I get a lot of folks who call me up and want help - after they have waited. It can be done, sometimes, but it takes more time, energy and money. There are three places where waiting hurts.
First, once you receive a letter from a debt collector, do not wait to respond. You have 30 days to respond to the letter with a debt validation letter. The time to respond is when you receive the letter and within the 30 days. If you can show the debt collector that you know your rights, you are less likely to have problems down the road. Further, with a dispute letter, you can use that as evidence to show a judge or jury that you didn't think you owed this money all along.
Second, when you are served with a lawsuit, do not wait. Two people called my office this week who had been served with debt collection lawsuits but did nothing with them for 2 years. There are ways to get a debt collection lawsuit to go away. One of those ways, however, is not sitting and doing nothing. If you were never served, you have some arguments to set aside a default. But if you have been personally served, you cannot wait two years to respond. The best time to respond is when you are served. A quick strike back will get most debt collectors to back off.
Third, if you are never served with a lawsuit, but you receive a garnishment or notice of bank levy, you MUST respond immediately. Once your money is taken via a levy or wage garnishment, you are on notice of a lawsuit. You cannot wait to respond then either. You must take steps to protect yourself. You will have a difficult time setting aside a default judgment if you wait until a year or two after your wages were garnished.
Time is of the essence in dealing with debt collectors. Not only are there restrictions on when you have to respond and how, but the sooner you respond, the sooner you can put the debt collector out of your life.