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Dear Penny: I feel like a deadbeat because a debt collector called my job

Dear Penny is a weekly column on money issues written by Lisa Rowan, a personal finance expert and senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. [Handout logo]
Dear Penny is a weekly column on money issues written by Lisa Rowan, a personal finance expert and senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. [Handout logo]
Published Sep. 27, 2018

Dear Penny,

I recently got behind on a credit card bill after experiencing a rough patch, and it was sent to collections. Now, I'm totally mortified because a couple weeks ago, our staff accountant notified me that a debt collector called to get my information so they could garnish my wages.

I thanked him for letting me know and didn't offer any details. Then, I immediately called the collection agency and worked out a repayment plan, so moving forward, I shouldn't have to worry about getting calls at work.

But I'm still so embarrassed that our accountant now knows about my money problems, and I'm worried my other co-workers will find out as well. I haven't said anything to the accountant about it since he told me that the collector called.

Should I tell him I'm addressing the matter and ask him to keep it in confidence? Or lie and tell him they had the wrong person? Or am I making way too big of a deal out of this?

Sincerely,

Digging Out of Debt

Dear DOD,

Getting a call at work from a debt collector is tricky business, so let's go over some details to remember in case this ever happens again.

Debt collectors may ask your employer for your contact information, but they are not permitted to share details of your situation with your employer. Nor are they allowed to call you at work if you inform the debt collector you're not allowed to take personal calls at work.

If a debt collector contacts you via your employer — especially after you've requested they don't contact you at work — you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and/or the Federal Trade Commission. Wage garnishment can't be used to collect on your debt unless a judge has approved it, so the details of your situation already make me feel a little skeeved out by this debt collector's practices.

But OK, debt collector aside, you still have to face your office every day. I usually advocate for being open and honest about your finances, but in this case, your situation was not revealed on your terms. You can choose to keep this one as close to the vest as you like.

If you choose not to address the incident again, it sends a message that you're not concerned about the call and it's not worth gossiping about.

If you're comfortable approaching your colleague, you could say something like, "Thanks for taking that call for me the other day. I took care of everything. I'd appreciate if you could keep it between us." That's it! If you don't treat it like a big, secretive deal, your co-worker is likely to see it as just a passing matter too. And, worst-case scenario, if word does get around your office, you can be ready with a simple response along the lines of, "I took care of the situation."

But a single call from a debt collector? If that's worth gossiping about to your co-workers, they need to find some juicier news to talk about.

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Have a tricky money question? Write to Dear Penny at askpenny@thepennyhoarder.com.

Lisa Rowan is a personal finance expert and senior writer at The Penny Hoarder, where she's the voice behind Dear Penny. For more practical money tips, visit
www.thepennyhoarder.com.