Debt happens. Sometimes you need to rely on a credit card or loan to meet the demands of life’s expenses. But if you hold a sizable amount of credit card debt, have defaulted on a loan, or have failed to pay an unexpected emergency room bill, it’s important to know what could come next.
To help provide a broad understanding of what might happen if your debt goes into collections, we’re going to take a look at the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). Look, maybe it’s not the most compelling-sounding document, but a general understanding of the FDCPA could help over the course of your financial life.
It’s important to remember that if you have specific questions about debt collection laws or the FDCPA, it would be best to consult your tax attorney and financial advisor. This article is merely an overview of the debt collection process and should not be taken as advice. We want the following intel to serve as background info—nothing more. With that in mind, here is a closer look at the world of debt collection.
What the FDCPA Doesn’t Cover
If you’re facing serious debt and are being contacted by debt collectors, it’s important to understand your rights. The FDCPA is essentially the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) rule book on how debt collectors can interact with consumers. Typically, debt collectors are thoroughly schooled in the ways of FDCPA, because they have to comply with it when collecting on consumer debts. However, the FDCPA does not apply to the following:
• Creditors (i.e., the lenders you originally took the debt from)
• Corporate or commercial debts (this means the FDCPA doesn’t apply when a large company defaults on their debt)
• Business-related debts (even for consumers, the FDCPA does not extend to debts incurred for business expenses)
P.S.: More exceptions might apply here, and for more information, you can consult your tax attorney and review the FDCPA in full.
Now that we’ve got a handle on where the FDCPA doesn’t come into play, let’s look at rules the FDCPA lays out for debt collector-consumer interaction:
Debt Collectors Cannot Harass the Consumer
In accordance with the FDCPA , debt collectors can’t “harass, oppress, or abuse” the consumer in attempts to collect their payment.
Debt Collectors Can Contact You Multiple Ways
Debt collectors can contact you to collect a debt using multiple methods of communication including by phone, mail, email, or even text messages.
They Can Collect for a Number of Outstanding Debts
Consumer debt collectors aren’t limited to collecting for credit card debt. They can also collect for auto loans, medical bills, student loans, mortgages, and other household debts. However, as noted above, they cannot collect for business debts.
They Can Ask Your Friends and Family How to Reach You
While debt collectors cannot discuss your debt with anyone else (with the potential exception of your spouse and your attorney), they can ask others for your address, your home phone number, and where you work. However, collectors can typically only contact them once.
Collectors Must Provide Information in Writing
Once a debt collector has contacted you, they have five days to send you a written notice stating how much money you owe, the name of the creditor you owe it to, and what you can do if you don’t think this debt is yours.
Collectors Must Verify Your Debt
If you are being contacted about debt you don’t believe is yours, the FDCPA notes that you must send the debt collector a letter within 30 days of receiving their letter, clearly communicating that you’re not liable for that money.
The collector then needs to send you written verification of the debt, for example, a copy of a bill for the amount you owe, before the agency can start contacting you to collect the money again.
They Can Take Money from Your Paycheck
A debt collector can obtain a court order for garnishment, directing that your wages or benefits be seized to repay your debt.
They can also seek a court order allowing them to take money from your bank account. It’s important not to ignore any lawsuit filed by a debt collector against you.
They Can’t Call You at All Hours
There are restrictions in place that limit when and where debt collectors can contact you. For instance, they can’t call before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. (consumer’s local time), unless you specifically give them permission.
They also can’t call you at work, if you tell them you aren’t allowed to get calls at work.
They Must Stop Contacting You if You Ask
If you send a debt collector a letter by mail, asking them to stop contacting you, then they can only contact you to tell you about a specific action they are taking, such as filing a lawsuit.
If you send a letter stating you’ve hired an attorney to represent you, the collector must communicate with your attorney. However, the FTC recommends you talk with the debt collector at least once to confirm whether they are talking about debt that you actually owe.
They Can’t Lie
Debt collectors can’t lie just to get your attention. Any information a debt collector shares with you must be accurate.
They cannot embellish the amount of money you owe or misrepresent themselves by saying they’re attorneys or government representatives. They also can’t threaten you with a false arrest or legal action.
They Must Abide by Laws
Collectors cannot engage in unfair practices such as trying to collect extra interest or fees beyond what you owe. They cannot deposit a post-dated check early, and they cannot threaten to take your property without obtaining a court order.
If you believe a debt collector has broken a law, you can sue them in state or federal court for damages such as lost wages and medical bills. You can report violations to your state attorney general’s office , the Federal Trade Commission , or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau .
If you’re reading this, it might be because you’re worried about keeping up with debt payments—whether that’s payments on credit card debt, student loan debt, or another loan. The ideal scenario, of course, is getting that debt under control before it goes into collections. And one way to do that is by tracking your spending and effectively organizing your finances so that you can stay on top of your debt payments.
SoFi Relay is a complimentary product that can help you track your spending, view all of your accounts on one dashboard, and set debt payoff goals. You can leverage SoFi Relay to keep your debt payoff plan on track, such that you’re spending more time crushing your debt and less time worrying about default.
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