The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act defines what third-party debt collectors can and cannot do when they’re collecting a debt from you. Knowing your rights with debt collectors can save you many headaches and even keep you from paying debts for which you have no legal obligation. Keep in mind the FDCPA applies to third-party collection agencies, not the original company you created the account with.
Here's what the FDCPA says about your debt collection rights.
You Can Ask a Debt Collector to Stop Calling
To stop debt collector calls, send a written letter explaining that you no longer wish to be contacted. Yes, it's really that simple. Once the collector receives your letter, they’re allowed one final written contact letting you know what, if anything, they’re going to do next.
You Can Ask the Collector to Call Only at Convenient Times
The law says debt collectors can only call between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. But, if there’s another timeframe that’s not convenient for you, for example before 10 a.m. because you work the late shift, let the debt collector know and they're prohibited from calling you at that time.
You can also request that a debt collector only contact you through your lawyer if you have representation.
You Can Ask the Collector to Verify the Debt
Soon after they first contact you, the debt collector is required to notify you of your right to dispute the validity of the debt. Then, you have 30 days to send a debt validation letter requesting proof that the debt is yours. After receiving your validation letter, the collector must stop collection activity until they’ve sent you the proof.
You Can Dispute Inaccurately Reported Debts
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, only accurate, timely, and verifiable information can appear on your credit report. If you spot errors on your credit report, send a credit report dispute to the credit bureau to have inaccurate collection accounts removed from your report. Provide copies of any proof you have to help the credit bureau investigate your dispute. Follow up with the collection agency if the credit bureau dispute is unsuccessful.
Credit bureaus generally have up to 45 days to investigate your dispute and update your credit report or send you a response, but may have some flexibility in this timing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
You Have the Right to Stop Collection Calls to Your Job
Debt collectors can’t call you at work if they know or should know you’re not allowed to receive those types of calls at work. If you do get a call from a debt collector while your at work, just tell the collector not to call your job. You can also send a letter for written proof that you've made the request.
You Have the Right to Privacy About Your Debts
If they can't reach you directly, debt collectors can contact certain third parties to get your contact information, but they can only contact these people once each. Collectors are generally not allowed to tell anyone else about your debt, even when they're trying to get your contact information. The exceptions are your spouse, your attorney if you have one, and your parent or legal guardian if you’re under age 18.
The Debt Collector Owes You the Truth
Debt collectors are prohibited from giving false information. They’re not allowed to falsely represent themselves as attorneys or government agencies, nor can they accuse you of committing any crime. They’re not allowed to misrepresent papers as legal forms or say that papers are not legal forms when they actually are.
You Don't Have to Pay Any More Than What You Owe
Collectors aren’t allowed to charge any interest or fees to your account unless the original contract includes them or your state's law allows it. You can dispute an amount that seems unreasonably high.
You Can Choose Which Debts to Pay
If you have more than one debt with a debt collector, you’re allowed to choose which debt your payment should apply to. The FDCPA also forbids the collector from applying your payment to a debt that you’ve disputed.
You Can Avoid Payment on an Expired Debt
The statute of limitations is the amount of time a collector can sue you for a debt. The time limit varies by state and by type of debt. After the statute of limitations has passed, you still owe the debt, but you have the right to withhold payment. Collectors can still collect on the debt and even list it on your credit report if it’s still within the credit reporting time limit.
Depending on your state law, making payment, payment arrangement, or promise to pay on a debt collection may restart the statute of limitations giving the collection agency more time to sue.
You Have the Right to Sue a Collector Who Violates Your Rights
You can sue a debt collector in state or federal court within a year of their violation of the law. You may receive actual damages, like lost wages, or you may receive up to $1,000 in punitive damages, and reimbursement for your legal fees. If the same debt collector has broken the same law with you and several other consumers, you can form a class action lawsuit and receive up to $500,000 or 1% of the collector’s net worth (whichever is smaller).
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What wording can I use to stop debt collectors?
Debt relief services like to advertise phrases that can "stop" debt collectors, but federal law gives you a lot of flexibility on this point. All you have to do is tell a debt collector in writing to stop contacting you, and they won't be able to contact you again unless it's to say they are done reaching out or to warn you about specific impending actions (such as a lawsuit). Boilerplate phrases from services can help to ensure that your language is clear and authoritative, but they aren't strictly necessary.
Can a debt collector add fees and charge interest on my debt?
Debt collectors may have the ability to charge extra fees and interest on your debt, but it depends on state law and the contract that you initially signed with the lender. Some debt agreements may pre-emptively allow debt collectors to charge extra fees and interest, and if state law doesn't specifically prohibit that, then that's legal.