12 Questions Everyone Has About Debt Collectors

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A man looks stressed while working on his finances. © Noel Hendrickson / Digital Vision / Getty Images

Considering that more companies are turning to debt collectors for unpaid debts, it's likely that you'll have to deal with a debt collector at some point in your life. Here are 11 questions people typically ask about debt collectors. The answers can give you a better understanding of your rights with debt collectors and help you decide how to deal with a collection account.

1. Can a debt collector sue me?

One of the biggest questions people have about debt collectors is how far they can go to pursue a debt.

Yes. Debt collectors can sue you as long the debt is within the statute of limitations - a state-based timeframe limiting the amount of time a debt is legally enforceable. If a debt collector sues you, don’t ignore them. Otherwise, the collector could obtain a default judgment against you and later garnish your wages or levy your bank account. Contact an attorney if you receive a lawsuit summons from a debt collector.

2. Can a debt collector take my property?

Debt collectors generally can’t seize your property, but there are some exceptions. If the debt was tied to the property the collector may be able to repossess it. Or, if the collector has sued and obtain a judgment against you, the debt collector may be able to take certain property as permitted by the court.

3. Can they have me arrested?

Debt collectors don’t have the authority to have you arrested for a debt. However, if you violate a court order, e.g. an order to appear in court, the judge can issue a warrant for your arrest.

Depending on the laws in your state, you may be arrested for certain debts like unpaid child support or traffic tickets.

4. Can they tell my family or friends about my debt?

Debt collectors can talk about your debt to your parent if you’re under age 18, your spouse if you’re married, or your attorney if you have one.

Other than that, it’s against the law for debt collectors to talk about your debts to anyone other the the original creditor and the credit bureaus.

5. How often are they allowed to call?

The law doesn’t specify a number of times the debt collector can call you. It does state that debt collectors aren’t allowed to call you repeatedly to annoy you. If a debt collector is calling you back to back, they may be in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

6. Can I stop debt collector calls?

You can stop a debt collector from calling you by mailing a written request. Once the debt collector receives your letter, they can contact you once more to notify you how they plan to proceed, if they plan to proceed at all.

7. Can they call my cell phone? How about calling me at work?

Debt collectors can call your cell phone if you’ve given the number as a way to contact you. There’s no law against collectors calling cell phones. They can also call you at work unless they know your employer doesn’t allow you to take such phone calls. 

8. Can the debt collector ruin my credit?

Debt collectors are allowed to place the collection account on your credit report and many do. Unfortunately, debt collections are among the worst types of accounts for your credit report and will severely damage your credit score.

Paying the collection helps, but doesn’t erase it from your credit report. As the collection ages, it will affect your credit score less.

9. How can I see if a collection is on my credit report?

You can check your credit for free by going to AnnualCreditReport.com. Some collectors only report to one credit bureau, so check your reports with all three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You can also use services like CreditKarma.com, CreditSesame.com, and Quizzle.com to check your credit report for free. Otherwise, you can purchase your credit report online through any of the credit bureau websites.

10. How to get the collection off my credit report?

It can be difficult to remove a debt collection from your credit report, especially if it’s a legitimate collection account.

If the collection is an error or past the credit reporting time limit, the best way to remove it is to dispute it. You can try negotiating a pay for delete for a debt you haven’t paid or request a goodwill removal if you’ve already paid it.

11. What to do if the collection isn’t mine?

You’re under no obligation to pay a debt collection that isn’t yours. Dispute the debt from your credit report if it’s listed. You can stop wrong number collection calls by sending a written letter requesting the debt collector to stop calling you.

12. Will the collection go away if I don’t pay it?

The statute of limitations can expire on a debt which makes it legally unenforceable – a debt collector can’t sue you for it. The credit reporting time limit can expire which makes it illegal for the debt to be listed on your credit report. Unless the debt is cancelled, you’ll owe it forever, even after the limits for a lawsuit and credit reporting have expired.