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Debt collection

Are there laws that limit what debt collectors can say or do?

Yes. There are both federal and state laws that debt collectors must follow.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is the main federal law that governs debt collection practices. The FDCPA prohibits debt collection companies from using abusive, unfair or deceptive practices to collect past due debts from you.

Tip: If you're having trouble with a debt collector, you can submit a complaint with the CFPB online or by calling (855) 411-CFPB (2372). You can also report any problems to your state's attorney general. You also may be able to sue a debt collector in state or federal court.

The FDCPA covers the collection of mortgages, credit cards, medical debts, and other debts mainly for personal, family, or household purposes. It covers personal debt, not debts for business purposes. It also does not generally cover collection by the person from whom you first borrowed money, also called the original creditor.

Communicating with debt collectors

Generally speaking, debt collectors may not contact you at an unusual time or place, or at a time or place they know is inconvenient to you. If a debt collector knows that you're not allowed to receive the debt collector’s calls at work then the debt collector is not allowed to call you there.

If a debt collector knows that an attorney is representing you about the debt, the debt collector generally must stop contacting you, and must contact the attorney instead. This is only true if the debt collector knows, or can easily find out, the name and contact information of your attorney. If an attorney is representing you and a debt collector calls, tell them which attorney is representing you and that the debt collector should contact the attorney, not you.

Tip: The CFPB has prepared sample letters that you can use to respond to a debt collector who is trying to collect a debt along with tips on how to use them. The sample letters may help you to get information, set ground rules about any further communication, or protect some of your rights.

If you tell a debt collector in writing to stop contacting you, the debt collector can't contact you again except to:

  • Say there will be no further contact
  • Notify you that the debt collector or the creditor may take certain specific action it is legally allowed to take, such as a lawsuit against you

Warning: Telling a debt collector to stop contacting you does not prevent the debt collector from pursuing other legal ways to collect the debt from you if you owe it, including a lawsuit against you or reporting negative information to a credit reporting company.

Any debt collector who contacts you claiming you owe payment on a debt is required by law to tell you certain information about the debt. That information includes:

  • The name of the creditor
  • The amount owed
  • How you can dispute the debt or seek verification of the debt

If it doesn’t provide this information when it first contacts you, the debt collector is required to send you a written notice including that information within five days of the initial contact.

Tip: If you have questions about the information provided to you by a debt collector, request formal verification of the debt in writing.

You can dispute the debt or ask for more information if you are unsure you owe money to a creditor, or how much you might owe.

If you dispute a debt (or part of a debt) in writing within 30 days of when you receive the required information from the debt collector, the debt collector cannot call or contact you until after your dispute has been investigated and the debt collector has provided the verification of the debt in writing to you.

You can also request that the creditor give you the name and address of the original creditor. If you make that request in writing within 30 days, the debt collector has to stop all debt collection activities until the debt collector provides you that information.

When you get the requested information or the response to your dispute from the debt collector, see if your own records agree with the information the debt collector provided. If you don’t recognize the name of the creditor, ask if it might have purchased the debt from another company that first made the loan and, if so, what the name of that company is.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act

There are other important federal laws as well. The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act covers how debt collections can be reported on your credit report.  There are also federal consumer financial protection laws that prohibit unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices that apply to debt collectors, as well as creditors.

Tip: Put it in writing. A good rule of thumb is to confirm your requests with the debt collector by mailing a written letter. Keep a copy of your letter, showing the date you wrote it, so that you have a record of your request.

State laws

A number of states also have laws about debt collection practices, which are similar to the FDCPA. Some of those state laws cover the original creditor, while others don't.

Tip: Contact your state attorney general's office to learn more about the laws in your state.

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