What are Your rights under the Fair Debt Law?
Debt collection practices are regulated by both State and federal laws. A debt collector may not threaten or harass you, contact you at inconvenient times or places, tell others about your debt, or continue to contact you if you have requested that they stop. Under the FDCPA (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act), you have the right to sue a debt collector who violates the law, in a state or federal court within one year from the date of the violation. 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 also be paid for by the collector.
Who is a debt collector?
A debt collector is any person who regularly collects debts owed to others. This includes attorneys who collect debts on a regular basis.
What debts are covered?
Personal, family, and household debts are covered under the Act. This includes, but is not limited to, money owed for the purchase of an automobile, for medical care, or for charge accounts.
How may a debt collector contact you?
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 contacts.
Can you stop a debt collector from contacting you?
You can stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a debt dispute 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 original creditor.
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?
Within 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?
Harassment. 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.
False statements. Debt collectors may not use any false or misleading statements when collecting a debt. For example, debt collectors may not:
- 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;
- 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 are.
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 action.
Debt collectors may not:
- give false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit bureau;
- send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency when it is not; or
- use a false name.
Unfair practices. Debt collectors may not engage in unfair practices when they try to collect a debt. For example, collectors may not:
- 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 legally; or
- contact you by postcard.
Keep a log of all phone calls and communications from the debt collector(s) so you have documentation to support
your claim of harassment or abuse of the FDCPA. If you can record and save the message or communication, that is even
better. We have prepared a log that you can print and use. You want
the most accurate records of specifically what the collector said and the time of their phone call.
What control do you have over payment of debts?
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 owe. If you want to dispute a debt you may copy and use our debt dispute letter, which will confirm in writing to a collector your belief that you do not owe the debt and inform the collector to stop all contact with you from this point forward.
Debt Dispute Letter
You can use the letter below to stop a debt collector from contacting you and to dispute the debt itself. Copy the wording and fill in with your own information and prepare either in writing or on a computer. Send the letter certified mail so you receive confirmation of receipt by the collector and keep that for your records.
- Click Here for a Dispute Letter Example
*Some information on this page provided by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission).
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 7, 2013