate your willingness to pay off your debt, and you will be able to find a plan that works for your circumstances.


Published or updated January 11, 2013.
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