It’s 3:26 pm and you’ve just received your third phone call of the day - while at work - from a debt collector. While debt collection harassment has slowly been curtailed over the years, it still occurs and it can often be uncomfortably aggressive. In fact, a study by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute found that over 100,000 people in debt attempt suicide each year. Often these aggressive collection tactics, act as a trigger for those in a mental health crisis. While paying off debts as quickly as possible is ideal, it just might not be possible for a variety of reasons. When our debts remain unpaid for an extended period, the consequence typically involves being called repeatedly by our creditors or by debt collection agencies.
The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) is a federal law that limits the behavior and actions of third-party debt collectors who are attempting to collect debts on behalf of another person or entity.
The FDCPA requires debt collectors to:
- Identify themselves
- Give information on the original creditor
- Advise consumers of their right to dispute the debt within 5 days of the initial communication
- Allow for verification of the debt by consumers within 30 days after the notification of the right to dispute the debt
More importantly, the FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from doing the following:
- Calling at unreasonable hours.
- Continue calling or communicating when requested to stop
- Repeatedly and continuously calling with the intent to annoy, abuse, or harass
- Calling consumers at their place of work, unless the consumers have given their consent, or with the express permission of a court of a competent jurisdiction
- Using misrepresentation or deception to collect the debt; e.g. representing themselves as attorneys or law enforcement officers when they are not
- Threatening arrest or legal action
- Using abusive or profane language in any communication
- Communicating with third parties other than the consumer's spouse or attorney
The FDCPA covers only debt collectors, debt buyers, and law firms who are collecting debts for someone else. It does not apply to the original creditor collecting its own debts like banks or credit card companies. In addition, only consumer debts are covered by the FDCPA rules (credit card debts, personals loans, etc.). It does not cover debts incurred for business purposes.
Given these strict guidelines set by the FDCPA, you can do the following to keep from being harassed by debt collectors:
- Write to the debt collector telling them to stop contacting you. Under the FDCPA, they must follow your request
- You can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Fair Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau, or the State Attorney-General
- As a last resort, you can sue the debt collector for harassment in a state court or small claims court
Here are some additional points to keep in mind when a debt collector contacts you:
- Keep a log of the calls. Record the dates and times of the calls, the name of the employee who called you, and a summary of what was said to you about your supposed debt
- Request to validate the debt within 30 days after being notified of your right to dispute the debt
- Explain to the collector why you can’t afford to pay if you are experiencing severe financial difficulties. This may not stop the calls but it might lead to two things: (a) make them decide to move on to other consumers, or (b) prevent your case from being endorsed for litigation
- Provide your current home address. This may prevent collectors from asking your relatives, friends, or employer for your contact details
Just as there are things you should do when you’re being contacted by a debt collector, there are also things you should not do. Some of these include:
- Do not give any personal financial information under any circumstances. No bank account number, social security number, or value of any property that you own
- Do not make small payments to a collector as a sign of “good faith" in the belief that doing so will keep you from being sued or avoid your credit score from being affected This does no good whatsoever. On the contrary, that small payment will be considered your last payment and will re-start the statute of limitation or the time limit that a creditor can sue you for the debt
- Do not lose your temper. Leave the profanity, screaming, or hostile attitude to the debt collector. Losing your cool won't help you at all especially when your case is recommended for litigation. You would not want a record of your temper flares reviewed in open court during a hearing
If you’ve found yourself in a position of falling behind in payments or circumstances have contributed to your not being able to pay at all, it’s inevitable that you will begin hearing from debt collectors. This, however, does not give them free license to harass you or engage in abusive and/or unscrupulous actions when contacting you. If you do find yourself in this type of situation, you should be aware of your rights. The FDCPA is there to protect you and many options exist to limit or end entirely the harassment from debt collectors that often goes too far and exacerbates an already extremely stressful period in your life.
Are you in debt and have experienced harassment from a debt collector? Contact us at 877-973-3287 if you have credit card, medical, or unsecured debt and would like to learn how we can slash your payments by 40-60%.