Did you know that there are debt collector laws that regulate how debt collectors treat debtors? Although debt collectors have a right to do their job, they must do so within the confines of federal law. In this article, you will learn about what debt collectors are allowed to do, illegal debt collection practices, and about the federal debt collector law known as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
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Debt Collector Laws: What Debt Collectors Can Do
Debt collectors can take certain actions to do their job as long as they do so within the scope of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which you will learn more about soon. Debt collectors are allowed to attempt to contact you in an effort to collect on the debt that is owed. This includes the original creditor, third-party debt collection agency, and a company that purchases debt for the purpose of collecting it. For the purposes of this article, we will refer to anyone attempting to collect on a debt as a debt collector regardless of whether or not they are the original creditor.
Debt collectors can:
- Call you at home between specific hours on specific days. In general, this is during your time zone and not the debt collector's time zone. The hours are approximately 8 am to 9 pm Monday through Saturday and from 1 pm to 5 pm on Sunday. Remember, these times are for your time zone.
- Call you at work as long as it is not against your work policy to receive personal calls while you are at work; this includes your work's policy for using your personal cell phone during work hours.
- Talk to your friends and family to collect certain information about you. This information is limited to validating your current contact information.
- File a lawsuit against you to get a judgment or attempt to collect on what they are owed. Depending on whether the debt collector is successful and the type of debt they are pursuing against you, they may have various legal remedies available such as a property lien, bank account garnishment, or wage garnishment.
Debt Collector Laws: Illegal Debt Collection Practices
What debt collectors are not allowed to do are referred to as illegal debt collection practices. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act helps protect your legal rights as a debtor. That's right – just because you owe a debt does not mean that a debt collector can mistreat you. Although a debt collector is entitled to at least attempt, in some fashion to do their job, you are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect.
Debt collectors cannot:
- Call you outside of the specific days and hours mentioned. Sometimes, debt collectors will attempt to state that they can call out outside of those hours because they are calling within those hours during their time zone. That is not what the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act states.
- Call you at work if it is against your work's policy to receive personal calls on your personal cell phone or your work line. Some debt collectors may attempt to get around this by calling and stating that it is a “business matter.” However, keep in mind that you did not take out the debt while you were doing something in the name of your employer or for your employer. You were doing something on your personal time (even if involved purchasing clothing that you could wear to work).
- Continue to call you after you have told them to stop contacting you. It is generally best to send them a certified letter with a return receipt requested to stop contacting you. This provides proof that you told them to stop contacting you. However, informing the debt collector to stop calling you does not mean that they cannot pursue other remedies such as filing a lawsuit against you.
- Continually call and harass your friends and family. In general, debt collectors may only call someone other than your spouse one time each. Even then, they cannot give out information about your debt to them. All the debt collector is allowed to do is confirm that the contact information they have on file for you is correct.
- Call you and verbally abuse you. Debt collectors are not allowed to call and curse at you, harass you, or verbally abuse you in some way. They cannot call you names. They cannot scream at you. They cannot threaten to have you arrested for not paying your debt. They cannot threaten to sue you if they do not plan on filing a lawsuit.
- Call you with an autodialer to harass you. The Telephone Consumer Protection Act protects you from debt collectors using an autodialer to harass you by repeatedly calling your texting you about a debt. They can only use an autodialer if you have provided consent.
What Is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act?
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is a federal law that governs the acts of debt collectors. It defines what debt collectors can and cannot do. When debt Fair Debt Collection Practices Act violations occur, debtors who are victimized, may have certain legal rights at both the state and federal level. However, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is a federal law.
How to Deal with Debt Collectors: Illegal Debt Collection Practices
If you believe that you are being victimized by illegal debt collection practices, you do have options. As previously mentioned, you can send the debt collector a certified letter with return receipt requested stating that they are no longer allowed to contact you. However, that does not mean that the debt collector cannot pursue the debt using other means if the debt is legitimate. It is important that you document what you believe are illegal debt collection practices. Washington state is a two-party consent state when it comes to recording conversations that take place on the phone. You must have permission of the other party on the phone before you can record your conversations. With that said, you can keep a written log of the name of the debt collector, the agency from which they are calling, and a summary of the call along with the date and time of each call.
Next, take this information and file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The primary goal of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is to protect consumers in various ways, including from debt collectors. Submitting a complaint through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau helps alert the federal government to the potential that a debt collector may be violating federal law. The debt collector is given 15 days to respond to the complaint.
You can also report a debt collector to the Washington State Attorney General. Remember that you should only do this if the debt collector is violating the law. The Attorney General's website also includes an excellent plain English list of what debt collectors cannot do in the State of Washington.
Get Help with Your Debt in Washington State
Dealing with debt collectors can be difficult. If you're looking for a fresh start, Chapter 7 bankruptcy may be the answer. The Law Offices of Alesha Struthers provides free consultations for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Our goal is to help our clients understand their options so that they can make an informed choice. To learn more about Chapter 7 or debt collection in Washington state, schedule your free consultation now.
Disclaimer: This publication is not legal advice. It is intended as legal information only. For legal advice specific to your needs, contact the Law Offices of Alesha Struthers, PS at 800-972-0411.
Posted December 2020