Fair Debt Collection Practices Act Summary

A woman on the phone worried about debt

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Debt collectors, the third-party companies that collect debts on behalf of other businesses, are infamous for some of their underhanded tactics used to collect debts from consumers. Many collectors get away with these tricks because consumers are not aware of the laws dictating how collectors can – and how they cannot – deal with consumers when collecting a debt. Knowing the law can help you protect your rights.

The FDCPA - The Law for Debt Collectors

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, commonly referred to as the FDCPA, is a federal law that governs the actions of parties acting as third-party debt collectors for personal debts. Auto loans, home loans, medical bills, and credit card accounts are all considered personal debts.

The FDCPA applies when these debts are being collected by a third-party debt collector, as opposed to the original creditor. The FDCPA does not apply when a collector is collecting a business debt.

Prohibited Collection Practices

Debt collectors, even collection attorneys, are obligated to follow the rules of the FDCPA. There are several things that a debt collector cannot do when they're collecting a debt. They cannot:

  • Call you before 8 am or after 9 pm, based on your time zone
  • Call you at work, provided the debt collector is aware your employer doesn’t approve of these phone calls
  • Harass, oppress, or abuse you
  • Lie to you or falsely imply that you have committed a crime
  • Use unfair practices in an attempt to collect a debt
  • Conceal his or her identity on the phone
  • Disregard a written request from you to cease further contact

Debt Collection Communication Guidelines

Debt collectors are not allowed to communicate via postcard or use any kind of symbol or language on an envelope that indicates they are a debt collector. Once the debt collector learns you are represented by an attorney—and has the contact information for the attorney—the debt collector can only communicate with the attorney.

Debt collectors can call you, send letters, or text or email you to collect a debt.

Debt collectors are prohibited from using any form of harassment or abuse while attempting to collect. They cannot threaten violence against the debtor, their reputation, or their property. In addition, debt collectors cannot use obscene or profane language when communicating with the debtor via phone or through the mail.

Collection agencies and their collectors cannot publish any kind of listing of consumers that have not paid a debt, but they can report accurate debts to a credit reporting agency as allowed by law.

Communicating With Third Parties

The law also dictates how the debt collector must act when communicating with a person than you. For example, if someone else answers the phone or the debt collector is trying to locate you. The collector is prohibited from giving out information pertaining to your debt to anyone but you or your spouse (or your parent or guardian if you're a minor).

When debt collectors can't get in contact with you, they may try to reach out to your friends and relatives to get your contact information. The FDCPA allows this but limits contact to just once. In addition, collectors can only contact your family or friends to get your contact information, not to attempt to collect the debt.

When Your Rights Have Been Violated

If your rights under the FDCPA have been violated, you have one year from the date of the violation to file a lawsuit against the debt collector. You could receive up to $1,000 in addition to actual damages and attorney fees. Report FDCPA violations to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau via the online complaint form.