Frequently Asked Questions About Debt Collection

Can a debt collector call me late at night?  No, collectors can only contact you by telephone between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m.  Early morning and late night calls are prohibited under the Fair Credit Collection Practices Act.  A debt collector is charged with knowing what time it is in every region of the country so as not to call someone outside the allowable hours.

Can a debt collector leave messages on my answering machine?  A debt collector can leave messages on your personal answering machine until you tell him to stop.  A collector cannot discuss your debt with third parties, which means that he cannot leave messages regarding your debt on your employer's answering machine or a relative's answering machine.  He can leave is name and number though, at least until he is asked to stop.

Is a verbal payment agreement with a collector enforceable?  Probably not.  You should get all agreements in writing, particularly since the collection industry has a high-turnover rate.  Another collector might take over your account or your account might be sold to a third party.  Be aware that even a written agreement might not be enforceable if your account is sold to another collection agency.  But you should get all agreements in writing anyway as to protect yourself later on if you're sued.  A good  written agreement (1) sets forth all material terms and conditions; and (2) is signed by both parties; and (3) is dated.

Does the collector have to accept my partial payments?  No, they do not and many of them will claim that they won't accept a partial payment.  Collectors want you to send them a lump sum payment and they don't care if you have to borrow it from a relative, skip your car payment or take a cash advance from your credit card.  So they use very aggressive tactics to scare you in to paying the debt in full as quickly as possible.  But the smarter thing to do is to pay them only what you can afford to pay them.  Keep paying your house and car payments, don't borrow money from relatives or your credit card and pay them only what you can afford each month.  Send it in every month even if they keep sending it back. Keep proof that you've been trying to send them money.  This will significantly reduce your odds of being sued, as most collection attorneys know that a judge, when presented with evidence that you tried to pay the debt, will yell at the plaintiff for wasting his time with an unnecessary suit when the defendant was trying to pay the debt.  Eventually, most collectors will give in and accept the partial payments.

Is my agreement enforceable against a new collection agency?  It isn't that uncommon to find yourself dealing with a new collector or new collection agency when you owe a debt.  For example, if the original creditor fires the old collection agency and hires a new one, you might suddenly find yourself receiving collection calls and letters despite the fact that you have a payment agreement with the old collection service.  The agreement is not enforceable against the new company unless they choose to accept it; however, sending them a copy of it would help you tremendously in establishing a  payment schedule with the new collection agency.
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A collection agency keeps harassing me about a debt I don't believe I owe.  What can I do?  Send them a certified letter asking that they verify the debt.  (Sample letters are included in our debt negotiation section.) Verifying the debt requires that they send you copies of documented proof that you owe the debt.  There is a statutory period governing them, so you need to act as quickly as possible after that make initial contact with you.  You can also ask them to stop contacting you since you don't believe you owe the debt.  Once you have told them this, they are barred under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act from contacting you to try and collect the debt or putting negative information on your credit report. They can contact you to tell you they're giving up all collection activity or they're going to sue you. 
A collector told me that he was going to call my employer and have my wages garnished.  Can he do this?  Not without a judge's signature.  The Constitution of the United States guarantees you "due process."  This means that a collector must sue you and the matter must be heard before a judge before your wages can be garnished.  Your employer will not garnish your wages until he receives an official document from the court ordering him to do so.   Remember that most threats of this nature are bluffs; however, if you think the collector will carry out the threat, then work out a payment agreement before you get sued. Don't let the matter proceed to this point because a wage garnishment is hard to reverse.

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