Understanding Your Rights with Debt Collection

Owing money can be an absolute nightmare for many people and, in some cases, can cause physical and mental health issues. Getting harassing calls from creditors can be extremely stressful for most people, as many of these creditors can make threats, call at different times of the day, causing you to wake up early or lose the ability to fall asleep at night. Some may even call your place of business/employment. And, in some cases, a few can go to extreme lengths and do their best to literally cause you anxiety (I’ve been there).

They may be calling because you’re late on a car payment, or even your cell phone bill. You may owe money to a bank that you never even knew existed. These phone calls, letters, emails and other attempts to collect money may be becoming more aggressive. So what can you do to stop these creditors?

Thanks to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act you have legal rights that help protect you against some of these practices that are driving you crazy.

Know What’s Going On

Every consumer should know what’s going on with their credit, because you could become the victim of identity theft, or you could simply be reminded of a late bill before it’s too late. It’s better to know what’s going on with your credit before someone else does, because you really don’t want to be surprised with random phone calls, letters or even denial of credit when trying to apply for financing, etc.

By signing up to services such as CreditSesame or CreditKarma, you can keep a close eye on your credit to see what is going on. These services are free, although they have upgrades that allow you to get more real-time looks as well. We definitely urge every consumer to take advantage of these services. There’s not many things more shocking than to be surprised with accounts you never knew about.

Please note that these services do not affect your credit score. You can check your credit score as many times as you’d like, as often as you’d like. I suggest using both of the sites I mentioned above.

What Can Collection Agencies or Collectors Do

Unfortunately, quite a bit. Collectors can call you, fax, send snail mail and even contact you in person. Some may even text you (the horror!). There’s no such option as telling them to cease the phone calls. You owe them money and they’re not going away that easy, unless you have an attorney (see below).

If they are calling you they can only do this from 8 AM until 9 PM your time, unless you allow them to call you after these hours, which is not normal.

They are not allowed to discuss your debt with anyone you know, nor can they tell that person they are attempting to collect debt, but they are allowed to contact people who may know you, including your employer.

However, they can only contact someone you may know once (as in one time). They cannot contact that person again unless that person clearly states that they can. Always try to find out who the company is (from the person they contacted) and who that person calling you is so you can keep records. If you happen to get phone calls from collectors relating to another person you should tell them to not call again, as per your rights under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act.

If you  have a law firm/attorney working on your debt for you, be sure to let the creditor know that. They can then contact that attorney instead of you.

Incorrect Amount Owed

There may be a time when a collector tries to contact you in regards to a debt that either a) is not yours or b) is the wrong amount.

In the case of b (wrong amount owed) you need to dispute this issue immediately.

Read about removing items from your credit report (dispute letter) if you’re sure they’re incorrect, or if you know you do not owe them at all. You have a right to dispute these errors and most collectors do not always have the correct data when they purchase the data from other companies. This is a big problem and something you need to protect yourself against. It’s your right.

If they have the wrong person or information (ie, you paid that debt already) you need to follow that link above as well. They have a 30-day period in which they must verify that this debt is yours.

Repeat the process if needed.

Sending Letters to Collectors

If you want to try to stop the calls from collectors you can also give these a shot. These are sample letters straight from ConsumerFinance.gov that are free to use.

Note: they all download when clicked on. (h/t Consumerist.com)

The letter to ask them for more information regarding their attempts to contact you: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/f/201307_cfpb_debt-collection-letter-2_more-information.doc

The letter to let them know they need to talk to your lawyer: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/f/201307_cfpb_debt-collection-letter-5_heres-how-to-contact-me.doc

Another (see section “incorrect amount owed” above) letter to let them know you are disputing the debt they are contacting you about: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/f/201307_cfpb_debt-collection-letter_1-not-my-debt.doc

The letter to ask them to cut down on attempting to contact you via cell phone, work, etc.: http://www.consumerfinance.gov/f/201307_cfpb_debt-collection-letter-5_heres-how-to-contact-me.doc

The letter to stop them from the harassing calls and letters (but not lawsuits): http://www.consumerfinance.gov/f/201307_cfpb_debt-collection-letter-3_stop-contacting.doc

Reporting Collectors

You should understand your rights and know that collectors cannot break the law. They cannot give you a fake name, claim they’re an attorney if they’re not, curse at you, accuse you of criminal activity for not paying your debt, claim to work for a credit reporting agency (CRA), etc.

If you feel that they are going to extreme lengths you can do a few things. You can sue the company (within one year). Consult with a lawyer to find out more.

Contact the FTC at: http://ftc.gov

Call the FTC at: 1-877-FTC-HELP

File a complaint with your state’s Attorney General.

Have you had issues with a collection agency or collector? We’d like to hear your story below.