Debt Collection Laws and Your Rights

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

Your Legal Weapon To Fight Collection Agency Harassment

Some of the worst stress in the world is instigated by debt collectors. Unfortunately, when you have credit card bills that go unpaid you eventually have debt collection agencies calling and/or writing you regarding your outstanding financial obligations. And it’s not all polite banter.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to shutting down debt collection harassment.

Do debt collectors really harass people?

You bet they do. And you and the federal government can sue them for it.

Here’s how they try to get away with it:

When you’re unemployed and your credit card payments become delinquent because you’ve used your meager unemployment benefits to cover the essential stuff (utility bills, food on the table, gas for the car, rent or mortgage), you WILL be contacted by a debt collection agency. If you’ve been financially self-sustaining until now—had a job, paid your bills-- it’s common to feel like you’ve been thrown under the bus. Suddenly you’re not in control and that’s a tough pill to swallow. Sitting by and watching your debt accumulate is extremely disempowering, it’s embarrassing for many people, it’s scary, blood pressure rises, people take anti-depression medication-- and debt problems can be a very private matter. So the debt collectors come and some just don’t go away with a simple “Please” and “Thank you.”

Debt collectors may try to capitalize on your psychological situation.

Others use fear and scare tactics like these:

  • threats of law suits, even imprisonment
  • use of obscene and intimidating language
  • harassment of your friends and family
  • contacting your employer and business colleagues
  • threats of wage garnishment

Who are “The Debt Collectors”?

In your mind you might have some image of a Repo Man, drawn from movies and cartoons, but in reality, what is the “collections” business anyway?

Collections agencies work usually in one of two ways: they work for creditors in collecting on overdue debts and earn fees upon collection; or they buy uncollected accounts from creditors. These agencies are called third party collections.

And not all debt collectors are fiends. The official trade organization of the professional debt collections business, ACA International, promotes a Best Practices and Code of Conduct for association members. 

Fair Debt Collections Practices Act In a Nutshell

Here are the basics of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, which was enacted by the Federal Trade Commission in response to increasingly unfair business practices:

Debt collectors cannot:

  • Contact you after 8 p.m. or before 9 a.m.
  • Threaten you with arrest, fines, wage garnishment, injury or death, or anything else
  • Contact you at work
  • Contact family, friends, colleagues or acquaintances for any other reason than to verify your current contact information.
  • Contact you or anyone else using obscene and vulgar language
  • Contact or communicate knowingly with a child regarding your debt
  • Disclose your debt situation to anyone other than you
  • Continue to contact you if you have hired a lawyer to handle the situation

You have a right to:

  • Request in writing the name of the original creditor, must be within 30 days of the first notice
  • Hire a lawyer to deal with your debt situation and assume all communication
  • Dispute in writing any erroneous debt
  • Request in writing a cease and desist of all communications to yourself and/or others.

Other Resources

Federal Trade Commission


# Deanna 2011-03-29 16:10
I have been unemployed since July of 2009. I settled a debt(credit card) because I was unable to keep up with the payments in 2010. I had an attorney review the account and had them give me a letter up front saying it would be paid in full. I received a 1099-G for the remaining balance and now I want to know if there is any way I can excuse myself for hardship and not have to report this as income on my taxes. I am already going to owe money on Unemployment and I am a single mother and head of household of two childrenl. I have always been faithful with my tax return and am looking for answers.
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# Jolene 2013-03-24 21:28
Dear Deanna; if you make under a certain amount of money you do not even have to pay taxes. Ask questions! If you owe money to the irs and can't pay it i suggest you get a hold of them right away. Don't ever not call and communicate with them.
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# renee 2012-02-13 15:26
I have been unemployed since Oct if 2009 and have been turned down for many many jobs, home in foreclosure and vehicle repossessed, the father of 2 of my kids is incarcerated and i am POW of everything of his I am being harassed by all his credit card companies and its his home that i and my 4 kids reside in that is being foreclosed , I lost my job because of illness and I took 2 days off to drive him to the fort devens medical prison came back and was terminated since then I slowly started molding everything i had worked for, had to go on welfare sell all my jewelry just to pay bills and now all if these bill collectors are ringing my phone up until 10:00 at night.
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# Sandy 2012-08-09 10:47
I have been unemployed since 2011. The company I worked for was relocating the office 2 hrs from my home. They tried to force me to resign to avoid paying unemployment. I received unemployment after a battle. After a year, I still cannot find work.. As you know unemployment doesent cover my debt. I have always paid my bills and now I am looking at foreclosure of my home, selling items I own to survive, used the little retirement I had saved and talking to creditors to work with me. I have fallen so far behind and creditors have tacked on so much interest that I will never be able to pay off debt, even with a job. I am now being taken to court to be sued. I have nothing to take or offer or a job to garnish. I am a single mom with one child that I am trying to support. I need advice on where to go to get help with working with creditors and hopefully making an arrangement that is reasonable for everyone. I desperately want to pay my debt, but just dont see how. Even when I find work, and after trying to pay creditors, it will not leave me enough to afford the basic essentials for my son and I. How do I get back on my feet again?
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# Jolene 2013-03-24 21:32
Do me a favor if you are low income go and file for food stampsto feed you and your kids, and sign up for section 8 housing so your not homeless. Do you have any income at all coming in? I know you want to pay your debt but apparently you are unable to do so!
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