Summary of The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors and collection attorneys from using undue harassment and other unethical practices when collecting debt. Click here to read the entire text of the FDCPA. Below is a summary of the FDCPA:
What debts are covered?
Personal, family, and household debts are covered under the Act. This includes money owed for the purchase of an automobile, for medical care, or for credit cards.
How may a debt collector contact you?
A collector may contact you in person, by mail, telephone, or fax. However, a debt collector may not contact you at unreasonable times or places, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you agree. A debt collector also may not contact you at work if the collector knows that your employer disapproves.
Can you stop a debt collector from contacting you?
You can stop a collector from contacting you by writing a letter to the collection agency telling them to stop. Once the agency receives your letter, they may not contact you again except to say there will be no further contact. The agency may notify you if the debt collector or the creditor intends to take some specific action. Sample letters are provided.
May a debt collector contact anyone else about your debt?
If you have an attorney, the debt collector may not contact anyone other than your attorney. If you do not have an attorney, a collector may contact other people, but only to find out where you live and work. Collectors usually are prohibited from contacting such permissible third parties more than once. In most cases, the collector may not tell anyone other than you and your attorney that you owe money. Of course, a debt collector can identify himself as Joe Schmow from Schmow Collection Services and your employer and relatives will probably understand why he is calling without him disclosing that it is about a delinquent debt.
What must the debt collector tell you about the debt?
Within five days after you are first contacted, the collector must send you a written notice telling you the amount of money you owe; the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money; and what action to take if you believe you do not owe the money. Many of the unscrupulous debt collection agencies will not do this but claim that they did send a letter. They will accuse the debtor of lieing about not receiving the letter. If they do this to you, demand they send you a second letter.
May a debt collector continue to contact you if you believe you do not owe money?
A collector may not contact you if, within 30 days after you are first contacted, you send the collection agency a letter stating you do not owe money (see sample letter). However, a debt collector can renew collection activities if you are sent proof of the debt, such as a copy of a bill for the amount owed.
What types of debt collection practices are prohibited under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act?
- Use of threats of violence or harm against the person, property, or reputation
- Publishing a list of consumers who refuse to pay their debts or advertise your debt (except to a credit bureau) or give false information about you to anyone
- Repeatedly using the telephone to annoy someone or telephone people without identifying themselves
- Falsely implying that they are attorneys or government representatives or misrepresent the involvement of an attorney in collecting a debt
- Falsely implying that you have committed a crime and will be arrested if you do not pay your debt
- Giving a false name when they contact you or falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit bureau
- Misrepresenting the amount of your debt or claim they will seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages, unless the collection agency or creditor intends to do so, and it is legal to do so
- Indicating that papers being sent to you are legal forms when they are not or indicate that papers being sent to you are not legal forms when they are or send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency when it is not.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act also prohibits the following:
- Claiming that actions, such as a lawsuit, will be taken against you, which legally may not be taken, or which they do not intend to take.
- Collecting any amount greater than your debt, unless allowed by law
- Using obscene or profane language
- Depositing a post-dated check prematurely
- Taking or threatening to take your property unless this can be done legally
- Making you accept collect calls or contacting you by postcard
- Calling your employer, neighbors, friends and relatives and revealing your delinquency to them [A delinquency can be revealed to a co-signor.]
Note that the Fair Debt Collection Act regulates debt collection agencies and attorneys and does NOT apply to original creditors. However, most major creditors, particularly the big credit card companies) have adopted collection policies that do not violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Original creditors are regulated by state laws which might closely follow the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Therefore, if a debt collector's conduct violates the FDCPA, there is a good chance it also violates laws in your state. Click here for sample letters you can use to write to stop debt collectors from harassing you, or, if you would like to negotiate a settlement with them.