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Debt collector calling? Know your rights

Find out what a debt collector can and cannot say when they call you.

If you find yourself hiding from debt collectors, you may not be alone.

According to the Urban Institute, more than a third of Americans have debts reported to collection agencies. While the best way to avoid this is to pay your bills, if debt collectors do come after you, you still have rights that protect you from harassment, thanks to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

"By law, the first step that debt collectors must take when reaching out to consumers about a debt is they must inform them of their consumer rights, and that's known as a mini-Miranda," explains Melinda Opperman, a senior vice president at Springboard Nonprofit Consumer Credit Management, Inc.

By law, debt collectors must state the amount of debt and the name of the creditor. They also must state that unless you dispute the validity of the debt within 30 days, the debt will be considered valid, and that you can ask for verification of the debt.

That's all well and good if debt collectors play by the rules, but many step out of bounds in order to make you fearful. Some threaten to contact your employer, sue you or have you imprisoned. But you cannot be thrown in jail for debts.

Debt collectors cannot legally:

1. Use abusive or obscene language.
2. Harass you with repeated calls, or call before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
3. Call you at work if you’ve asked them to stop.
4. Tell your friends or relatives about your debts.
5. Demand that you pay more than you owe.
6. Threaten to sue unless they intend to take legal action.
7. Make up consequences for not paying your debt.

So what should you do if your rights are being violated?

"Consumers," Opperman says, "when they feel their rights are violated, should file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or their state Attorney General."

To help with this, CreditCards.com has assembled sample letters to send to debt collectors, such as a verification of debt request, and cease communication forms.

Next time your phone rings and it’s a debt collector calling, remember there are laws protecting you, and you shouldn’t have to avoid those calls out of fear. For more information about your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, visit consumer.ftc.gov or read more about it at CreditCards.com.

For CreditCards.com, I'm Tonya Stumphauzer.

1 Comment

  1. Prudence Debtfree

    You succeeded in presenting important information in a clear and helpful way - with a good dash of humor to boot. Well done! There are so many people who should see this!

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