U.S. Markets closed

Love Letters to ... Debt Collectors?

Gerri Detweiler

Most people dread talking to debt collectors. But not Trish McCloskey Jacques. She found herself looking forward to the monthly collection calls reminding her that her payments were due.

Trish had married her high school sweetheart, Joseph Jacques. Right before Christmas in 2009, though, she almost lost him to a lung pyemia, a condition that developed after he was hospitalized for pneumonia. They both spent their holidays in the hospital, not knowing if he would pull through. “He probably should not be alive,” she says. As her husband struggled for his life, Trish devoted herself to his care.

“We had to live off our 401(k),” she explains. “When the bills started rolling in, I was terrified. I hated looking at that stuff. “

Although Trish made payment arrangements for the medical bills that weren’t covered by insurance, one bill wound up in collections. That’s when she heard from Sally, a collector with Cadillac Accounts Receivables Management Inc. (CARM) in Michigan.

Sally helped Trish set up a payment plan. “It wasn’t a big amount that I was paying but she was totally, completely understanding,” she says. “You need people like that when you are downtrodden because they care.” When she made her final payment, she sent a letter to the collection agency complementing Sally on her professionalism:

Sally was ALWAYS, cheerful, helpful, prompt, understanding and outstanding in her compassion…thank you very much this has been a long road and quite an ordeal…I believe that God gives you what you need when you need it…thank you for your outstanding professionalism…and happy Thanksgiving as we have much to be thankful for!

The Stories About Debt Collectors You Don’t Hear

While there are plenty of stories about aggressive debt collectors (I’ve written a few myself), the stories of consumers who have positive experiences with collectors often go untold. And this collection agency, at least, seems to have no shortage of them.

Judy Darling also had nothing but good things to say about CARM — and Sally. She’s had ongoing medical bills that have been placed in collections. “The first time I talked with Sally I felt really comfortable with her,” she says. “She’s very accommodating.” She was able to set up a payment plan, but has had to modify it from time to time when her hours at work were cut back, for example. “If I can’t make a payment, I call her and she helps me change it,” she explains.

Another time, Judy’s mother fell down a flight of stairs and she had to miss a couple of payments while she was helping to take care of her mother. “Sally went through that with me,” she says. “I’ve actually thought about going and meeting her when I am up that way.”

Treating Consumers With Respect Can Pay Off

Rick Wiergowski is another member of the CARM fan club. He has been through two divorces and has had multiple bills sent to collections. “A lot of place wouldn’t work with me,” he says. But collector Danielle accepted the $25 a month he offered, and now calls him each month on the day he receives his Social Security payment to collect that amount.

Some other collectors he has tried to work with haven’t been as flexible, he says. “I wanted to take care of one bill (with a different agency), and I wanted to pay $50 and they said I could only pay $150. I couldn’t pay it, so they didn’t get paid.” He adds that if everyone operated the way CARM does, “a whole lot more money would get paid.”

CARM primarily collects medical debt, says Jon Dracht, president and CEO. “We have a very close knit group that work really well together. We’ve put a lot of emphasis on the way our customers are treated — not just our clients but the folks they refer to us to collect from.”

The economy in Michigan has been particularly hit hard by the recession, and as a result, he observes, many families are struggling to keep food on the table, pay the rent and mortgage and put gas in the car.

“The key is we’re going to work with them,” he says. That may mean his firm — and his clients — may wait a little while for a bill to be paid off, but he says it’s the right way to do business. “What we find is that when we treat people with respect, when their situation does change, we are the first one they pay off.”

That’s what happened with Judy. When her hours at work increased, she sent more money to the collection agency.

More from Credit.com