Understanding My Rights
Answers to common questions about consumer protection laws and regulations associated with debt collection.
Find some time to contact the debt collector. 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 last four digits of your social security number. This is to protect your privacy and ensure that information regarding your debt is not given to an unauthorized party.
After verifying that you are the correct contact, they 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. If your situation has changed since the bill was incurred and can be resolved now, let the debt collector know. If you are unable to resolve it at this time, explain that 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.
Applicable law imposes call limits on debt collectors under certain circumstances. That may include weekly and monthly call frequency limitations. 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 number.
You do have a right to tell the debt collector to stop calling you if, for example, the call time or place is inconvenient to you. However, keep in mind 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.
Ask the caller for identifying information, such as their name, company, street address, and telephone number. A debt collector should give you this information when requested. Note, however, that the debt collector may ask you questions to confirm your identity before discussing an account to protect your privacy and ensure they do not provide your information to an unauthorized party. That may include such things as your name, date of birth, address, or last four digits of your social security number.
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 is 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 might be an inconvenient time or place 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 at which they should not be attempting to call you. Such a request does not have to be in writing to be effective.
Make no mistake: 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 about 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 Sundays 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.
But, again, 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 need not be in writing. It’s enough to tell them, for example: “Sundays aren’t a good time for me to talk.”
Just be clear, expect that the debt collector may have some follow-up questions to clarify what you’re asking, and consider setting up a call to discuss the alleged debt with the debt collector at a time that is convenient for you.
Yes. A debt collector may 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 cell phone 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’s called you on your cell phone that you’re 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. These requests need not be in writing.
Again, it’s best if you can let the debt collector know when would be a convenient time for you to talk.
And 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 it should not be contacting 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 wish for anyone 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.
Note, however, that a debt collector may have regulated conversations with 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 “a court of competent jurisdiction” or “as reasonably necessary to effectuate a post judgment judicial remedy.”
Yes, some debt collectors will provide validation if you ask for it orally, e.g., during a telephone call.
To trigger a debt collector’s legal obligation under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) 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.
No. A debt collector may 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 at least ten days (but not less than three 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.