Shaunna Burns is a North Carolina mom who knows a thing or two about debt. For starters, she used to work as a debt collector. So when a debt collector began hounding Burns about bills from her daughter’s emergency medical care, she was able to expertly rebuff the “rude” tactics. 

However, Burns’ evident skill and knowledge in debt collection didn’t erase her frustration that collectors often seem to exploit the average debtor. So, she decided to kick it Gen Z style and open up TikTok: Burns was ready to start filming and sharing some debt collection pro tips with the world.

Out of debt

Burns’ first video talked about predatory collectors, the illegality of calling debtors outside of normal business hours, and that debtors cannot be sued for medical debt after a certain number of years.


Pro tips for dealing with debt collectors ( medical debt) #knowyourrights #justdontanswerthephone #mylookinoutgameisstrongaf

♬ original sound – shaunnaburns3

Instantly, her video began accumulating likes, which inspired Burns to record four more videos over the next few days. Within a week, Burns’ “debt pro tip” videos took her from under a thousand TikTok followers to more than 50,000. Now, she has more than 300,000 followers and her videos have been liked more than three million times.

“It just shows how many people out there don’t know these legally-available-to-you facts,” Burns told Business Insider. “I literally spent hours a week fighting with insurance companies over stupid bills that shouldn’t have been charged … having to do all that is annoying and frustrating, and I thought if I could help one person [with the TikTok videos], it would be worth it.”

Here’s a brief recap of Burns’ tips for debtors, with links to the original 60-second videos: 

1. At the hospital, prevent some excess charges at the outset.  Tell everyone:  “I don’t want you to run any tests or procedures without running it by me — and I want an itemized bill while I’m here.” 

2. When you get a bill: Call and say, “I want a review of the level of care.” This could result in a reduced charge and will buy you time before having to pay.

3. Also tell the billing department immediately: “I want an itemized bill with every single charge.” She says some charges will disappear in the process. “They don’t want you to know that they’re charging you $37 for a [expletive] Band-Aid,” she says. So “they’re going to take that charge right off of there.”

4. If you have insurance, call the company and get their help. Tell them, “I want to request an advocate.” Burns says the insurance company may be able to negotiate a deal to lower the bill.

5. If you hear from debt collectors, demand an itemized bill AND an invoice with your signature: If they can’t provide it, she says, the debt isn’t valid. 

6. More tips on debt collectors:

  • You’re not obligated to provide them with information. (“If they don’t already know your address, that’s a clue this isn’t a valid debt.”)
  • If you do owe money, be nice. Take the collectors’ calls even if you can’t pay. Eventually, if you can offer them a small settlement, they may take it, just to close the case.  
  • Also, don’t try to be a scammer. Burns says she’s just offering self-defense tactics against shady operators.

See the rest of Burns’ videos on her TikTok.

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