How to use The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to your advantage

If you’ve ever been forced to deal with debt collectors you have probably wondered what sort of laws govern the way they do business – if any! Sometimes you might have felt like the collector was crossing the line, but if you aren’t sure of what that so-called line actually is then there isn’t much you can do about it.

Well, wonder no more!

In a nutshell, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act tells debt collectors how they are allowed to do business. This law prohibits debt collectors (and people who attempt to collect debt regularly, like attorneys) from being excessively aggressive, obnoxious, and just plain mean.

Make no mistake about it: Many debt collectors know that there are a variety of tactics that can be effectively used in order to get someone to make a payment. They still employ tactics that utilize aggression, shame, and persistence when trying to collect on a debt, but they just have to make sure that their tactics do not fall outside of the realm of the standards set by The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. If they do cross the line, you may have the right to take legal action against them.

Photo by luba ma 

Debt collectors are NOT breaking the law if they:

• Contact you regarding a debt that you actually owe.

• Contact someone else in an effort to get your contact information, as long as they don’t discuss your account with the person they contact.

• Report your delinquent status to a credit bureau, unless you are currently disputing the debt.

• Call you at work, unless you tell them not to.

• Threaten a lawsuit, but only if there is legitimate cause and the collection agency actually intends on filing a lawsuit.

Debt collectors ARE breaking the law if they:

• Disclose information regarding your debt to someone else in an attempt to shame you into paying the debt.

• Call you incessantly and at bizarre hours (specifically, outside the hours of 8am to 9pm local time), or call you at work after you have told them to stop.

• Get verbally abusive with you or try to scare you into paying the debt with threats of violence, even if the threats are weakly disguised as tongue-and-cheek.

• Tell you a lawsuit is on the horizon or has already been filed when it’s not actually true.
• Send you paperwork that is designed to look like a court summons or other legal document when it actually isn’t.

• Try tactics that shame you into paying the debt, such as sending you postcards or transparent envelopes that have your debt information visible or posting your name and account information on a website that is accessible to the general public.

This law isn’t designed to let people avoid paying debts. In other words, The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act gives debt collectors a fair chance at collecting on debts while also protecting the consumer from overzealous collectors who resort to scare tactics or harassment in order to get payment.

The Federal Trade Commission is responsible for investigating any debt collectors who break this law. If you think a debt collector has violated The Fair Debt Collection Act while dealing with you, check with the FTC to find out if you have any recourse. If you’d simply like to file a complaint, go here and click on ‘FTC Complaint Assistant’ to begin the process. Note that your chances of filing a successful complaint are based largely on the evidence you can provide. As a result, it’s worth recording every call you get from a debt collector – just make sure you inform them at the beginning of the call that they’re being taped, otherwise you might be breaking the law yourself.

You should also be aware that you’re legally entitled to ask for written verification of a debt (or for the name and address of the original creditor on a debt), and that debt collectors aren’t permitted to call you again until the verification you asked for has been sent. Better still, it’s often within your rights to actually forbid them from contacting you in regards to the debt completely. To initiate the process, send the collection company a letter much like the one found here, and make sure you send another copy to the FTC at:

Federal Trade Commission
Consumer Response Center
600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20580

Yes, you’re responsible for paying the debts you legitimately owe, but you shouldn’t be harassed and intimidated by the people who are paid to coax a payment out of you.

Finally, for a more comprehensive look, you can see the actual act here (warning: it’s a PDF and it includes some legal-ese), or check out the Wikipedia page for a more thorough breakdown.

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