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A debt collector is an agency or attorney hired by creditors to attempt to collect past-due debts. If you have credit card debt or other types of debt you cannot afford to pay, you will eventually receive phone calls or letters from a debt collector.
Debt collectors must adhere to guidelines established by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The agency enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a federal law that includes regulations about how and when debt collectors can contact you. These laws do not apply to business debt, but they do cover mortgages, student loans, credit cards, medical bills, and other types of consumer debt.
You may hear from a debt collector if a creditor thinks you have an unpaid debt. This person may work for the company who is claiming the debt or for an outside agency hired by that company. If the debt in question is several years old and you are contacted by a collector, the debt may have been purchased by an individual or company that is now attempting to collect.
Sometimes, a debt collector may contact you to find a family member or friend. With this type of call, the caller will not disclose the reason they are searching for that person.
A debt collector can contact you:
A debt collector cannot:
The best course of action to take after contact from a debt collector depends on whether the debt is legitimate. If you owe the debt but cannot afford to pay, you can attempt to arrange a payment plan.
If you do not believe the debt is actually yours, you can seek advice from an attorney or a credit counseling agency. When speaking to a debt collector, avoid revealing financial or personal information until you verify that the person is working to collect a legitimate debt.
Within five days of initially contacting you, the debt collector must send you a written letter called a validation notice. This letter must include information about the amount of the debt, the creditor to whom the debt is owed, and steps to take if you do not think you really owe the debt in question.
If you do not think the debt is yours, respond to the letter with a written request for debt validation. Within 30 days of receiving this request, the debt collector must provide proof that the debt is yours and the amount. You can also respond and state that you do not owe the debt in question or that you do not owe the full amount.
Keep copies of all letters you send and receive regarding the debt. You should also send correspondence through priority mail with a return receipt so you have proof that the letters were received by the debt collector.
The debt collector must refrain from contacting you if you make this request in writing. However, this does not stop the creditor from filing a lawsuit to collect the debt. If you are successfully sued to collect a debt, your wages can be garnished and bank accounts and other property seized. For this reason, you should seek assistance from a credit counseling agency or attorney if you need help making a plan to repay debt.
If a debt collector has contacted you in a way that violates the FDCPA, you have legal recourse. You should report the incident in question to the FTC, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and/or the Attorney General in your state.
You also have 12 months from the incident to sue the debt collector in either state or federal court, depending on the specific violation. If you are able to prove that the law was broken, you can be awarded up to $1,000 plus related costs such as lost wages, court costs, attorney fees, and medical bills.
Even if you win the case, however, this does not affect the creditor’s ability to collect a legitimate debt. If the debt is proven to be yours, you must repay it or risk a lawsuit.
Do you need help dealing with debt collectors? If you have unpaid credit card, student loan, or tax debt, Solvable can help. Answer a few simple questions about your financial situation and we’ll match you with well-reviewed companies who specialize in helping people like you find their way out of debt.