I'm a servicemember and I'm being contacted by a debt collector about a debt. What are my rights and where can I get help?
Depending on your situation, there are different ways to respond to debt collectors. We have sample letters you can use if you're experiencing common problems.
If you're a servicemember, you have all the rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) that civilians do.
The FDCPA says debt collectors can't harass, oppress, or abuse you or anyone else they contact. Some examples of harassment are:
- Calling repeatedly with intent to annoy or harass
- Contacting you at an unreasonable time (before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you agree)
- Using obscene language
- Making a false or misleading statement about how much you owe
- Publishing your name for not paying a debt
- Lying to you about the debt
- Threatening to have you arrested for not paying the debt when you can’t be
As a servicemember, you may also face some situations not encountered by civilians. For example:
- Chain of command. A debt collector may contact your chain of command without your permission but usually only to find out your location, what your phone number is, and where you work. A debt collector trying to locate you may not tell your supervisor or commander that you owe a debt. Typically, they may only speak to your supervisor or commander once to get your location information, and they can’t call if they already have this information.
- Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). A debt collector cannot prosecute you under the UCMJ - only the military can do that. However, servicemembers are expected to pay their legitimate financial obligations in a proper and timely manner. Failure to pay a legitimate obligation may result in disciplinary action under the UCMJ, but only if certain conditions are met. For example, there cannot be a genuine dispute between you and the debt collector about the debt.
- Security clearance. A debt collector is not permitted under the FDCPA to share information about your debt without your permission with a third party, such as a security manager, supervisor, or commander. You should know that failing to pay your debts on time can result in negative information being reported to credit reporting companies, which may be considered when your security clearance is up for review. Servicemembers are expected to pay their legitimate financial obligations in a proper and timely manner.
There are different ways to respond when a debt collector contacts you. Depending on your situation, we have sample letters that can help if you:
- Need more information about the debt
- Do not owe the debt
- Want the debt collector to stop contacting you
- Want the debt collector to only contact you through your lawyer
- Want to specify how the debt collector can contact you
This factsheet also gives more information about your rights when a debt collector calls.
If you’re having a problem with a debt collector, contact your local JAG office for more information. To find your JAG Legal Assistance Office, use the locator. You also may be able to get assistance with managing your finances and developing a plan to help you deal with your debt from a local military Personal Financial Manager.
You can report any problems to your state's attorney general. You can also sue the debt collector for violations of the FDCPA. If you sue under the FDCPA and win, the debt collector must generally pay your attorney’s fees and may also have to pay you damages.
If you have an issue with a consumer financial product or service, you can also submit a complaint with the CFPB online or by calling 855-411-CFPB (2372). We’ll forward your complaint to the company and work to get a response from them.