Have you ever taken on a debt that you were eventually unable or unwilling to pay as initially agreed? If so, then you may be very familiar with the unpleasant reality of dealing with third-party debt collectors.
Third-party debt collectors include collection agencies, attorneys, debt buyers, and anyone who regularly collects debts initially owed to others. These are the friendly folks who call you at home and work and lean on your to make payments.
No one likes a debt collector, but the truth is that there’s nothing illegal about trying to collect a legitimate debt, provided that the debt collector follows the law. If you’ve had a defaulted debt turned over to a debt collector then it’s important for you to learn about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
The FDCPA is the Federal statute that regulates the behavior of third-party debt collections in the United States. The FDCPA, originally enacted in 1977, dictates what a debt collector is and isn’t allowed to do as it attempts to collect debts from consumers.
Restrictions on Collection Calls
If a debt collector calls you, the first thing that he or she must do is to properly identify where the call is from and that the purpose of the call is to collect a debt. It’s their version of Miranda Rights.
Debt collectors are not allowed to call you whenever and wherever they wish. Unless you’ve specifically agreed otherwise, a debt collector may not call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. This time frame is subject to the time zone where you live, not the time zone where the debt collector is located.
For the most part, debt collectors are not allowed to speak with anyone else regarding your debt. That’s known as “third -party disclosure,” and it’s a big no-no under the FDCPA. Exceptions to the rule do exist, but they’re largely limited to a debt collector speaking with your attorney. Additionally, debt collectors may contact other people you know, but only to inquire regarding your address, phone number, and place of employment.
Debt collectors are also allowed to call you at work, at least initially. However, if you tell a debt collector that you’re not allowed to receive calls at work, then the calls must stop immediately.
In fact, you even have the right to demand that a debt collector stop trying to call or contact you altogether, but this request must be sent in writing. Keep in mind, however, that if you send a written demand to a creditor to stop contacting you, then you leave the collector with only one final recourse to try to collect the unpaid debt – a lawsuit.
Restrictions on Harassment
Some collectors are notorious for using high-pressure tactics to compel you to pay. If those high-pressure tactics become harassment, however, then the debt collector has crossed a line.
It’s not acceptable for a debt collector to use obscene or insensitive language, threaten to harm you physically, call you excessively, threaten to arrest you, publish your name as a past-due debtor, or to threaten legal action unless the debt collector truly intends to sue you.
Restrictions on Lying
Debt collectors are prohibited from lying or making false statements in their attempt to collect a debt. They cannot, for example, pretend to be calling from an attorney’s office or a government agency. They cannot misrepresent the balance you owe, nor can they give you a fake name. It is also illegal for a debt collector to imply that failure to pay a debt could result in your arrest. Dishonesty of any kind is off limits.
You Should Pay Your Debts
Regardless of how you may feel about debt collectors, they do serve a valuable purpose. And to the extent you actually do owe the defaulted debt, you should pay it. It’s what you agreed to do when you signed your cardholder agreement, apartment lease, or promissory note. If you make a habit out of not living up to your end of the deal when you apply for credit or services, you’ll always have poor credit, and you’ll have to constantly deal with debt collectors and collection attorneys, which isn’t a great way to go through life.