Debt has become a large problem in the Western world, especially credit card and mortgage debt. The Great Recession has drawn attention to the massive student loan debt Americans have, as well as the financial system’s willingness to let people take on more debt than they are able to handle. Debt has strong social implications as well, and can be awkward to talk to friends or family about.
Perhaps the worst part of being in debt, however, is harassment from debt collectors. The purpose of debt collectors is to collect the money owed from those in debt. Debt collectors are mostly paid based on commission, which often results in unfortunate and aggressive tactics.
But what you may not know is that if you’re in debt you have rights, too.
Legal Requirements for Debt Agencies
Collection agencies have certain legal guidelines they must follow. In order to legally collect on a debt, a collection agency must first:
- Inform you in writing that they have been retained to collect on the debt
- Give you a breakdown of your debt, including the original sum owed and any accrued interest
- Inform you that you have 30 days to say whether or not the debt is valid
- Give further notice that explains if you do inform them that the debt is invalid, they will retrieve evidence of its validity and present it to you
If the collection agency has failed to do any of these things, they cannot legally collect on debt. If you receive any notice from a collection agency about a debt, it should be your habit to write them back within 30 days requesting proof of validity.
If the 30-day window is already up and a collection agency is calling you, there are strict rules they must follow, called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). For example, they cannot lie to you about the consequences of not paying your debt.
There are also belongings and information that debt collectors cannot take from you including:
- TANF and SNAP funds
- Unemployment Compensation
- Your home
In addition, there are mandated calling practices that a debt collector must obey:
- They cannot call outside of the hours of 8AM to 9PM
- They cannot call you more than three times in any seven-day period
- They cannot tell, or threaten to tell, anyone including your employer, spouse, or family about your debt
- They cannot threaten you with arrest or jail time
- They must tell you, every time they communicate with you, that they are trying to collect on a debt
If a collection agency does any of these things, they may be guilty of illegal debt collection, and a debt harassment attorney might be necessary to help you rectify the situation.
How to Stop Lawful Harassment
If you’re being harassed by a company that is following debt collection law, but is still disrupting your life, you have another option. Under the FDCPA, you can write a letter to collectors that includes your name, address, account number, date, and a statement that says you’re exercising your rights under the FDCPA, you may then specify that you want the collection agency to stop calling you, stop sending you mail, or both. After receiving that letter, the only information a collection agency can contact you for is to acknowledge your cease-communication request or to inform you that they’re taking you to court in an attempt to collect your debt.
Adria Saracino is a marketer and blogger. When not consulting on business strategy you can find her writing about style on her fashion blog, The Emerald Closet.