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Even if you have fallen behind on a debt, you are entitled to fair and considerate treatment. Find out more about debt collection and what your rights are under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
If you've ever stopped paying a debt or have not been paying the amount agreed to in an installment contract (such as a car loan or mortgage), you've probably spoken with a debt collector. A debt collector may be an employee of your creditor or an employee of a third party organization hired by your creditor. You owe the money to the creditor, but the creditor may use a debt collector to help recover the money if you fall behind on your credit card or loan payments. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) covers the actions of debt collectors and requires that they treat you fairly.
Here's some information that is included in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Debt collectors can:
Contact you between the hours of 8 AM and 9 PM in the time zone where you live
Try to reach you by telephone, telegram, fax, or mail
Contact your neighbors and family members in an attempt to find you
Call you at home or at work (unless your employer objects)
To request that you not be contacted at work, or if you don't want to be contacted at all, it's probably best to send them a certified letter, return receipt requested. They are required to abide by your request.
Debt collectors cannot:
Harass you by speaking to you without first identifying themselves
Threaten you in any way (including threats of bodily harm or damage to your property or your reputation)
State that you've committed a crime
Tell you that you'll be arrested if you don't pay your debt
Use false statements that imply they're attorneys if they're not
Use obscene language
Engage in unfair practices by sending postcards to you that can be read by others
Make you accept collect calls or telegrams
Deposit your post-dated check prior to the date on the check
Within five days of first contacting you, a debt collector must send you written information about the debt, including the amount of the debt, the creditor's name, and instructions on what you should do if you believe you do not owe the money.
An October 2006 amendment to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, (sections 801 and 802 of the Financial Services Regulatory Relief Act), made some important changes to the law. Bad check collectors are exempt from the FDCPA if they have a contract with the state, county, or district attorney to pursue bad check offenders. Another change to the FDCPA is that debt collectors can make attempts to collect the debt within the 30-day period after sending you notice of your delinquency. For more information on the amendment to FDCPA, read the October 2006 postings in the Consumer Law and Policy Blog.
If you think there's a mistake regarding the debt, you should send a letter within 30 days stating why you believe you don't owe the money. Remember to send it certified, return receipt requested, so you have proof the debt collector received your letter. Once the debt collector has received the letter, all contact must stop (temporarily), other than to tell you the letter was received. If the debt collector determines the debt is yours, collection attempts can resume after proof of the debt is sent to you. At this point, you will need to determine if you can provide additional proof there has been a mistake. If not, you will be expected to repay the debt, and you should try to make payment arrangements with the debt collector.
Understanding the debt collection process and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ensures you know how to protect your rights should you need to. For more information about what debt collectors may not do, see this factsheet about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act from a Maryland legal information website. For a general guide to your legal rights regarding debt, see the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco article Your Credit Rights: How the Law Protects You.
When struggling to get out of debt, it's likely that you may cross paths with a collection agency at some point - a third party agency hired by your creditor to collect on your debt. Some collectors are more aggressive than others. It's important to know your rights as a consumer so that you don't fall victim to an aggressive collector employing unscrupulous methods. If you have past due accounts, it's important to know how to effectively deal with collectors and what recourse you have when confronted with overly aggressive tactics.
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