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Collections - Getting behind on bills can be a nightmare.
Collection Laws are different for each state - See Our State laws page
There are definite rules and regulations regarding the handling of collection accounts by creditors and by the collection agencies themselves. The Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act guarantees you specific rights as a consumer when a personal debt has been turned over to a debt collector. These include:
- The right to stop them from contacting you except to notify you of specific actions being taken by writing them a letter requesting this.
- The right to receive a full written notice explaining the amount you owe, to whom you owe it, and what action you should take if you believe you do not owe the money.
- The right to sue in state or federal court if you believe that the debt collector has violated the law in its handling of your account (within one year from the date that you believe the violation occurred).
- If you have had an ongoing problem with a collection agency, you should probably contact the agency one more time to request a specific, written statement of their proof that you still owe on the debt. Insist that they also include instructions for disputing their statement if you do not believe you still owe the money, as the law requires.
You might also consider reporting the collection agency to your state Attorney General's office and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Many states have their own debt collection laws in addition to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and your Attorney General's office can help you understand your specific rights.
Does a creditor have to tell me before it sends my account to a collection agency? What about credit bureaus?
You have no right to be notified under the FDCPA that an account will be referred to a collection agency. However, your state may have a law that requires notice in some cases. In California, for example, you must be notified before a health or fitness club refers a debt to a collection agency. If you are threatened with such a referral with no sign of your creditor carrying through on the threat, the creditor may have violated the law.
The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (FACTA or FACT Act) requires financial institution creditors to send notice that negative information may be posted to your credit report. Sample notices are available from the Federal Reserve Board, www.federalreserve.gov/boarddocs/press/bcreg/2004/200406082/default.htm
For summaries of the FACT Act, see PRC Fact Sheet 6(a), FACTA: The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act: Consumers Win Some, Lose Some , www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs6a-facta.htm . Also, visit Consumers Union at www.consumersunion.org/pub/core_financial_services/000745.html
What should you do to help your situation?
We have LOTS of things you should do to take control of a bad situation.
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Does an agency have to contact me in writing before it calls me?
No. A collection agency may contact you first by telephone. Within five days after the phone call, the collector must send you a written notice. The notice must tell you how much you owe and the name of the creditor that says you owe the money. The written notice must also tell you how to file a dispute if you don't agree that you owe the money.
Does a debt collector have to tell me anything else?
The person who calls you from a collection agency has to give you his or her name and the name of the agency. The caller cannot pretend to be someone else. A collection agency cannot lie about who it is or send documents that mislead you.
I'm receiving phone calls from a collector. Can I stop the collection agency from contacting me by phone?
You can write a letter to the agency telling it not to contact you by phone, not to call at certain times or locations, or not to make any further contact at all. This last request does entitle the collector to contact you one more time to inform you of what, if any, action it intends to take to collect the debt, but not to threaten you. You should send such a letter by certified mail and request a return receipt. If the company has a fax number, send the letter by both fax and by mail. Understand, telling the collection agency not to contact you should stop the phone calls, but it won't stop the collection efforts.
For more on collection tactics that are prohibited by the FDCPA, see the FTC publications:
May a debt collector contact my neighbors or family members about my debt?
Not if the collector knows your name and telephone number and could have contacted you directly. When contacting your family members including minors or neighbors to find out how to locate you, the collector:
- Cannot tell others you owe a debt or discuss details of the account.
- Must identity himself, (by name, but not as a debt collector).
- Must identity the name of the collection agency only if asked.
- Can only contact the party once unless the collection agency has reason to believe the person has new information.
- Cannot leave information about a debt on a third party's answering machine or voice mail service.
Contacts with a spouse, the parent of a minor, a guardian, co-signer, executor, or administrator are considered the same as contacts with the debtor under the FDCPA.
If the situation results in a court judgment being entered against you, the FDCPA allows a collector to contact third parties "as reasonably necessary to effectuate a postjudgment judicial remedy." However, according to the FTC , a debt collector may not send a copy of the judgment to your employer, except as part of a formal service of papers to achieve a garnishment or other remedy.
For more on third-pary contacts, see the FTC's commentary on Section 805(b) of the FDCPA.
Can a debt collector contact me by phone?
Yes, but within limits. A debt collector cannot:
Call you before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. unless you agree. Call you repeatedly or use the phone to harass you. Trick you into accepting collect calls or paying for telegrams. Use obscene language, make negative comments about your character, or make religious or ethnic slurs.
Call you at work if the collector knows your boss does not allow such calls.
If you have an attorney, the collector should call that person, not you.
Fair play under the FDCPA also means a debt collector owes you the truth about who it is and what it intends to do. False statements and deceptive practices like the following are not allowed.
A collector cannot:
- Claim to be an attorney or government employee when it is not.
- Send you documents that look like legal papers when they are not.
- State that forms sent to you are not legal documents when they are.
- Say that you committed a crime.
A debt collector threatened to sue me. Can it do that?
A collection agency can file a lawsuit to collect a debt. However, among the many things a collector is not allowed to do is threaten you with a lawsuit just to get you to pay the debt. Examples of threats and deceptive practices prohibited by the FDCPA are when the collector:
- Says it will garnish your wages or sell your property if it is not legal to do that.
- Says it will sue you, if the collector doesn't intend to sue.
- Is not truthful about the amount of money you owe.
- Says you will be arrested if you don't pay the debt.
- Threatens you with violence.