How to Respond to Debt Collectors if You Are Retired

The following article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.

For many people, retirement means living on a fixed income that comes from Social Security or a pension. Unfortunately, this is almost always significantly less than the income you made when you were working full-time.

While your income may be less, your debts may remain the same, which can lead to a few missed payments. If you didn’t pay off all your debt before retirement, you could be experiencing some financial stress with calls from debt collectors.

But what are your options for dealing with them? Can you just ignore them? Or do you need to go to the added expense of hiring a professional to handle these matters for you?

Debt collectors can make your life miserable and they really don’t care if you’re retired and living on a fixed income; they still want their money. Here’s what you need to know so that you can deal with them without being afraid:

Your Income Cannot Be Garnished

Your Social Security and pension cannot be garnished like a paycheck can. However, debt collectors may request a bank levy from the courts, which would allow them to take funds directly out of your bank account in order to repay the debt. The likelihood of this happening depends somewhat on the size of your debt. This sort of action takes a lot of time and effort on the part of the creditor or collector. First, they would have to sue you, then a judgment would have to be entered against you before they can request a bank levy. All of this not only takes time but costs the debt collector money in court and attorney fees. Depending on the amount of the debt, they may decide it’s not worth it.

Should a creditor levy your bank account, however, it’s in your best interests to connect with a local attorney. Social Security and pension funds are typically protected, but chances are good there may be funds from other sources in your bank account, which can make the situation a bit more complicated. A qualified attorney can help you understand your rights and advocate for you. You may also want to consider bringing in an attorney earlier in the process, especially if you’re being sued by a creditor.

They May Try to Harass You

Some debt collectors may try to scare you into thinking they can do things they can’t, thereby forcing you to pay them. However, their actions are strictly regulated. They are not allowed to:

  • Call before 8 AM of after 9 PM
  • Call repeatedly
  • Continue to call if you’ve told them (in writing) not to call you anymore (once you tell them to stop calling, they are only allowed to contact you by mail, and only then to notify you of changes to your account, including any potential legal action)
  • Discuss your debt with anyone other than your spouse without your permission
  • Misrepresent themselves
  • Make false threats

If you feel uncomfortable or threatened, tell them not to call you anymore and hang up. If they violate any of the above regulations, report them to the FTC.

Request Proof

If you make a request for the debt collector to prove the debt they are contacting you about, they have to provide an account summary showing all charges and payments for the account they are trying to settle. This allows you the chance to see exactly what the account is, what the charges are for, and determine if you actually owe them. You have the right to dispute any charges you don’t agree with.

Unfortunately, just because you’re retired doesn’t mean your debt goes away. The best way to respond to a debt collector is by knowing your rights.

Don’t let debt collectors steamroll you. At the same time, if your debts are legitimate and significant, don’t ignore your problems and assume they’ll go away. Don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you’re not sure how to handle your unique situation.

Emilie is the brains, the brawn, and the beauty behind She Does Better, inspiring millennial women to live financially, physically, and professionally fit lives. She writes about overcoming debt, while balancing trying to eat healthy, stay fit, and have a little fun along the way. Read more about her journey here.

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2 responses to “How to Respond to Debt Collectors if You Are Retired”


    We have a medical bill with a hospital, the hospital sent me a consolidated bill last August…they have asked for minimum monthly payment amounts that are not possible with our fixed income and with the other hospitals, ambulance and medical bills…but I have made payments of $25 to $69 EVERY MONTH. Recently the hospital separated out part of the bill and sent it to collections. I thought if I was making regular monthly payments, that they could not send me to collections. I am having no trouble with any of the other hospitals (4 of them) or other medical bills…they are all accepting payments

    • Emilie Burke

      Hi Linda! Are you sure it’s the same bill that went to collections, instead of a different bill? Your best bet is to reach out to the hospital directly.