Do you have a hobby? Hobbies can give meaning and purpose to your life in retirement. As Robert Putnam points out in his book, Bowling Alone, it’s easy to discount the importance of hobbies and social engagements. Putnam details the widespread decline in civic engagement, from PTA memberships to neighborhood potlucks and bowling leagues. Over a couple of generations, Americans have misplaced the concept of free time.


Lily is a beautiful, active and full of personality toddler who happens to have Down syndrome. Lily’s parents and I have been friends for years and I have the continuing pleasure of watching Lily and her siblings grow up. While Lily is becoming a physical therapy rock star and hitting all her milestones in a timely fashion, her parents have started planning for the future.



The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a hobby as “a pursuit outside one’s regular occupation, engaged in especially for relaxation.” Hobbies include anything from playing a musical instrument to gardening, bird watching or sewing. A hobby is a way of focusing on something you enjoy just for the sake of that enjoyment. It may also be a way to clear your mental palette. You could be stressed out by a situation at work or the challenges of raising children and need an escape.



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Here are some ways to get collection agencies to stop calling you. The FTC’s Facts for Consumers series publication Debt Collection FAQs: A Guide for Consum- ers recommends you:

Notify the collector in writing to stop contacting you.

Make a copy of the letter for your records and send the original by certified mail with a return receipt. Sending a letter to stop contact does not get rid of the debt; the creditor or the debt collection agency can still sue you to collect the debt. Once the collector receives your letter, they may not contact you again, with two exceptions: to confirm they will not contact you again or to let you know they or the creditor intend to take a specific action, such as filing a lawsuit.

If you don’t believe you owe the money, dispute the debt in writing. Send it by certified mail so the debt collection agency can’t deny receiving it, says Jeffrey Suher, a consumer attorney in Pittsburgh specializing in debt collection cases. You can request they send you a verification of debt, which would include a copy of the bill.

Keep records of phone calls from debt collectors and save messages. Maintain a file with these notes and copies of all written correspondence to and from the collector. Write down the day and time of every collection call, the collection agency’s name, the amount it says you owe and a summary of the conversation. A paper trail could be essential if the debt collector breaks the law.

Debt collectors have a certain number of years they can sue you and win to collect a debt. This statute of limitation usually begins when you fail to make a payment on a debt. Each state has its own statutes of limitations for different types of debt, but some credit card companies operate according to the statute in their home state, not yours. In some states, making a payment or providing written acknowledgment of the debt restarts the statute of limitations. If you’re unsure whether a debt is time-barred, ask the collector when its records show you made your last payment.

Do not ignore any lawsuit even if it’s a time-barred debt or you have already disputed it in writing as detailed. If you choose to work with a debt collector, don’t be afraid to negotiate. Most collectors are happy to receive anything versus nothing. “Start offering 10 to 15 percent of what they say you owe,” Ulzheimer said. “Then settle somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 to 50 percent.” Be sure to have them send the details to you in writing before submitting a payment. Pay with a cashier’s check rather than a personal check. “Do not under any circumstances provide debt collectors with access to your bank account,” said Suher.

Report any debt collection violations to your state attorney general’s office, the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.


The FDCPA gives debt collectors some rights, too. A collector can contact other people to find out your address, your home phone number and where you work but usually cannot contact them more than once. They can also sue you or take money from your paycheck, but only after they get a garnishment court order.

There are effective ways to deal with debt collectors. Talk to them at least once to try to resolve the matter. Within five days of contacting you, a collector must send you a written statement, called a validation notice, stating the amount of money they believe you owe, the name of the creditor and what action to take if you believe you don’t owe the money, says the FDCPA. So before even engaging in conversation with a debt collector, ask them to send you the information in writing. Keep the conversation as short as possible. “They’re interrogating you. They’re trying to determine if you have the capacity to pay,” said John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education for Credit.com. “Say as little as possible.”

“Stick with the facts. Be a broken record,” said Gerri Detweiler, co-author of Debt Collection Answers: How to Use Debt Collection Laws to Protect Your Rights.

It’s important to know your rights when dealing with debt collectors through the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The FDCPA covers credit card debt, auto loans, medical bills, student loans, mortgages and other household debts but it does not cover business debts, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Debt collectors have restrictions on what they cannot say or do when calling. They cannot:


Angela S. Hoover is a Staff Writer for Living Well 60+ Magazine