People who owe money, or debtors, are protected by a federal law, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The law explains what debt collectors can do and what they can't do when trying to collect a debt. The law also gives rights to debtors who have been treated wrongly by debt collectors. The information here explains what kinds of debts are covered by the law, what debt collectors can do and what they can't do under the law, and what rights you have as a debtor.
What is a debt collector?
Under the law a debt collector is a person or company that regularly collects debts owed to another person. A company that is collecting its own original debts is not covered by the law. Typical debt collectors are collection agencies and collection lawyers. Some debt collectors, often called debt buyers, have purchased the accounts from the original creditor. Even though they now own the debt, they are considered debt collectors under the law.
What debts are covered by the law?
The law only covers personal, family, or household debts. Examples of these debts are money that you owe from buying furniture or a car, medical bills and credit card purchases. Business debts are not covered. Other debts not covered include child support, fines for parking and other code violations, and damages owed as a result of a car accident or property damage.
How and when can a debt collector contact you?
A debt collector is allowed to contact you in person, by mail or by other ways. But, they can only contact you between the hours of 8:00 A.M and 9:00 P.M. unless you agree to let them contact you at other times.
Debt collectors can contact you at your job unless they know that your employer does not allow this. If the debt collector calls you at your place of employment, the debt collector can't say anything that would let your employer or anyone else know that you owe a debt.
Can a debt collector contact anyone else about your debt?
If you have a lawyer, the debt collector can only contact the lawyer about your debt. If you don't have a lawyer, the debt collector can't call anyone else and tell them that you owe a debt. But, debt collectors are allowed to talk with other people to find out where you live or work.
How do I stop a debt collector from contacting me?
There are a couple of ways to stop a debt collector from contacting you. If you have a lawyer, the lawyer can write to the debt collector and get them to stop contacting you. If you don't have a lawyer, you can write a short letter to the debt collector to tell them to stop contacting you. Always keep a copy of anything you send to a debt collector. If you fax a letter or send email to a debt collector, make sure to keep an electronic record of what you sent.
This interview will automatically prepare your letter for you. Please answer the interview questions accurately and carefully to make sure that your letter will be correct. You may then print the letter and send it back to the debt collector who has been contacting you.
What will the debt collector tell you about your debt?
Within 5 days after first contacting you about your debt, the debt collector is supposed to give you this information in writing:
- The amount of your debt
- The name of the person or company you owe the money to
- A statement that the debt will be assumed to be correct unless you dispute it within 30 days
- Information about what you should do if you believe you do not owe the money
What do you tell the debt collector if you believe you do not owe the debt?
If you are contacted by a debt collector and you do not believe you owe the money, you should write a letter to the debt collector and dispute the debt within 30 days after you are first contacted. When you dispute the debt, you are telling the debt collector that you do not believe you owe the money. Your letter to the debt collector should include your name, address, the account number, and an explanation of why you do not believe you owe the money. For example, you may have already paid the debt or the debt may be much smaller than the amount listed by the debt collector. If you send this letter within 30 days from the date that the debt collector first contacted you, the debt collector must stop collection on the debt until it sends a validation or proof to you that the debt is correct.
You can still dispute the debt after the 30 day dispute period but the debt collector does not have to stop trying to collect the debt.
What things are illegal for debt collectors to do?
It is illegal for debt collectors to harass or abuse you. This means, for example, that a debt collector can't:
- Threaten you with violence;
- Publish a list with your name on it;
- Use obscene or profane language in conversations with you; or
- Call you repeatedly to annoy you.
Debt collectors can't use false statements.
For example, a debt collector can't:
- Pretend that they are an attorney or that they work for the government;
- Lead you to believe that you have committed a crime;
- Misrepresent the amount or status of your debt;
- Lead you to believe that non-payment will result in your arrest or imprisonment;
- Say that they will seize, attach or sell your property or garnish your wages, unless they really intend to attempt this;
- Lead you to believe that papers they send to you are court or government documents if they are not;
- Communicate or threaten to communicate false credit information about you to any person;
- Falsely claim that because the debt was transferred that you have lost any defense you might have had;
- Falsely claim that they work for a credit bureau;
- Threaten to sue you if that is not legally possible; or
- Use a false name.
Debt collectors can't use unfair methods to collect debts.
For example, a debt collector can't:
- Make you accept collect telephone calls;
- Take your property or threaten to do so unless it is done legally;
- Deposit any post-dated check before the date on the check;
- Collect any amount from you that was not included in the agreement you signed;
- Use a postcard to contact you about a debt; or
- Use any name or symbol that suggests the name of a debt collector on the outside of an envelope that is sent to you.
What can you do when the debt collector breaks the law?
You can sue a debt collector who breaks the law. You can get money if the court finds that the debt collector broke the law. You can also get attorney's fees and court costs. You have one year from the date when the debt collector broke the law to file a case. You should talk to a lawyer if you think a debt collector has broken the law in dealing with you.