Article | 3:59 min read

How to Deal with Debt Collectors

Credit and Debt

A person typing on a laptop

Paying off your debt is hard work. It takes time, patience, careful budgeting and frugal living. But when debt collectors start calling you, debt repayment becomes even more stressful. It's a good idea to know what a debt collector can and can't do in their quest for your payment.

Chances are, the person constantly calling you in hopes of collection isn't someone who works for the institution from which you originally borrowed money. Many times, debts are sold to collection agencies or other companies. There are rules in place, outlined by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, but some collectors might not follow these rules. According to Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, federal agencies received more than 200,000 complaints about the behavior of debt collectors in 2013 [1].

Unwanted phone calls
The FDCPA protects debts that are personal, such as mortgages, student loans, auto loans and credit cards, the CFPB explained [2]. They also only apply to debt collectors who work at collection agencies; not those who work for the original creditor, which is the bank or other institution from which you borrowed money, according to Nolo [3]. They don't apply to business loans.

When being contacted by a debt collector, there are a few actions you can do to protect yourself. For instance, if one calls you at your workplace or at a time or location that is inconvenient for you, all you have to tell him or her is to not do so again. The collector is obligated to respect this request.

You can also tell him or her to stop contacting you altogether. This should be done in writing and you should keep a copy of the letter. You should also pay for a return receipt so that you have proof that the letter was delivered, the Federal Trade Commission advised [4]. However, be aware that this does not make the debt go away. If you show the collector that you are not willing to work with his or her company, it could take legal action against you in order to resolve the debt.

If you have an attorney representing you for your debt, he or she is the only person the collector should be contacting.

Getting to the bottom of it
When you are contacted about a debt, there are some things you have a right to know:

  • Where the debt was originated
  • How much it is
  • How to find validation of the debt, or how to dispute it if you don't think it's accurate

Once you ask these questions, the collector should provide you with this information as soon as possible. They are required to send you these answers in writing within five days. Also, you should not be contacted again about the debt until you know this information.

If you plan to dispute a debt, you should do so within 30 days after receiving the information on how to do so. Once you begin this process, the collection agency shouldn't call you until the matter is resolved.

It's also against the law for collectors to lie or misrepresent the money you owe, or about whether or not you committed a crime. They also can't tell you that any forms are legal if they aren't, or vice versa.

Don't let it continue
If you know that a creditor is breaking the law or is harassing you, don't let it continue. Nolo advised taking several steps. First, document the behavior as soon as it happens. Include in your records the date, what the violation was and who else was there, in case you need a witness. Then, be sure to only speak with the collector with another person present.

Then, file a complaint with the FTC. When you do so, be sure to include the name of the person who violated the rule, the name of the company he or she works for and its address, the date and time of the conversation and the name of any witnesses. If you received any physical items that include violations, send copies of them along with your complaint.

All of this material should be sent to the state agency that heads collection agencies in your state, as well as the collection agency that made the violation and the original creditor. Nolo stated that the original creditor might wind up canceling the debt because of its part in leading to the violation.

Paying off debt is hard work, especially if there is a lot of it. Collection agencies can make the ordeal even more stressful. Be sure you know what your rights are, and always protect them.

[1]. Fair Debt Collection Practices Act CFPB Annual Report 2014
[2]. Are there laws that limit what debt collectors can say or do?
[3]. What to Do If a Bill Collector Crosses the Line
[4]. Debt Collection


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