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Consumer Protection Law

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Your Rights During Debt Collection

Key Takeaways:

  • You have the right to get information about your debts from a debt collection agency and dispute it.
  • Debt collectors cannot harass or threaten you over unpaid debts, including calling you at all hours.
  • A lawyer can help advise you on next steps and how to best communicate with creditors.

Few of us can get through life without borrowing money. Most of us can only pay for major expenses such as cars, houses, or tuition with loans. We use credit cards to pay for unexpected costs. But sometimes, circumstances can cause us to get behind on our bills. When an account is seriously past due, creditors usually sell the debt to a collection agency. Debt collection agencies typically call people repeatedly until they arrange to pay the debt.

If debt collectors call you, you should know you have legal rights. This article will briefly overview some of your rights when dealing with debt collection agencies. Contact a local attorney to learn more about protecting yourself from collectors.

Your Rights as a Debtor

The law gives debt collectors the right to contact you regarding a debt. However, you also have rights under federal law, specifically the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), including:

  • The right to information about the debt: Debt collectors must give you information about the debt within five days of their first contact with you. This written notice, called a validation notice, must contain the original creditor’s name, the amount you owe, and your right to dispute the debt.
  • The right to dispute the debt:If you believe that you don’t owe a debt or that the amount owed is incorrect, you have the right to dispute the debt. You must contact the collection agency in writing within 30 days of their first letter. If you don’t dispute the debt within 30 days, it will be assumed to be valid.
  • The right to not be harassed: The FDCPA forbids “abusive, deceptive, and unfair” collection practices. Debt collection agencies cannot:
    • Try to collect more than they are entitled to under the law
    • Use obscene or profane language
    • Threaten you with violence
    • Tell you that you will be arrested if you don’t pay immediately (child support is the only debt with a risk of jail if unpaid, generally)

If you believe a debt collection agency engaged in abusive, deceptive, or unfair practices when talking to you, you should file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) or contact your state attorney general.

There are two things to note about the FDCPA:

  • It only applies to third-party debt collectors, not the original creditor.
  • The law provides a baseline; you may have additional rights under your state’s law.

Why You Should Request Verification of Your Debt

Requesting verification of a debt is your legal right. Validation provides several benefits.

First, it can keep you from paying a debt you don’t owe. Second, even if the debt is yours, you should verify the amount to ensure you don’t pay more than your legal obligation.

Verifying the age of the debt is also important. Every state has a statute of limitations prohibiting debt collection after a certain time. In some states, collection agents cannot contact you if your debt is older than this limit.

If an agency refuses to verify the debt, it could be evidence of a scam. If you suspect a scam, you should file a fraud report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and contact your state attorney general’s office.

When, Where, and How Debt Collectors Can Contact You

The FDCPA limits where, when, and how debt collectors can contact you. The answers below use the FDCPA to answer a few common questions. Remember, you may have additional rights under state law.

Can Debt Collectors Call Me at Home?

Yes, within strict timelines. Debt collectors cannot call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. Phone calls outside of these times are the law.

How Often Can Debt Collectors Call Me at Home?

Debt collectors cannot make repeated, continuous telephone calls. Agencies that call you (including leaving a voicemail) more than seven times in seven days or contact you within seven days after you’ve had an actual conversation about a debt are breaking the law.

Can Debt Collectors Speak to My Family Members?

Debt collection agents can ask family members for basic information like your address and phone number. However, they can only contact these individuals once. More importantly, they cannot talk about your debt. Your debt can only be discussed with you, your spouse, or your attorney.

Can I Ask Debt Collectors To Stop Calling Me at My Job?

Yes. Debt collectors cannot call you at work if “the debt collector knows or has reason to know” that your employer doesn’t let you take calls at work. So if you tell a debt collector that your job doesn’t allow personal calls or that it’s inconvenient for you to speak while at work, the agency must stop calling you at work. Any more calls at your job — even to leave a message — violate the law.

Can a Collection Agent Talk to My Co-Workers About My Debts?

No. They can speak to your employer to verify your employment. However, they cannot share the details of your debts.

Can Collection Agencies Contact Me via Social Media?

Yes and no. Collection agencies cannot make public posts about your debts. However, they can send you private messages. But if you ask them to stop, they must cease.

How Can I Stop Debt Collectors From Contacting Me?

According to the FTC, if you want a debt collection agency to stop calling you, the best thing to do is to send a letter. The letter should ask the agency to stop contacting you by mail, phone, or social media. The FTC recommends that you send the letter via certified mail and get a return receipt to prove that you sent it.

Once it gets your letter, the collection agency can only contact you for two reasons: to confirm that it received your letter or to tell you about the legal actions it will be taking.

But a letter will not stop any current or future legal actions. Even if you have no further contact with the collection agency, you may still face lawsuits, wage garnishment, repossession, and similar. Speak to an attorney to learn how to best deal with creditors under your specific circumstances.

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