Each year, the FTC receives hundreds of thousands of complaints against debt collectors—the third parties who collect debts for banks and other businesses. The number of complaints is a clear sign that that debt collectors don't always follow the rules when they're contacting consumers. Knowing your rights when it comes to debt collectors can help you decide whether to deal with collection agencies or not. If a debt collector is pressuring you to pay up, here are some key questions to answer first.
Do You Know What a Debt Collector Is?
When banks and other businesses have trouble collecting payments from debtors, they hire a debt collection agency to collect the debt. Whatever debt collectors choose to do to pursue a debt, they must always abide by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
Unpaid debt collections might appear on your credit report, affect your credit score, and keep you from getting other credit cards, loans, jobs, and apartments.
The FDPCA applies to third-party debt collectors, not the companies you originally created the debt with.
Is the Collector Calling During the Allowed Times?
The FTC receives hundreds of complaints about collectors calling outside the allowed times. It's possible that there are more instances of these illegal calls; consumers may not have complained to the FTC about them.
Debt collectors can only call you during certain times of the day—between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m., your local time. If a collector calls outside those times, it's in violation of the FDCPA.
Do You Want the Debt Collector to Stop Calling?
You have the right to stop debt collection calls. A request over the phone isn't enough, though. To keep a collector from calling you, you must make your request in writing. Send a cease-and-desist letter telling the collector not to contact you. Keep in mind that a cease-and-desist letter only works for that specific collector. You'll have to send a separate letter to each collection agency that's calling you.
Sending your letter via certified mail allows you to track the letter to confirm the debt collector has received it. A debt collector who repeatedly contacts you after receiving your cease and desist letter is in violation of the FDCPA.
Is It Your Debt?
Don't take for granted that the debt actually belongs to you just because a debt collector says so. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says one of the top complaints about debt collectors is that they're collecting the wrong debt from the wrong person.
You have the right to request the debt collector to verify that the debt is indeed yours and that they have the right to collect it. They have to provide some kind of documentation from the original creditor. If the collector can't provide proof, they can't collect from you.
You only have a certain amount of time to exercise this right, so send your validation request as soon as a collector contacts you for the first time.
Has the Statute of Limitations Expired?
The statute of limitations is the amount of time a debt collector can legally sue you for a delinquent debt. The statute of limitations varies by state and usually ranges from three to six years. Debt collectors might try to sue you even if the statute of limitations has expired, but you have to prove, in court, that the time for a lawsuit has expired to have the lawsuit dismissed.
Has the Collector Violated Your Rights?
There are a number of things debt collectors can't do. For example, they can't ask you to pay more than you owe. If a collector has violated your rights, you can sue them for actual damages plus $1,000 in punitive damages.
Should You Pay the Debt?
If the debt is old (say, more than seven years old), you might just forget about it. After all, the statute of limitations and the credit reporting time limit are likely to have expired. There are moral obligations to consider, too. Paying back what you owe is the right thing to do.
Can You Have the Debt Deleted From Your Credit Report?
If the collection appears on your credit report, it's best for your credit score to have it removed. Some collectors will delete the collection in exchange for payment. Others are adamant about keeping the collection on your report. When you can convince the collector to remove the entry from your credit report, make sure you get the agreement in writing. That way, you can force the collector to hold up its end of the deal.