Frequently Asked Questions
To help educate consumers who want to learn more about credit law and debt collection harassment, we've organized this FAQ to answer the most common questions we hear on the 1-800-NOT-FAIR hotline.
What is a "creditor?"
A creditor is the entity that is owed a debt by a consumer. Some examples are credit cards, stores, auto lenders, mortgage companies, and telephone carriers.
What is a "debt collector" or a "debt collection agency?"
Both terms are commonly referred to as "debt collectors." A debt collector is any person, company, or business engaged in collecting debts for creditors or the current owners of debts that have been purchased by them from creditors.
What kind of debts are covered under the "Fair Debt Collection Protection Act?"
The Fair Debt Collection Protection Act (FDCPA) covers all personal, family, and household debts. Some common examples are credit card debts, mortgage debt, medical bills, telephone carrier bills, student loans etc.
What is the "statute of limitations" for filing a claim?
The statute of limitations is the time period set by law for claims to be brought in court. Different claims have different time periods.
As it relates to the FDCPA, a consumer has only one (1) year to assert a claim against a debt collector for violating the law. Only those events occurring in the previous 12 months before the date a lawsuit is filed are viable in a court of law. For this reason, we urge people to calls us as soon as possible, to ensure the debt collector will not escape liability for their actions.
How may a debt collection agency contact me?
Unless you tell them not to, or unless they know you are represented by a lawyer, a debt collector can attempt to contact you in person, by mail, email, or telephone.
A collector may not contact you at inconvenient times or places unless you have specifically agreed to be contacted at those times or places. Again, if you inform a collector that you have an attorney, the collector must contact the lawyer rather than you.
When can debt collectors call?
A debt collector may only call between 8:00 am and 9:00 pm, unless you ask them to call at a different time or tell them to stop calling entirely.
Can a debt collector call me at work?
Yes, unless the collector is made aware that your employer does not approve of such calls at work, or that they are inconvenient, in which case they must stop calling.
Can a debt collector talk to other people about my debt?
A debt collector may not talk to anyone else about your debt besides you, your attorney, a credit agency, the creditor, or the creditor’s attorney unless given express permission by you to do so. They cannot talk to friends, roommates, co-workers, family, or former spouses about your debt.
A debt collection agency may contact others one time to get your address, phone number, or employer, but they cannot mention your debt to anyone.
Debt collection agencies may not send post cards or envelopes that feature language or symbols that relate to debt collection. A debt collector may not use envelope window transparencies which reveal debt or the purposes of the correspondence.
Can collectors call me about other people’s debts?
A debt collector may not call you more than once for a debt if they are notified that it does not belong to you, unless they have a strong indication that you are indeed the debtor and are providing false information that you are not.
Alternatively, if you live with the debtor but have provided false information to that effect, and the debt collector has reason to know it, they may continue to call.
To avoid either situation, simply tell the collector that you no longer want to be called because you find it harassing, that you dispute the debt, or that you find it inconvenient to receive calls at any time. The collector must cease calling if told any of these things. A debt collector may not discuss the details of the debt they are seeking to collect if it is not your debt.
Can I stop a debt collection agency from contacting me?
Debt collectors are required by law to stop contacting you under several circumstances.
First, they must cease and desist if you send a written certified letter telling them to do so. Once they receive the letter, they may not contact you again except to confirm there will be no further contact or to inform you that the creditor intends to take specific actions.
Second, a debt collector must stop calling if told that you no longer want to be called because you find it harassing, or if you dispute the debt or if you tell them it is inconvenient to receive calls at any time. The collector must cease calling if told any of these things. None of these will make your debt go away if you actually owe it and nothing prevents the debt collector suing on behalf of the creditor if authorized to do so.
What must a debt collection agency tell me about the debt?
Within five days after you are initially contacted by a collection agency, they must send you a written notice that contains the following information:
- The amount of the debt.
- The name of the creditor to whom you owe the debt.
- A statement that they will assume the debt is valid unless you dispute it in writing within 30 days after you received the letter.
- A statement that they will mail you proof that you owe the debt if, within 30 days, you notify them in writing that you are disputing the debt.
- A statement that informs you that you may request in writing the name and address of the original creditor, if different than the current creditor, within 30 days.
What types of debt collection practices are illegal?
Debt collection agencies may not harass or abuse you or anyone else they contact. This includes:
- Threatening to harm you, your reputation, or your property.
- Using obscene language.
- Publishing a list of consumers who refuse to pay their debts (except to a credit rating agency).
- Advertising the sale of your debt.
- Repeatedly calling to annoy, abuse, or harass someone.
- Calling you or your attorney without identifying themselves.
These actions violate the FDCPA and are considered unlawful. For more information on illegal debt collection practices, visit our page on the FDCPA.
Can a debt collector garnish my wages?
Garnishment of wages is prohibited in most circumstances, in most states. Exceptions include defaulted student loan debt that is backed by the U.S. Department Of Education (DOE), or debt arising from a final judgment. Some states do permit garnishment of other types, so it is important to check the law for your state.
Can a debt collector garnish federal benefits, such as Social Security?
No. Federal benefits such as Social Security payments cannot be garnished by a debt collector.
What if I don't think I owe the money?
If a debt collector is harassing you for a debt you don’t or may not owe, tell the debt collector that you dispute it. You do not need to explain why.
One best practice is to write a letter of dispute as soon as you receive calls or letters from the debt collector. Save a copy, send the original by certified mail, and save the green card that is returned to prove delivery. A paper trail of the dispute is important, as it prevents a debt collector from further calls and requires any reporting of the debt on your credit to contain a notation that the debt is disputed.
What can I do if I believe a debt collection agency has violated the FDCPA?
Debt collectors leave anger, frustration, and fear in their wake. A violation of the FDCPA gives consumers the absolute right to sue up to one year from the date the law was violated. A successful claim entitles the consumer to money for actual damages, court costs, attorney’s fees, and an additional recovery of a maximum of $1,000 in what is referred to as "statutory damages."
What should I do if a debt collector sues me?
Don’t ignore it! Take your case to a lawyer immediately for review. In many instances, litigation may proceed even if you have not been served directly. You want to avoid a judgment being entered against you at all costs, so never disregard a lawsuit filed against you.
Contact us now and let us help you. Our services are FREE to clients, and we can stop debt collector harassment for good.