When you have a debt that goes to collections, it can feel as though debt collectors will rule your life until it gets repaid. But thanks to the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA), there are rules that debt collectors must follow when contacting you for repayment. Read on to learn what debt collectors can’t do so you’ll know how to protect your rights.
7 Things Debt Collectors Aren’t Allowed to Do to You
1. Call You After Hours
Think debt collectors can call you at all hours? Think again. The FCPA mandates that debt collectors don’t call you after 9:00 pm or before 8:00 am unless you tell them they can. If your work hours make it so you wouldn’t want calls during the day, you can give them permission to call after hours, but that’s the only way they’re allowed to do so.
2. Harass You
Debt collectors have a right to try to collect on the debt you owe. However, they don’t have a right to harass you in order to collect repayment. That means no yelling, no threats, no profane language, and no attempting to irritate you through excessive phone calls.
3. Lie to You
Harassment doesn’t always stop at the way someone talks to you; it can also be what they say. In the case of debt collectors, lying to you about the debt you owe or what can happen to you if you don’t repay it isn’t allowed. You can find a detailed list of “false or misleading representations” that could occur and that aren’t allowed on pages eight through 10 of this PDF.
4. Call You At Work if Your Work Doesn’t Allow Calls
It’s not unheard of for a debt collector to try to contact someone at their place of employment, even repeatedly. However, the FDCPA restricts this activity and mandates that a debt collector can’t call you at work if you’re not allowed to receive calls at work.
That said, the debt collector needs to know your employer’s policy. If collectors call you at work and you tell them you’re not allowed to receive these types of calls, they must not do it again.
5. Communicate With You Instead of Your Attorney If You Have One
Another thing a debt collector can’t do once they’re aware of it is call you if an attorney is representing you. Again, you would first need to tell them that you’ve obtained legal counsel and then share the name and contact information of that person. From then on, unless your attorney is unresponsive to the debt collector, that’s the only person they should be calling.
6. Try to Collect More Than You Owe and Other “Unfair Practices”
According to the FDCPA, “a debt collector may not use unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect any debt.” These are what the FDCPA calls unfair practices and they include actions such as trying to collect more than you owe, illegally taking your property, and more.
If a debt collector is doing this to you, read pages 10 and 11 of this PDF to compare what they’re doing to the unfair practices outlined by the FDCPA.
7. Successfully Sue You for Time-Barred Debt
After a certain number of years, an unpaid debt can eventually become “time-barred.” What that means is that the statute of limitations on that debt has expired. Once that happens, a debt collector can’t successfully sue you for repayment.
When a debt becomes time-barred depends on the type of debt you owe and the state you live in, as the statute of limitations is different for each state and debt type. Some debt, such as federal student loans, are exempt from this law entirely.
Even though a debt collector can’t sue you for repayment once a debt is time-barred, you shouldn’t ignore it if they try. In that case, if a court date is set, you would simply show up and show proof that the debt has expired due to the statute of limitations in your state. Keep in mind, however, that if you’ve recently made a payment on an old debt, it will no longer be considered time-barred and a debt collector can sue you for repayment.
What to Do If These Things Happen to You
It’s not always easy to figure out how to deal with a debt collector, which is why it’s so important to remember that you have rights. If a debt collector in contact with you has engaged in any of the above practices, you should report them immediately.
The Federal Trade Commission says you should report debt collectors in violation of the FDCPA to them, as well as to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and your state attorney general’s office. And if you want to do more research first, you can order a free copy of the FDCPA here.