What Can and Can’t Debt Collectors Do?
Dealing with debt can be stressful. The scary reality for many people is that just one unforeseen event—a lay-off, a medical emergency—could cause them to go into debt. Being hounded by debt collectors and living in fear of what they can do to you can significantly increase your stress level. Understanding how to protect yourself and what debt collectors can and cannot do can help alleviate some of your stress.
- Consumers are protected from harassment and deceitful collection tactics from third-party debt collectors in the United States by The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Some states also have additional debt collection regulations that may restrict collectors even more. The FDCPA does not apply to a creditor's in-house collectors or cover business debts. There are additional precautions you can take to protect yourself. For tips on reporting a collector for a violation, visit the FTC's website for more information.
- Never give anyone, including a debt collector, your personal or financial information over the telephone. Legitimate debt collectors will never ask you for your bank or credit card numbers. If someone claiming to be a debt collector does ask for your information there’s a good chance it’s a scam.
- Verify that the debt collection company is legitimate. Check with the company you owe the money to that it turned over collections to the company contacting you before paying them.
WHAT DEBT COLLECTORS CAN’T DO
- Harrass you
- Debt collectors cannot threaten your with violence, call you repeatedly, use abusive or obscene language or publish information about you.
- Arrest you for your debt
- You can’t be arrested for a debt you owe. However, a debt collector can sue you for your debt and pursue an arrest warrant if you fail to appear in court.
- Come to your workplace
- Debt collectors can’t show up at your place of work to collect a debt. They can call you at work, but they can’t reveal that they are debt collectors to your co-workers. You can stop the calls by asking them not to call you at work. Once you’ve made the request they cannot legally continue to call you at work.
- Call you whenever they want
- Debt collectors can only call you between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m. You can also request that they stop calling or contacting you to collect a debt, but you are still responsible to pay the debt.
- Pursue you for a debt you don’t owe
- Inaccurate and incomplete information can lead to a debt collector pursuing the wrong person. Check your credit report to confirm that you don’t owe money or have already paid your debt.
WHAT DEBT COLLECTORS CAN DO
- Pressure you
- Although debt collectors can’t threaten you or mislead you, they can apply pressure with frequent phone calls, written letters or by filing a lawsuit, as long as they stay within the bounds of the law.
- Sue you for debt payment
- As a last ditch effort, debt collectors can sue you for payment. If you don’t show up for court your wages could be garnished and your bank levied or both.
- Negotiate your debt
- You may be able to negotiate a settlement for 25 or 30 of what you originally owed. If you negotiate a settlement make sure to get the agreement in writing so you have proof that the debt was considered paid in full for the agreed-upon settlement amount.
- Seek payment on an expired debt
- Secured debts, such as credit cards and medical bills, have a statute of limitations. After that the debt is expired you can’t be sued for it, but you still owe it and debt collectors can seek payment on those old debts.
- Sell your debt
If a debt collector hasn’t been able to collect a debt or has only been able to collect a small partial payment they may resell your debt. Make sure to get a written document when you pay off a debt.
Many states have their own debt collection laws that are different from the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Your state's attorney general office can provide guidance or you can contact one of our Certified Credit Counselors. We not only help you consolidate your debt, but reduce the number of collection calls you receive by acting as a mediary. Email our credit counseling department here.
For help with all your debt, get your free quote from one of our Certified Credit Counselors here.
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