Fair Debt Collection Practices: Your Rights

June 19, 2013

debt collectionIf you find yourself trying to get out of debt it can be overwhelming to know that you owe a great deal of money. It can be even more overwhelming when collectors contact you repeatedly in order to try and get you to pay. The good news is that you do have some rights.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is designed to protect consumers from harassing behaviors on the part of debt collectors. It is important to know your rights under the FDCPA, and be ready to report violations of the act.

Debts Protected by the FDCPA

Most personal, family and household debts are protected under law. Money you owe on your credit card, as well as auto loans and mortgages, are protected. You are protected from those who regularly collect debts.

For instance, collection agencies, lawyers and companies that buy delinquent debts are all considered debt collectors. When they attempt to collect a debt, they have to follow certain rules, and avoid engaging in practices that might be considered:

  • Unfair
  • Abusive
  • Deceptive

Get a Debt Collector to Stop Calling You

Debt collection calls can add a great deal of stress to your life. Chances are, you already know that you owe someone money, and that it needs to be paid. If you want the debt collection calls to stop, there is a rather simple procedure: Ask, in writing, for them to stop calling you. Write a letter requesting that the contact stop, and send via certified mail (so there is a record of the collector receiving it). Make sure you keep a copy for yourself.

Once the collector receives this letter, the only contact that can be made with you is to inform you that no further action will be taken, or to let you know that further action is coming (such as a lawsuit). You can also stop the contact by designating a representative. If you make it clear that an attorney is representing you regarding your debt, the debt collector must contact him or her, rather than you, to make arrangements.

Note, too, that debt collectors can’t call you at your place of work if you tell them (on the phone or in writing) that you aren’t allowed to get those types of calls while working.

Verifying the Debt

In some cases, you might think that you don’t even owe the debt! And, even if you do owe on it, debt collectors must send verification of the debt. Within five days of contacting you, a debt collector must send out a validation letter telling you how much you owe, the creditor you owe the money to, and steps you can take if you don’t believe you owe the money.

Keep records of contact, and the date on the letter, since a debt collector not adhering to the standards can earn you some reprieve. You also have the right to ask for proper documentation of the debt, including a copy of the bill that you are supposed to pay.

What Debt Collectors Can’t Do

In the past (and sometimes still today) strong arm techniques have been used to scare people into paying the debt – even if the debt isn’t theirs, or they can’t pay. Here are some practices that are forbidden to debt collectors:

  • Threatening violence against you.
  • Use of obscene language while speaking with you.
  • Publicly humiliation by publishing a list of people who haven’t paid (although this information can be given to your attorney, spouse and the credit bureaus).
  • Making false statements, including claiming they represent the government or some other organization that they don’t, and misrepresenting the amount of money that you owe.
  • Implying that you will be arrested or a warrant will be issued if you don’t pay your debts.
  • Depositing a post-dated check early.
  • Threatening to take your property or garnish your wages (unless allowed by law in your state) without a proper court order.
  • Calling you at inconvenient times, including before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. your time.

While you should repay your debts when you can, there is no reason to bow to harassment. You do have rights, and you should make sure you claim them.

Have you ever had to deal with a debt collector? What tips do you have for the readers? Leave a comment!

This article was originally published on November 2nd, 2011 at MoneySmartLife.com.


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Miranda writes about personal finance almost every day. An experienced freelance writer, she's covered your money online and in print from every angle and is always looking for new ones.

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