Your Rights Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Part I

Hounded by debt collectors? Fight them by being aware of your debt collection rights.

Even if you never expect to default on a bill, it’s still a good idea for you to know your debt collection rights, just in case. Admittedly, it’s not a pleasant subject to contemplate, but just about all of us have had to deal with dunning from bill collectors at one time or another.

You may have had a bad time of it, too; some bill collectors can be quite nasty. But the thing is, they’re not supposed to be — and that’s been the law of the land for decades. So in this two-part article, we’ll take a look at your debt collection rights under Federal law.

The Act

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) has been a thorn in debt collectors’ sides ever since legislators added it to the U.S. legal code as Title VIII of the Consumer Credit Protection Act of 1978.

Basically, the FDCPA lays out the guidelines by which debt collectors may conduct business, defines the rights of consumers who find themselves in a debt collector’s sights, and makes provisions for penalties for collectors who violate the act.

Debt collectors hate it, because they say it goes too far. Not every consumer loves it (some say it doesn’t go far enough), but it does provide significant protection against unscrupulous bill collectors.

What a Bill Collector Can’t Do

The FDCPA outlines both prohibited and required behavior on the part of debt collectors. Let’s take a look at the prohibited list first. Among other things, collectors cannot:

• Call you outside the hours of 8:00 A.M. and 9:00 P.M. local time.
• Call you continuously with an intent to annoy or harass.
• Contact you once you inform them, in writing, either to stop communicating with you, or that you refuse to pay the debt. The only real exception is litigation or announcement of same.
• Contact you at work if your employer prohibits such contact.
• Contact you directly if a lawyer represents you in the matter.
• Misrepresent themselves or otherwise try to deceive you.
• Publish your name on a bad debts list.
• Seek an unjustified amount as payment.
• Threaten arrest.
• Use abusive or profane language toward you.
• Contact third parties about your debt, other than your spouse or attorney.
• Contact you in an embarrassing way.
• Report false information to a credit reporting agency.

A Good Start

In addition to the above, the FDCPA requires debt collectors to specifically do certain things when attempting to collect a debt. But since we’re running out of room here, we’ll discuss those (and their penalties for breaking the rules) in Part II of this article about your debt collection rights.