Debt Collectors Might Be Calling Your Nana

grandmaGripes about debt collectors are the most common complaint filed by older Americans, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  Collection gripes are roughly 1 out of every 3 complaints the bureau gets from seniors.  Confusion over medical bills, attempts to collect debts of deceased family members, and illegal threats of garnishing federal benefits like Social Security top the list.

“It is increasingly common for older Americans to carry debts into their retirement years, and consumers living on fixed incomes often struggle to pay off these debts,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray.  Unprofessional collectors badger consumers who are in the middle of red-tape wrestling with healthcare providers or bring up bad memories of lost loved ones whose debts should have died with them.  Among the complaints, the CFPB received:

  • Collectors hounding older Americans about medical debt: Older Americans describe being confused and frustrated because collectors attempt to collect medical expenses while the consumer is attempting to correct billing mistakes or waiting for providers/insurers to resolve the medical disputes.  They report frequent and repeated attempts to collect medical bills already covered by insurance. Another common complaint from older consumers is first learning about an overdue bill from checking their credit reports (which you can get for free once a year).
  • Collectors attempting to collect on debts of deceased family members: Older consumers describe collectors’ repeated attempts to collect debts of deceased family members. Many complained that debt collectors continue to call or send collection letters after they have informed debt collectors that they are not personally responsible for the debt, or that there is no money left in the deceased borrower’s estate. Some complaints describe collection attempts made years after probate is concluded. Many consumers express anguish about collectors ignoring their requests to cease attempts to collect the debt of a deceased relative.
  • Collectors illegally threatening to garnish an older American’s federal benefits: Older consumers report debt collectors sometimes threaten to garnish Social Security, Supplemental Security Income or Veterans’ benefits, even though these funds ordinarily are not subject to garnishment. According to the complaints, these threats cause older consumers significant distress, especially when they rely on federal benefits to pay essential living costs.

If a debt collector is badgering you or a family member, the CFPB offers sample letters for older adults who feel like they are being harassed. When an account goes to collections, it can dramatically lower your credit score so it’s important to spot a collection account by monitoring your credit scores regularly. You can get your credit scores for free every month on