Understanding My Rights
Answers to common questions about consumer protection laws and regulations associated with debt collection.
Contact the debt collector as soon as possible. Communication is key; it increases the chances that you will be able to come to a mutually satisfactory resolution.
The call will generally begin with the representative asking you questions to confirm your identity, such as your name, date of birth, address, or the last four digits of your Social Security number. This is to protect your privacy, to verify that you are the correct contact and to confirm that this debt is your obligation. If you are not sure whether the debt is yours, federal law provides you the right to receive verification of the debt from the collector. Then, the collector will discuss the account and options for repayment of the obligation. Discussing past due bills may be uncomfortable, but open and honest communication is critical to resolving the account in a workable manner.
Explain your situation to the debt collector. With their experience, they may have solutions for you. Let them know your intentions—be specific with actions and timeframes. Again, communication is the key.
Federal regulations that went into effect in November 2021 impose call frequency limits on debt collectors under certain circumstances. You should consult federal and state laws and regulations if you are interested in learning about any specific limits applicable to your situation. But in a general sense, a debt collector may not call you repeatedly or continuously intending to annoy, abuse, or harass you or others who share the same telephone number.
You have a right to tell the debt collector to stop calling you. Also, you have a right to specify if, for example, the time or place the debt collector calls is inconvenient to you, and going forward the collector should not call you at these times or places. Keep in mind, however, that maintaining open lines of communication with the debt collector at times and places that are convenient for you may help facilitate resolution of your debt.
Both legitimate third-party debt collectors and consumers equally struggle with debt collection scams.
How can you tell the difference between scammers and legitimate debt collectors? Ask the caller for:
- The name of their debt collection company and the creditor.
- Their business address.
- A call back number.
- Their website address.
- The caller’s full name.
- The name of the state government entity that provides their license and the license number. [Note: not every state requires licenses for debt collectors.]
A legitimate debt collector should give you this information when requested.
One thing to note: According to federal law (the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act), even a legitimate debt collector will not be able to answer questions about your debt without first confirming your identity. They need to know that they are speaking to the right person.
That said, if the person on the other end of the suspected scam call asks you for payment of your debt before confirming your identity, be wary.
You can check with the secretary of state in the state where the company is located to determine whether the company is registered business entity; note, however, that other state regulators may be responsible for licensing debt collectors.
If the company is a member of ACA International, the association of credit and collection professionals, you can look them up in ACA’s member directory. To become an ACA International member, companies must: agree to be abide by ACA’s Code of Conduct, provide a letter of good standing issued by their secretary of state, and adhere to federal and state laws and licensing requirements.
Finally, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau also has resources to help you identify a potential scam. View them here.
Once you have confirmed your identity, a debt collector who contacts you to collect on a debt should provide certain information about the debt. The information a debt collector is required to provide about your debt is prescribed by applicable state and federal laws and regulations, but will include:
• The name of the creditor to whom your debt was or is still owed; and
• The amount of your debt.
A statute of limitations is the period prescribed by applicable law for bringing a legal action against the consumer to collect a debt. State law will generally specify the statute of limitations period for a debt. Note that the start date and length of the statute of limitations period may vary between states. It may also depend on the type of financial obligation and the specifics of the agreement creating the debt. You should consult applicable law to determine the statute of limitations period applicable to your debt.
Federal law prohibits debt collectors from calling consumers at any “unusual time or place that is known or should be known to be inconvenient for you,” subject to a few exceptions. In the age of cellphones and flexible work, it can be hard for debt collectors to know what time or place might be inconvenient for you. As a result, if you’d like to reduce the number of attempts the debt collector makes to contact you, you should attempt to speak with the debt collector to let them know the times or places they should not use when they are attempting to call you. Such a request can also be made in writing.
Debt collectors don’t want to call you when you won’t or can’t answer the phone. Maintaining an open line of communication with the collection agency will help you and them resolve the alleged debt as quickly as possible.
Generally, but not always. Federal law requires debt collectors to assume, in the absence of knowledge to the contrary, that it’s inconvenient for them to call you before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. local time at your location. But you may want to be called outside those hours because of your work schedule or for another reason. Again, it’s important to have a conversation with the debt collector to let the collector know what you consider to be convenient and inconvenient times for you to speak with them about the debt.
Yes. There’s no federal prohibition against a debt collector contacting you on weekends or holidays unless they know or should know it is an inconvenient time for you to receive calls, although there may be some exceptions under applicable state law depending on your state of residence.
If you discuss the issue with the debt collector and let them know, for example, not to call you on Sundays, the debt collector must honor that request. There’s no magic language for such a request, and it does not need to be in writing. It’s enough to tell them, for example: “Sundays aren’t a good time for me to talk.”
The debt collector may have some follow-up questions to clarify what you’re asking, and you could consider setting up a call to discuss the alleged debt with the debt collector at a time that is convenient for you.
Yes. Federal law permits a debt collector to call you at work unless it knows or has reason to know that your employer prohibits you from receiving such calls at work – for instance, if you inform the debt collector of that fact.
Debt collectors may not necessarily know that they’re calling you on a work number, or they may reach you on your cellphone during work hours. If you tell the debt collector that they’ve called a work number and you don’t want them to contact you on that number, the debt collector should stop. If you tell the debt collector that they reached you on your cellphone while you are at work, and you’re not allowed to take personal calls at work or that it’s inconvenient for you to receive calls at work, the debt collector should stop calling you when it’s likely that you’ll be at work. You can also make these requests in writing.
It’s best if you can let the debt collector know when it would be a convenient time for you to talk.
If you tell the debt collector not to call you at a certain time or place, you should expect follow-up questions so that the debt collector can better understand when to not contact you. For example, if you don’t want to talk at work but you do shift work, help the debt collector know your schedule.
In general, a debt collector can discuss your debt only with:
- Your spouse;
- Your parents or legal guardian (if you are a minor or incapacitated);
- An attorney who represents you with respect to the debt;
- The executor or administrator of your estate (if you are deceased);
- A confirmed successor in interest, for certain mortgage debt.
If you want someone else to speak to the debt collector on your behalf, you should notify the debt collector, who may ask you to sign a limited power of attorney, HIPAA release, or other authorization form to confirm your request and protect your rights.
Federal law allows a debt collector to talk to third parties for the limited purposes of ascertaining your “place of abode and telephone number at such place” or your place of employment. In addition, a debt collector may speak with third parties if expressly authorized to do so by “a court of competent jurisdiction” or “as reasonably necessary to effectuate a post judgment judicial remedy.”
If you ask a debt collector orally, e.g., during a telephone call, to verify the amount that you owe, some debt collectors will provide you with the information needed for validation of the debt.
However, to trigger a debt collector’s legal obligation under federal law to provide verification or provide the name and address of the original creditor, your request for verification or original-creditor information must be in writing. A debt collector may direct you to a dispute form that they provide for this purpose.
Yes, a debt can be disputed at any time, although a debt collector no longer has a legal obligation to provide verification of the debt once the validation period has expired. Some collection agencies will provide validation at any time, whether you request orally or in writing that they provide you with this information.
No. A debt collector must not deposit your post-dated payment in advance of the agreed-upon deposit date.
Additionally, under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a debt collector who accepts a post-dated check or other post-dated payment instrument, e.g., a direct debit from your checking account that has been postdated more than five days, must notify you in writing prior to cashing the check or initiating the funds transfer. They must provide this notice not more than 10 nor less than three business days before cashing the post-dated check or triggering the post-dated transfer. This notification allows you to ensure that you will have sufficient funds in the account for payment and thus avoid additional fees.
Yes, if they intend and have the legal right to take that legal action.
However, a debt collector may not make false or misleading representations, and they may not threaten action they cannot take, which means they can tell you they’re going to take legal action only if they intend to do so and have the legal ability to do so.
Every year millions of Americans fall victim to identity theft, costing individuals and businesses millions of dollars. We all pay the cost for identity theft in the form of the higher prices business have to charge for goods and services to cover losses and the increased cost of obtaining credit. Debt collectors are on the front lines of the identity theft resolution process. Often, the first notice consumers receive that they have fallen victim to identity theft is a collection call regarding a debt about which the consumers were not aware.
If you have been a victim of identity theft, you can report it and start a recovery plan by going to the Federal Trade Commission’s dedicated website: www.identitytheft.gov.