If you use credit cards, owe
money on a personal loan, or are paying on a home mortgage, you are a
"debtor." If you fall behind in repaying your creditors, or an error is
made on your accounts, you may be contacted by a "debt collector."
You should know that in either situation, the Fair Debt Collection
Practices Act requires that debt collectors treat you fairly and prohibits
certain methods of debt collection. Of course, the law does not erase any
legitimate debt you owe.
This brochure answers commonly asked questions about your rights under
the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
What debts are
Personal, family, and household debts are covered under the
Act. This includes money owed for the purchase of an automobile, for
medical care, or for charge accounts.
Who is a debt
debt collector is any person who regularly collects debts owed to others.
This includes attorneys who collect debts on a regular basis.
How may a debt collector
A collector may contact you in
person, by mail, telephone, telegram, or fax. However, 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. A debt collector also may not contact
you at work if the collector knows that your employer disapproves of such
Can you stop a debt
collector from contacting you?
You can stop a debt
collector from contacting you by writing a letter to the collector telling
them to stop. Once the collector receives your letter, they may not
contact you again except to say there will be no further contact or to
notify you that the debt collector or the creditor intends to take some
specific action. Please note, however, that
sending such a letter to a collector does not make the debt go away if you
actually owe it. You could still be sued by the debt collector or your
May a debt collector
contact anyone else about your debt?
If you have
an attorney, the debt collector must contact the attorney, rather than
you. If you do not have an attorney, a collector may contact other people,
but only to find out where you live, what your phone number is, and where
you work. Collectors usually are prohibited from contacting such third
parties more than once. In most cases, the collector may not tell anyone
other than you and your attorney that you owe money.
What must the debt
collector tell you about the debt?
five days after you are first contacted, the collector must send you a
written notice telling you the amount of money you owe; the name of the
creditor to whom you owe the money; and what action to take if you believe
you do not owe the money.
May a debt collector
continue to contact you if you believe you do not owe money?
A collector may not contact you if, within 30 days after you
receive the written notice, you send the collection agency a letter
stating you do not owe money. However, a collector can renew collection
activities if you are sent proof of the debt, such as a copy of a bill for
the amount owed.
What types of debt
collection practices are prohibited?
Debt collectors may not harass,
oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact. For example, debt
collectors may not:
- use threats of violence or harm;
- publish a list of consumers who refuse to pay their debts (except to
a credit bureau);
- use obscene or profane language; or
- repeatedly use the telephone to annoy someone.
Debt collectors may not use any false or
misleading statements when collecting a debt. For example, debt collectors
- falsely imply that they are attorneys or government representatives;
- falsely imply that you have committed a crime;
- falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit bureau;
- misrepresent the amount of your debt; l indicate that papers being
sent to you are legal forms when they are not; or
- indicate that papers being sent to you are not legal forms when they
Debt collectors also may not state that:
- you will be arrested if you do not pay your debt;
- they will seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages,
unless the collection agency or creditor intends to do so, and it is
legal to do so; or
- actions, such as a lawsuit, will be taken against you, when such
action legally may not be taken, or when they do not intend to take such
Debt collectors may not:
- give false credit information about you to anyone, including a
- send you anything that looks like an official document from a court
or government agency when it is not; or
- use a false name.
Debt collectors may not engage in unfair
practices when they try to collect a debt. For example, collectors may
What control do you have
over payment of debts?
- collect any amount greater than your debt, unless your state law
permits such a charge;
- deposit a post-dated check prematurely;
- use deception to make you accept collect calls or pay for telegrams;
- take or threaten to take your property unless this can be done
- contact you by postcard.
If you owe more than one
debt, any payment you make must be applied to the debt you indicate. A
debt collector may not apply a payment to any debt you believe you do not
What can you do if you
believe a debt collector violated the law?
have the right to sue a collector in a state or federal court within one
year from the date the law was violated. If you win, you may recover money
for the damages you suffered plus an additional amount up to $1,000. Court
costs and attorney's fees also can be recovered. A group of people also
may sue a debt collector and recover money for damages up to $500,000, or
one percent of the collector's net worth, whichever is less.
Where can you report
a debt collector for an alleged violation?
Report any problems you have with a debt collector to your
state Attorney General's office and the Federal Trade Commission. Many
states have their own debt collection laws, and your Attorney General's
office can help you determine your rights.