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Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

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Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

fdcpa1The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was passed to protect customers from being shaken down by collection companies. This act restricts the tactics they may use. Please note: The FDCPA applies to outside collection agencies, the ones that most credit card companies hire after their own attempts have failed, and not to the collection department within the card company or other lender.

Dealing With Debt Collectors

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

What are collection agencies not allowed to do?

As a result of the FDCPA, collectors cannot phone your home so often as to harass you. They cannot call before 8 A.M. or after 9 P.M. They cannot threaten you or use obscene language. They cannot call you directly if they know you are being represented by an attorney, and they cannot call you at work if they know your employer prohibits such calls. They cannot call your friends, your neighbors, or the people you work with and reveal your financial situation.

Can a collection agency obtain information on my whereabouts from government records, such as Social Security records or my tax returns?

No, a collection agency cannot make use of government records. But an original creditor can gather information from a state motor vehicle department about registration of a car, from your voter registration records, from the post office, or from a utility company or a bank, in order to locate you.

My collection agency does everything it is not supposed to do. Can I sue?

Yes, you can sue a collection agency, but a better first step might be to use the provisions of the FDCP to warn your collection agency that it is acting in defiance of the law. What you should do is write a letter telling the collection agency to stay away from you, to leave you alone, and to cease all communications with you. In this letter, inform the collection agency that under provision 15 of the U.S. Code, section 1692c, this letter constitutes your formal notice to stop all future communications with you except for the reasons specifically set forth in the federal law.

I have written a letter but I am still being harassed. What can I do?

Contact the Federal Trade Commission and register a formal complaint. If you can prove continued harassment, the collection agency is open to a lawsuit – one you could win if you have the proper documentation or proof. There have been several successful suits against collectors where the consumer won in court.

Do I have any other legal resource against a collection agency?

If you think that the collection agency may be behaving in a way that you suspect is illegal, write a letter to the Federal Trade Commission: Consumer Response Center, Room 130-A, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. Include in your letter as many details as possible. Send a copy to your state attorney’s office, your local consumer protection office, or both. You might also consider sending a copy to the legal department of the credit company that started the ball rolling in the first place. If this fails contact the American Collectors Association, at P.O. Box 39106, Minneapolis, MN 55439. It’s members agree to conduct their business in a professional manner.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect from you.

Under the FDCPA, a debt collector is someone who regularly collects debts owed to others. This includes collection agencies, lawyers who collect debts on a regular basis, and companies that buy delinquent debts and then try to collect them.

What types of debts are covered?

The Act covers personal, family, and household debts, including money you owe on a personal credit card account, an auto loan, a medical bill, and your mortgage. The FDCPA doesn’t cover debts you incurred to run a business.

Can a debt collector contact me any time or any place?

No. A debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient times or places, such as before 8 in the morning or after 9 at night, unless you agree to it. And collectors may not contact you at work if they’re told (orally or in writing) that you’re not allowed to get calls there.

How can I stop a debt collector from contacting me?

If a collector contacts you about a debt, you may want to talk to them at least once to see if you can resolve the matter – even if you don’t think you owe the debt, can’t repay it immediately, or think that the collector is contacting you by mistake. If you decide after contacting the debt collector that you don’t want the collector to contact you again, tell the collector – in writing – to stop contacting you.

Here’s how to do that:

Make a copy of your letter. Send the original by certified mail, and pay for a “return receipt” so you’ll be able to document what the collector received. Once the collector receives your letter, they may not contact you again, with two exceptions: a collector can contact you to tell you there will be no further contact or to let you know that they or the creditor intend to take a specific action, like filing a lawsuit. Sending such a letter to a debt collector you owe money to does not get rid of the debt, but it should stop the contact. The creditor or the debt collector still can sue you to collect the debt.

Can a debt collector contact anyone else about my debt?
If an attorney is representing you about the debt, the debt collector must contact the attorney, rather than you. If you don’t have an attorney, a collector may contact other people – but only to find out your address, your home phone number, and where you work. Collectors usually are prohibited from contacting third parties more than once. Other than to obtain this location information about you, a debt collector generally is not permitted to discuss your debt with anyone other than you, your spouse, or your attorney.


What does the debt collector have to tell me about the debt?
Every collector must send you a written “validation notice” telling you how much money you owe within five days after they first contact you. This notice also must include the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money, and how to proceed if you don’t think you owe the money.

Can a debt collector keep contacting me if I don’t think I owe any money?
If you send the debt collector a letter stating that you don’t owe any or all of the money, or asking for verification of the debt, that collector must stop contacting you. You have to send that letter within 30 days after you receive the validation notice. But a collector can begin contacting you again if it sends you written verification of the debt, like a copy of a bill for the amount you owe.

What practices are off limits for debt collectors?
Harassment. Debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact. we.

Can a debt collector garnish my bank account or my wages?
If you don’t pay a debt, a creditor or its debt collector generally can sue you to collect. If they win, the court will enter a judgment against you. The judgment states the amount of money you owe, and allows the creditor or collector to get a garnishment order against you, directing a third party, like your bank, to turn over funds from your account to pay the debt.

Wage garnishment happens when your employer withholds part of your compensation to pay your debts. Your wages usually can be garnished only as the result of a court order. Don’t ignore a lawsuit summons. If you do, you lose the opportunity to fight a wage garnishment.

Can federal benefits be garnished?
Many federal benefits are exempt from garnishment, including:

  • Social Security Benefits
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits
  • Veterans’ Benefits
  • Civil Service and Federal Retirement and Disability Benefits
  • Military Annuities and Survivors’ Benefits
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency Federal Disaster Assistance


Federal benefits may be garnished under certain circumstances, including to pay delinquent taxes, alimony, child support, or student loans.

Do I have any recourse if I think a debt collector has violated the law?
You 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, the judge can require the collector to pay you for any damages you can prove you suffered because of the illegal collection practices, like lost wages and medical bills. The judge can require the debt collector to pay you up to $1,000, even if you can’t prove that you suffered actual damages. You also can be reimbursed for your attorney’s fees and court costs. A group of people also may sue a debt collector as part of a class action lawsuit and recover money for damages up to $500,000, or one percent of the collector’s net worth, whichever amount is lower. Even if a debt collector violates the FDCPA in trying to collect a debt, the debt does not go away if you owe it.

What should I do if a debt collector sues me?
If a debt collector files a lawsuit against you to collect a debt, respond to the lawsuit, either personally or through your lawyer, by the date specified in the court papers to preserve your rights.

Where do I report a debt collector for an alleged violation?
Report any problems you have with a debt collector to your state Attorney General’s office, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Many states have their own debt collection laws that are different from the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Your Attorney General’s office can help you determine your rights under your state’s law.


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