Consumer Comeback Blog

What Debt Collectors Legally Can and Can’t Do

Written by Jeffrey Trull

debt-collectionWhether they’ve experienced it or not, everyone knows debt collectors are notorious for their merciless pursuit track down debtors and make them pay.

Despite what you may believe about debt collectors having free-reign to track down money owed, they’re actually restricted legally by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) in many ways for tactics that convince you to pay.

Here are common answers to what’s typically legal and what’s not when it comes to dealing with debt collectors.

Contacting You

Illegal

Debt collectors can’t just contact you whenever they want. If you’re getting calls in the middle of the night, it’s likely illegal. During the day, they can’t contact you at work if they believe or you have explicitly stated that you’re not allowed to take such calls while on the job.

If you’re represented by an attorney, a debt collector isn’t allowed to contact you directly and must contact your attorney instead.

Finally, if you file a cease letter to force them to stop calling, they’re only allowed to make contact once more. This final contact may be made by mail only, and will typically state whether or not they intend to take further legal action against you now or in the future.

Legal

Debt collectors are allowed to call you anytime between 8am and 9pm in your time zone and as many times as they wish as long as it’s not considered annoying, abusive, or harassing.

Contacting Others About Your Debt

Illegal

Debt collectors are typically not allowed to discuss your debt with anyone other than you, your spouse, or your lawyer. They are allowed to contact others, but this is typically limited to only a single occurrence.

Legal

Collectors are allowed to contact others in regards to your debt, but they may only do so to request information like your address or phone number. If you have an attorney representing you, they must contact the attorney and cannot contact you.

What Debt Collectors Can Say to You

Illegal

Debt collectors are known for saying just about anything they think will get you to pay. However, they cannot legally make any statements that are harassing, threatening, or false. According to Money Girl, some examples of what’s not allowed include:

  • Calling you repeatedly
  • Threatening to harm you or using profane language
  • Misrepresenting their identity, company name, or the amount you owe
  • Telling you that legal action will be taken against you if they don’t intend to do it or if doing so would be illegal
  • Sending you anything that looks like an official government document if it isn’t

The legal terms are not always clear, but you may still file a complaint if you believe your rights have been breached in any of these ways.

Legal

Anything that doesn’t fit into the above criteria may be considered fair game for debt collectors.

If You’re Disputing a Debt

Illegal

It’s illegal for a debt collector to prevent you from disputing a debt you owe. In fact, FDCPA requires that that they allow you to dispute the debt within 30 days of a notice to collect.

If you choose to dispute the debt, the debt collector must stop all attempts to collect until they’re able to verify the debt, including sending you confirmation of the debt amount, date of the debt owed, and the original creditor related to the debt.

If you have multiple debts that a collector is requesting from you, it’s also illegal to apply any payments to debt that’s in dispute.

Legal

Once the debt collector has verified the case, debt collectors will likely continue to pursue the matter and are allowed to do so as normal. If you still refuse to pay, they may take you to court.

What Debt Collectors Can Ask For or Take As Payment

Illegal

Debt collectors are only allowed to collect the amount of debt that’s owed. They’re not allowed to demand additional fees on top of the debt nor may they seize or threaten to seize property to repay the debt.

Legal

Collectors may continue to keep asking you to pay the debt by the typical means and within the laws described above. Once again, they maintain the right to sue you in court if they wish to pursue the case when you don’t pay.

Garnishing Income, Bank Accounts, or Benefits

Illegal

Certain government benefits are typically off-limits to debt collectors. This includes Social Security benefits, Veterans’ benefits, and more. A list is available on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

Legal

If your debt collector takes you to court and wins, they may be allowed to garnish funds from a bank accounts and/or any wages you earn. Garnishments must be approved by the court first, and you’ll be able to present your side of the case as long as you appear in court.

This list doesn’t cover all cases, so be sure to work with a professional and research FTC guidelines for other situations and laws related to debt collectors.

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