Today, in addition to putting companies on notice about harmful debt collection practices, we’re also releasing new tools for consumers: Action letters for consumers to consider using in corresponding with debt collectors and debt collection complaints.
Many collection firms play by the rules and treat consumers fairly, but those that do not can cause financial harm to consumers and undermine the financial marketplace. Banks and other creditors may collect their own debt. They also may sell off debt to third parties. Those third-party debt buyers may collect the debt themselves or sell it off again for collection. Any entity that is subject to the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010 is legally required to refrain from committing unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices that would violate the Act.
We’ve published five action letters that consumers can consider using when replying to debt collectors. These letters can help consumers get valuable information about claims being made against them or protect themselves from inappropriate or unwanted collection activities. The letters address the following situations when the consumer:
Needs more information on the debt:
The first letter is for consumers who need more information about a debt the collector has told them that they owe. The letter states that the consumer is disputing the charges until the debt collector answers specific questions about what is owed. This letter may be useful, for example, for a consumer who may not immediately recognize the debt as their own or for those who want to find out more about the debt before they pay it.
Wants to dispute the debt and for the debt collector to prove responsibility or stop communication:
This letter tells the collector that the consumer is disputing the debt and instructs the debt collector to stop contacting the consumer until they provide evidence that the consumer is responsible for that debt. For example, consumers who do not want to discuss the debt until they have additional information verifying the debt might use this template.
Wants to restrict how and when a debt collector can contact them:
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from contacting a consumer about a debt at a time or place they should know is inconvenient. With this letter, the consumer is able to tell the debt collector how they would like to be contacted. This may be a useful option for a consumer who wants to work with a collector to resolve their debt.
Has hired a lawyer:
If a consumer has hired a lawyer, generally, the debt collector should be contacting the lawyer instead of the consumer. This letter template provides a way for the consumer to give the debt collector the lawyer’s information and instruct the collector to contact only the lawyer.
Wants the debt collector to stop any and all contact:
Consumers have the right to tell a debt collector to stop all communication. It is important, however, to note that stopping contact from a debt collector does not cancel the debt or prohibit the collector from potentially pursuing other remedies, such as filing a lawsuit. This letter template could be beneficial for those consumers who feel they are being harassed by a collector’s communications.
Debt collection complaints
Today we’ll also start taking complaints about debt collection problems related to any consumer debt, including credit card debt, mortgages, auto loans, medical bills, and student loans. You can submit a complaint to us against any company collecting a consumer debt. You can also file a second, separate complaint against the company with which you had the original account.
We’ve been taking consumer complaints since launching on July 21, 2011, beginning with credit card complaints, and also accept complaints about mortgages, bank accounts and services, private student loans, consumer loans, credit reporting, and money transfers. We ask the companies to respond to complaints within 15 days with the steps they have taken or plan to take, and expect all but the most complicated complaints to be closed in 60 days.
You get a tracking number after submitting a complaint and can check the status of your complaint on consumerfinance.gov/complaint.
Updated on May 22, 2014:
These letters have been updated to include some of the feedback we received in comments.