What a Debt Collector Cannot Do to Collect Money From You

Can a debt collector bully or threaten you into paying money you owe?

Financial problems
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The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires debt collectors to follow certain laws about how they treat you, and how the attempt to collect debts. But, this does not release you from your obligation to repay your debt. 

If you owe someone money, you should work on repaying your debt unless you plan to file for bankruptcy.  Ignoring your obligations to others is likely to only increase your financial stress and could end up costing you more in the long run if you are sued by a collection agency.

All Debt Collectors are Not Nasty

Debt collectors often have a reputation for being nasty and for hounding people; some buy up your debt from another creditor and then simply sue without even giving you a chance to work things out.  But not all debt collectors are difficult to deal with, and if you try to work with them to resolve a debt, some can be very reasonable. 

For those who don't play by the rules and become unfairly tenacious in pursuing you, there are laws that protect you against unfair harassment, and there are also legal remedies and steps you can take to get creditors off your back.  Just remember that with each action there is a consequence -- phone calls are recorded, letters are filed away -- so it is always in your best interest to be polite, fair, and professional because your words can come back to haunt you if you do end up in court.

Debt Collectors are Doing Their Job

Debt collectors are employees, and their job is to get money from people.  How they go about it varies considerably, but their only purpose for contacting you is to resolve a debt.  If you don't talk to them at least once to explain your situation (i.e., you are refuting the amount owed, or will pay it over time) they will keep calling you.

  If you don't take their calls, they may call family, friends, or just jump right into suing you for the amount you owe but they don't just magically go away and let you be.

Sometimes, explaining your situation and offering a "good faith" payment is enough to turn a difficult debt collector into a reasonable one.  Ultimately, debt collection companies just want to get money from you and if you do not have it right away, will usually accept payment plans over time.  What they will not accept is someone simply refusing to pay or who slams down the phone (or does not take calls from creditors), and firing back angrily at a debt collector never gets you in their good graces.

Refusing to acknowledge your responsibilities could result in your case being escalated, and you could end up in court.  If you lose, you not only have to pay the debt, but you may also have to pay your legal fees and sometimes, even legal fees of the party who sued you.

Restrictions on How Debt Collectors Can Contact You

A debt collector may not contact you:

  • At inconvenient times or places, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you agree;
  • At work, unless your employer approves, and you agree; and
  • If you have an attorney, the debt collector must contact your attorney.

    A collector may contact third parties (including family, friends, etc.) to try and locate you, but they can only ask for your phone number and where you work. They cannot tell others that you owe money, and in most cases, can only contact a third party one time.

    A Debt Collector May Not Harass You

    The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act states that a debt collector “may not harass, oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact.” This means a collector cannot publish your name (except to a credit bureau), repeatedly call you, use obscene or profane language, or threaten you with acts of violence or another form of harm.

    It is important to remember that a threat to sue you is not necessarily abusive -- the law allows that anyone you owe money to can sue you if they choose to.

      If a debt collector is threatening to sue, know that at some point they might.  It is always better to try to avoid going to court unless you do not owe the money -- and can prove it.

    Debt Collectors Must Tell the Truth

    Debt collectors may not lie or use any false or misleading statements when collecting a debt. Examples of what they cannot lie or mislead you about include: who they are, work for, or their position; misrepresent in any way, forms or letters sent to you; how much you owe; or that you have broken the law.

    Debt Collectors Cannot Make False or Empty Threats

    Debt collectors cannot make threats or use intimidation tactics to get you to pay a debt. This area gets a little tricky because it can be hard to know if a threat of further action or litigation is a tactic or something the debt collector intends to do.

    The best thing to do if you are threatened is to tell the collector that you understand the law prohibits them from making threats, and write down everything that was said to you, including the date, time, and person who called.

    A collector may not tell you that they will have you arrested if you do not pay your debt.

    They also cannot threaten to take certain actions against, such as to taking your property, garnishing your wages, or filing a lawsuit. The key words are “threaten to” because a collector may be able to do these things if it is legal in your state. They just cannot be deceitful about their intentions.

    Debt Collectors May Not Use Unfair Practices

    The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act also restricts collectors from asking for amounts you do not owe; this includes adding extra fees unless your state law permits them to do so. And, they cannot make you accept collect calls, or pay for telegrams or mailings in an attempt to contact you or collect debts.

    ”Unfair Practices” also restricts debt collects from using a postcard to contact you. They must enclose all correspondence in an envelope so that no one else can read your mail.