Getting to the Source of Payment Objections

Apr 24, 2024

Debt collectors often face consumers who present objections toward paying their debt. There are a number of psychological reasons that may prevent consumers from paying a debt. Sometimes, these blocks are subconscious. Consumers themselves may not recognize the reason for their objections. Asking questions and showing empathy can help you recognize the underlying reasons for payment objections.

Here are some psychological barriers and examples of statements consumers might make. Understanding the source of payment objections can help you connect with the consumer and work toward a resolution they feel comfortable with.

Denial

Some consumers may have difficulty accepting that they are in debt, leading to a defense mechanism of denial. They may avoid acknowledging the debt and its consequences.

A consumer who’s in denial about their debt may say things like:

  • I never received any notice about this debt.
  • I don’t remember ever having this debt.
  • I paid this debt off already.
  • I thought this debt was settled years ago.
  • I’ll dispute this debt with the credit bureaus, and it’ll go away.

Shame and Embarrassment

Debt can be a source of shame and embarrassment for many people. The fear of judgment or stigma associated with financial struggles can make consumers reluctant to address their debt or communicate with collectors

Consumers who feel shame around their debt may apologize for their situation avoid discussing the details of their finances, or use vague language when they’re talking about their debt.

Anxiety and Stress

Debt-related stress and anxiety can be overwhelming. The thought of dealing with debt collection can intensify these feelings, making it difficult for consumers to confront the situation.

A consumer who’s feeling anxious about their debt might say things like:

  • I’m not sure I can afford to pay this.
  • I need more time to take care of this.
  • This has been keeping me up at night.
  • I may have to file bankruptcy

Avoidance Behavior

Consumers may understandably feel overwhelmed or fearful about owing debt. Some people may engage in avoidance behavior as a coping mechanism to avoid uncomfortable feelings. They may avoid opening collection notices, answering calls from debt collectors, or taking any action to address the debt, hoping that it will go away on its own. Here are some statements a consumer who’s avoiding their debt may make.

  • I don’t know what you’re talking about.
  • I didn’t get any letters/emails from you.
  • I’ll need to review everything and get back to you (without ever following up).
  • I’ve been too busy to check my mail or messages.

Fear of Confrontation

Engaging with debt collectors can be intimidating, and individuals may fear confrontational interactions. This fear can lead them to avoid communication and payment discussions. Consumers who fear confrontation may apologize and over-justify, defer responsibility, or frequently use softeners in their speech. They may be vague or non-committal and say things like:

  • I’m really sorry, but I’ve had a lot of unexpected expenses come up.
  • I’ll try to figure something out soon.
  • I need to talk to my spouse (or advisor, parent, attorney, etc.) first.

Loss Aversion

People tend to be more motivated by the fear of loss than the desire for gain. In the context of debt collection, consumers may focus on the money they’ll lose by paying the debt, rather than the benefits of resolving it. These consumers have strong concerns about protecting their current assets and financial stability. A consumer who’s feeling loss aversion may say:

  • I can’t use my savings; that’s for emergencies.
  • If I pay this now, I won’t be able to cover my bills next month.
  • What will happen to my credit score?

Lack of Financial Literacy

Some consumers may lack the financial knowledge and skills needed to navigate debt collection effectively. They may struggle to understand the effects of their debt. Their misunderstanding may become apparent in their conversations, when they make statements like:

  • Why are you calling me and not the credit card company?
  • I didn’t know I could ask for a payment plan.
  • What does “delinquent” mean?
  • Aren’t you supposed to just stop calling if I ask you to?

Procrastination

Procrastination is a common human behavior, and it can play a significant role in avoiding debt collection. Consumers may delay taking action on their debts, which can result in more significant financial consequences over time. Consumers who are procrastinating with paying their debt may promise to take action in the future, reschedule serious discussions, or avoid making concrete plans. They may say things like:

  • I’ll start making payments next month.
  • I need more time to think about this, let’s discuss it later.
  • I’m still figuring things out.
  • I’ve had a lot going on and haven’t been able to focus on this.
  • Let me think about the best approach and I’ll call you.

Using Empathy With Consumers

These responses can be strategic or subconscious. While psychological barriers may interfere with the recovery process, it’s important to remain respectful and empathetic when you communicate with consumers.

Educate gently. Provide clear, concise information about the debt and the consequences of non-payment. Many consumers may not fully understand terms, processes, or their rights and responsibilities. Use simple language to explain these factors.

Acknowledge and address fears. Directly discuss any fears or anxieties the consumer expresses. Clarify any misconceptions that may contribute to their fears.

Encourage small steps. If consumers seem overwhelmed by the size of their debt, encourage them to start with small, manageable actions. This could be as simple as reviewing their budget, making a small initial payment, or agreeing to a follow-up call.

If possible, offer a variety of payment options. Payment plans and settlement options can feel more manageable and help consumers feel more comfortable taking action toward resolving their debt.

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