FAQs: Debt Collectors and Your Rights

Is anyone who collects a debt considered a debt collector?

No.  A debt collector is a company that regularly engages in the collection of debts for another.  That means that the original creditor is not a collector for purposes of this law.  If a new creditor buys the debt from your original creditor, that new creditor can be deemed a debt collector if they bought the debt after the account was already in default.  Any person or company that takes on collecting a delinquent debt for the creditor is a debt collector.

Do all debts fall under the protection of the FDCPA?

No, only consumer debts, which is defined as those engaged in for personal, family or household purposes.  Therefore, business debts are not covered and you have no protection for collectors of business debts under this Act. There is also the requirement that the debt be one that was transacted for as opposed to being involuntarily placed upon you.  That means debts such as parking tickets or municipal fines are not covered. 

Can collectors call my family, friends or co-workers?

A debt collector can make a call to a family member, friend, relative, or neighbor in order to seek your location information. That is all they can do, and they can only call a person once.  They may not, however, disclose that you owe a debt to anyone at any time.  Also, if a collector is advised that you cannot take any calls at your place of employment, they may not call there at all. 

Are there limits to times and places that a debt collector can call me?

The only limit actually placed on collectors by law is that they cannot call before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.  However, a debt collector cannot call you at any time that is known by them to be inconvenient.  Therefore, the debt collector would be violating the law if they ignored a request, such as no calling on Sunday or if you advise them you work a night shift and sleep certain day hours.

How do I know if what a collector is doing is harassment?

There is no set rule on what is or what is not harassment.  What may be harassment to some may not be to others.   Profanity, obscenity and inflammatory remarks are not allowed.  Also, if a collector is causing your phone to ring a large amount of times (several times in a day) just for the purpose of annoying you, that would be harassment. 

Do they have to tell me who they are and disclose their company name?

A collector must make meaningful disclosure of their identity.  They cannot hide who they are.  Therefore, a collector should give you a name (though many do use aliases to protect their identity and this is legal) and the name of the company they care calling you from.  If a debt collector will not identify their company name or is at all reluctant to tell you, chances are they are not a legitimate company collecting a legitimate debt.

Can a debt collector threaten to sue me or garnish my wages?

A debt collector cannot threaten to take any action at all that they do not truly intend to take.  Unless a collector truly has an intention on filing a lawsuit against you, they cannot threaten to do so.  Typically, the decision to file a lawsuit is left to attorneys.  Therefore, if a non-attorney debt collection agency  that does not even own the debt is making a threat, chances are, it is an empty one.  In addition, garnishing wages is not something done so easily.  With the exception of debts collected for the  U.S. Government, no collection agency can garnish your wages unless they have a judgment against you.  A judgment cannot be had against you until you have been served with a lawsuit.  Therefore, if a collector is threatening to immediately garnish your wages and you have not even been sued yet, then such a threat is improper.

Can a debt collector threaten me with criminal prosecution?

A debt collector cannot imply that you have committed a crime in order to abuse you and coerce you to make a payment.  Debt Collectors are not legal authorities and cannot say whether what you did was a crime and cannot say or make any determination that you should be prosecuted.

Can a debt collector get a post dated check from me?

A debt collector can solicit a post dated check.  However, when doing so, they may not deposit the check early.  Also, if the check is post dated by more than 5 days, they must give you written notice of their intent to deposit the check at least 3 days before it is deposited. 

Can a debt collector charge me extra fees?

A debt collector cannot charge you anything more than the debt that is owed.  While many debts collect interest as long as the balance is unpaid, the debt collector cannot add its own costs on UNLESS it is part of your agreement with the original contract, or allowed by some other law (such as a state law allowing collection fees on unpaid medical bills). Otherwise, a debt collector cannot arbitrarily add on new amounts to your debt or any sort of administrative fees. 

If I demand that the collector validate my debt, don’t they have to?

Not always.  According to the FDCPA, the collector must give you notice of your right to seek validation of the debt within 5 days of their original contact with you.  That notice must provide you 30 days to seek validation and it must be requested in writing.   If you request validation of the debt within 30 days of receiving their notice of your right to seek validation, then the collector must provide that validation before it can continue its collection attempts.  Any demand for validation outside of that period or done orally does not necessarily require a response.