Debt Collectors and the Do Not Call Registry

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If you want to reduce the number of telemarketing calls you receive each day, you can register your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry. Once you've registered your number, telemarketers generally cannot call you.

However, many consumers are shocked when debt collectors continue calling them even after they've added their number to the registry. Before you get angry, realize the National Do Not Call Registry is likely working as it should. The reason you're still getting collection calls is that the registry doesn't apply to debt collectors.

The Purpose of the Do Not Call Registry

The National Do Not Call Registry was created to stop unwanted calls from telemarketers. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) defines a telemarketer as someone who makes or receives calls to or from a customer to get that person to buy goods or services or to make a donation.

The FTC further defines a debt collector as an individual or business that collects or attempts to collect debts. By definition, a debt collector isn't a telemarketer—because they're asking you to take care of an existing obligation and don't fall under the jurisdiction of the National Do Not Call Registry.

The National Do Not Call Registry doesn't include any of the following:

  • Calls from businesses that you already have a relationship with
  • Calls for which you've already given written permission
  • Calls that aren't commercial and don't include unsolicited advertisements
  • Calls made by or on behalf of non-profit organizations

How to Stop Debt Collection Calls

If you wish to stop debt collector calls, you should send a written cease and desist letter to the collector stating that you no longer want to be contacted.

Send your letter via certified mail and keep a copy for your records, so you have proof that you asked the debt collector to stop calling you. You can pay for a return receipt, which gives you a record that the collector received it. You may be able to take legal action against a debt collector that continues to call you even after you've written a letter asking them to stop contacting you.

Telling the debt collector doesn't protect your right to have them stop calling you; only a letter or paying the debt will stop the calls completely.

Once the collector receives your letter, they can only contact you once more to let you know they won't be contacting you again or to let you know what action, if any, they're going to take next.

If you can't get the debt collector to stop calling you after you send a letter, you can contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and file a complaint against the collector.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has published sample letters you can follow to guide you through specific debt collection circumstances. The topics they provide letters for are:

  • Not owing the debt
  • Needing more information about a debt
  • Telling them to cease and desist
  • Telling them to contact your lawyer
  • Notification of how you want a collector to contact you

Collectors are also required to stop calling you if you're being represented by an attorney for the debt they are calling you about. The key is to inform the collector because they are not held liable for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act if they aren't aware.

Statute of Limitations on Debt

Debt collectors only have a specific amount of time to sue you to try and collect on a debt. This is called a statute of limitations and is different in every state. In some states, the statute of limitations on debt starts when you made the last payment. In others, it begins when the first missed payment occurred.

When relying on the statute of limitations for stopping debt collection calls, it is up to you to prove through documentation that the debt is outside of the limitations.

This means that if a collector sues you to collect a debt, the statute of limitations period depends on the state in which you are sued. If they sue you, you'll still end up in court, but you'll be able to argue that the period has passed. A judge makes the call on whether you can be sued based on the limitations period.

The limitations period can restart if you make a partial payment, acknowledge the debt, or use the indebted account. It can also restart if you send a letter to the collector that acknowledges the debt.

Debt Collectors Can Keep Trying

Keep in mind that if your debt is past the statute of limitations, you still owe the debt. You can't be sued for it—unless you accidentally restart the period—but it doesn't stop debt collectors from taking other legal action against you, such as reporting it to the credit bureaus.

They may also sell your debt to another collector, which can start the entire process of getting them to stop calling you over. They cannot sue you for the debt (if it is past the limitations period). However, they can keep selling the debt to other collectors.

The best thing you can do is work with the debt collector to pay off your debt—they might accept a lower amount than you originally owed because they purchased your debt for a considerable discount.