Dealing With Bill Collectors: Your Rights Under FDCPA

Submitted by Jen Jones on Wed, 04/22/2009 - 3:48pm

Dealing With Bill Collectors: Your Rights Under FDCPA

One of the worst aspects of having debt troubles are the calls from bill collectors. Who doesn't dread those mean phone calls after you miss a couple of payments?

Recognizing the damage that bill collectors can inflict on people in debt and their families precisely when they are most vulnerable,  Congress passed the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) in 1977. Many consumers are unaware of their rights under this act and bill collectors count on this fact to maximize their intimidation tactics.  Bill collectors will make you feel like a criminal when in fact, because of their dirty tricks and bully tactics, they are the ones breaking the law.

First, you should know the difference between creditors and bill collectors. Creditors are the people you owe money to, while bill collectors are people your creditors hire to bully you into paying. Your creditors can continue to call you, but under FDCPA , a third party hired by a creditor to collect debt must comply with the federal law. This includes attorneys hired by a creditor to collect the debt; if a debt attorney contacts you and tries to intimidate you, make sure to tell him that you understand your rights under FDCPA. Hopefully he'll know that if he messes up, you may have grounds to sue him!

What Bill Collectors Can Do:

Bill collectors CAN report negative information to the credit bureau, close your account, or sue you to get a judgment. Once a judgment is obtained, the collector can then force a sheriff's sale of any non-exempt property you own, such as your car or home.

Bill collectors may contact your spouse or your guardians; they may call your parents only if you are a minor; they may also contact your lawyer, as well as any other creditors you owe.

What Bill Collectors Cannot Do:

Bill collectors CANNOT call your employer, your neighbors, or any other third party, publish your name or information about your debt in anyway, or threaten legal action that they can't or don't intend to follow through. They cannot contact you in any place where such contact may cause you trouble or embarrassment: for example, at work. They can't call you at unreasonable hours. In fact, bill collectors can't call you at all once you write them a cease-and -desist letter. Bill collectors cannot threaten to seize your assets or to have you arrested. They cannot ask for more money than you actually owe, except under very narrow circumstances and with legal authorization. They must respond to a request for confirmation of the debt in writing. They cannot threaten your safety, threaten you with any of the forbidden conduct, or use abusive or profane language.

In addition to FDCPA, your state probably has a law addressing abusive bill collectors. These laws may offer you further protections, so you should make a point to look them up before dealing with any bill collectors.

Always tell bill collectors that you understand your rights under FDCPA and that you will report any misconduct to the Federal Trade Commission.  If there is misconduct, don't hesitate to file a complaint in writing to the FTC. Check out the FTC website for instructions on filing a complaint.

If bill collectors are wreaking havoc on your peace of mind, it may be time to consider a lasting solution like bankruptcy. Bankruptcy will stop the phone calls, stop the lawsuits, and give you some much needed breathing room during these tough economic times. Get a handle on the bill collectors and call a Bankruptcy attorney today!

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