Dealing with Debt Collectors Debt Help

What Can A Debt Collector Legally Do To Me?

Elizabeth Aldrich

You’re avoiding phone calls, throwing envelopes in the trash before even looking at them, constantly feeling stressed and worried that they’re going to show up at your house or, worse, start calling your work, your family…

No, you’re not cheating on your spouse. You’re dealing with debt collectors.

Here’s the thing: 1 in 3 Americans have debt in collections. You are not alone

More importantly, you have rights. Just because you owe someone money doesn’t mean you suddenly lose all freedom, and it doesn’t mean debt collectors can do whatever they want to you. Many of the things you fear when it comes to your debt may not be plausible.

There are clear laws outlined by the Federal Trade Commission in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) that debt collectors must follow. For every tactic they’re allowed to employ in order to collect your debt, you have associated rights that force them to follow certain limitations and regulations.

It’s important to note that the FDCPA covers all personal, family, and household debt. The only debt that is not covered by the FDCPA is debt that you incurred as part of running a business.

If you currently have debt in collections, it’s important to understand what these laws are so that you’re aware of your rights and protections. So, what can debt collectors legally do to you?

  • Debt collectors can call you at home, on your cell, and even at work.

Debt collectors are legally allowed to call you at any number associated with your name, be it your home phone, your cell phone, or your work phone.

Your rights: Debt collectors cannot call you before 8:00 am or after 9:00 pm according to your time zone. They cannot call you an unreasonable amount of times (over and over again on a daily basis). Also, they cannot legally contact you at work if they’ve been told (either orally or in writing) that you’re not allowed to receive calls there.

You may request that a debt collector stop contacting you. However, you should talk to them first to see if you can work out an arrangement or get more information about the debts that you owe. Also, just because they can no longer contact you does not mean you’ve been relieved of your debt. The creditor can still sue you.

If you still decide you want the collector to stop contacting you, you must tell them in writing. Send your letter via certified mail with a return receipt that will document when the collector has received your letter. After that, they may only contact you to let you know there will be no further contact, or to let you know that they are going to take specific legal action.

  • Debt collectors can contact you through email, letter, and text message.

In addition to calling you, debt collectors are also legally allowed to email you, send you letters in the mail, and even send you text messages.

Your rights: Debt collectors are never allowed to threaten, harass, or deceive you. They are required by law to disclose that they are debt collectors in any contact that they have with you. If a debt collector is calling or emailing you pretending to be someone else, that is illegal, and you should seek legal assistance. Also, all letters must be appropriately covered and sealed to protect your privacy, and they cannot send letters that appear to be court orders or legal documents if they are not.

  • Debt collectors can discuss your debt with your spouse.

Debt collectors are allowed to discuss your debt with your spouse and, if you have one, your attorney, in addition to you.

Your rights: Aside from your spouse and your attorney, it is illegal for debt collectors to discuss your debts or disclose any information regarding your account to any other 3rd party. This includes your family members and employer. However, they can contact other people to get more information on you such as your address or contact information.

  • Debt collectors can call your employer to verify your employment status.

Although debt collectors cannot disclose any information regarding your accounts, they can call your employer to ask if you still work there and ask for your contact information.

Your rights: Debt collectors cannot discuss your debt with your employer, or even reveal that you owe money. They also cannot call you at work if you’ve told them not to.

  • Debt collectors can sue you.

Debt collectors do have the legal right to sue you to collect the money you owe. They must send you a court summons. If this happens, do not ignore it, or you will lose the chance to fight in court. If they win, the court can allow them to garnish your wages.

If a debt collector does successfully sue you, and you do not pay the court-ordered amount on each payment due date, the debt collector can…

  • Garnish your wages above a certain amount
  • Take money from your bank account (unless it is protected in the form of certain government benefits)
  • Take your property

Your rights: Debt collectors cannot threaten to sue you if they do not plan to. They cannot lie or be deceiving, meaning they can’t say that they’ve sent you legal papers or court orders if they haven’t. They cannot threaten to take your benefits money, either. Although federal benefits can be garnished under certain circumstances (delinquent taxes, alimony, child support, and student loan), most federal benefits are exempt from garnishing, including social security, veterans benefits, federal retirement and disability, military annuities, and federal disaster assistance.

What do I do if a debt collector has broken the law?

If your debt collector violates the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you have the right to sue within one year after the act was committed.

You could potentially collect damages that were caused by the debt collector’s practices, perhaps in the form of lost wages or medical costs. Even if you can’t prove damaged, the court can force the collector to pay you up to $1,000, and you can potentially get your legal fees reimbursed.

If you think a debt collector may be violating the law, you can contact the Federal Trade Commissions, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or your own state’s Attorney General’s office.

About the author

Elizabeth Aldrich

Elizabeth Aldrich

Elizabeth is a freelance writer and “digital nomad” specializing in small business, entrepreneurship, career advice, real estate, travel, arts, and culture. She’s written for outlets as varied as Rawckus Music and Arts Magazine, Itcher Entertainment, Sweden Tips, Houzz, Hometalk, JobHero, Tico Times, and Eugene Weekly. Thanks to a three-year stint in a travel job, a knack for mining great deals, and credit card churning, she has not paid for a single flight since 2012, despite her constant travels. You can find her on Twitter @LizzieAldrich or her website, www.elizabethaldrich.com.

68 Comments

  • Hi John
    I had business failure back in 2008 due to the price of fuel and lack of freight. I had an expedite business. File bankruptcy chapter 7 in 2010 discharged in March of 2011. Was just getting back on my feet again until Thanksgiving of 2014 I got food poisoning. Did a early morning delivery on Friday the next day made it back to the yard. I had my fiancee drive me to the hospital. Was there Friday and released Monday. The next day I had worst leg cramp and no feeling in my right foot. Went back to the hospital they kept me under observation until after midnight. They sent me by ambulance to another hospital downtown Cincinnati. This is now December 3rd 2014. They operated on leg said it was a blood mass. I was in that hospital for two months. December 3 to February 5th 2015. I was off work the of that year. My bills was over $250,000 which my insurance paid $189,000. Which left me in serious out of pocket debt. Because of the most famous fine line in between crease clause. Above and beyond Customary and reasonable charges. Which is a very large gap. My credit score was in the toilet 419. I hired National Debt Relief to handle a charge card tiring to sue me. Barclay not mention any names. I received a letter from them and their representing Attorney. They were going to pursue a judgement. I faxed all the information to the NDR company. The representative assured me it would all be taken care of. 30 days later I get another letter in the mail stating that the awarded a judgement to the firm out of Cleveland Ohio.
    NDR said I faxed the information to the wrong number.They even charged me an extra $12.50 for their legal team services up beyond the negotiated $254.00 I was already paying. I called the Law firm and they wouldn’t talk to me until I released NDR from the debt process. When I called NDR to fire them they said most of all the
    monies I had paid them went to the legal for their negotiated services. The extra fee was 25% from the original amount in the first. Knowing what I know now I would be
    better off taken the law firm’s first settlement offer.
    Now which leads me to Chapter 2 of my story. Trying to improve my credit score and rating. I employ Lexington Law at $99.00 per month plus introductory fees. Had them about 7 months hoping I could get this judgement off and previous bankruptcy. After paying off the judgement I got the release letter from the law firm and personally took it to court house. Thirty days later it was off my credit report . However still medical collection’s and another bills still outstanding.
    The credit bureaus that’s Chapter 3.
    My score got up to 640 but now it is down to 609 due to some inquiries and close to making out my credit to pay some more bills.Still working on cleaning up my credit it just takes time and good pay record.
    Yes I am in for how the credit bureaus control our lives due to the FICO scores.
    Horrendous needs to be a change.
    Thanks for reading
    Bill n debt.

    • Forgive me if you already are aware of this. But there is also the major factor of utilization ratio (percentage) of credit used of what is available. Be conscious of this, as most assume, it’s ok to use most of it if you have it available to you. Nope! Keep it under 18% if you can. Start small and build accounts. Pay them down. Every 6 months request an increase if you this you’ll get it. Raise your credit lines whenever possible. This will help your score by lowering your ratio. If you need to purchase, keep it under 30% and pay it down quick.

  • My girlfriend now my wife got me to sign a contract the guy said it was only a 1 year obligation it was 6 I didn’t read it I took it as though she did well she had to file chapter 13 she put it in her plan they sent it to collections on me it’s $3500 the collection guy said I can pay a lump sum of $1700 that I still don’t have he said I can make payment for the full $3500 and when it’s paid in full it will be removed from my report I ask would it show I’m making payments he said no can you give a little advice thank you

  • Hello everyone, I have been repairing credit for over 18 years, there are things that can be done to repair your credit, although it is not as simple and easy as the Lexington Law style companies say it is, 1-3 Americans have negative items on there credit and as of May 2017, credit fraud is at an all time high. There is very little anyone is willing to do that will stop it or remove it from your credit bureaus, I have vast experience in these areas and was a victim of identity fraud, I have sent all the proof in that was requested and some of it has been removed, the biggest issue with this is the government is not holding the credit bureaus to the laws that are in place to stop this or help us get the problem solved, in fact I have spent hours on the phone talkative the credit bureaus and I have gotten so many different stories about how they follow the laws and in fact they do not, by law no one can report a negative item against your credit without first submitting the complete documentation and the fact is none of them do, no proof is required from these collection agencies to report, if they have your name, ss# and birth date that all they are required to have to report against you, this is not the law and the credit bureaus are not following it, I have spent years in finanace and have read the laws front and back, what actually needs to be done is a class action lawsuit against the credit bureaus and this will stop, also just as a side note, the three major credit bureaus are using call centers in other countries that one, do not have a credit scoring process and they are in countries that make up for 58% of credit fraud, we are giving our personal information to people that are in the center of the credit fraud capital and this great government of ours allow them to continue to operate this way , and they wonder why we are in the shape we’re in. It’s sad that any of us have to go through it. I am leading a class action lawsuit against them, if you’re interested in hearing more about this let me know , the more we fight back the better off we will all be, waiting is going to just get you further away from your goal, and allows this to continue.

    • I’m ready to join in the class action suit against these bureaus. It’s time to bring them down to earth and hold them accountable for not following the law.

    • My name is Albert M. Cicarelli I am interested in joining your Class Action Lawsuit. My phone number is ******* and my address is ******

      • It can remain for 7 years after the last contact they had with you. (this is my current understanding of the law but I am not an attorney. Only an Attorney can give you 100% reliable information and I suggest you ask one.)

        All of that said th er are things you can do which could place collectors in a corner favorable to you. If they can not provide proof of the debt with I think 30 days of written request they have to remove your information from credit bureau files. I am sure there a re also other things you can do and for this contact CREDIT SOLUTIONS, this is part of what they do to help you recover.

    • I will join that law suit. I’ve had so many problems.
      Identify stolen for credit cards, Someone went to a dr. To get meds. They had my information.
      Dr. Never asked for ID. I’m done getting ripped off.
      Credit bureau’s don’t care just give you the run around.

    • Where can I sign up for the class action suit also? Please let me know. The higher ups at Equifax knew about the data breach & dumped their stocks before it was announced. That is insider trading. To rectify this, I believe the reporting system must be overhauled completely. Wipe everyone’s credit history clean & reset. There must be much better oversight on these companies. A few years ago, 60 Minutes did a segment on these agencies & you would be outraged if you watch it: https://youtu.be/HdMR2wYNmt4.

    • hi John pluchino:
      my name is ED Alvarez, I been a customer of Lexington law for a few years trying to clean and clear a problem of bankruptcy in 2009 in till today’s there still holding this problem in one of this credit bureaus, but? every month they charge me $ 100.00 dlls. to continue working on this case and I realize this is a waste of time and money and am very upset with this problem, I am going to shut them down immediately, also I would like to enjoy you in this class action lawsuit, please let me know more about this if is possible? and what we can do to all get-together and fight them back, I heard from people that they don’t care about what you say to them in till you take them to court because is all about money and they don’t care what they will lose in court because they collect so much money from all sources of company’s is this true? please let me know what I can do to be part of this and help in this matter, we need to put an end to this corrupted bureaus thank you so much, John:

      • I also used Lexington Law , all they did was collect their monthly fee out of a decimated credit card only used for this purpose a nd now maxed out on card by them , got the same ole letters every month saying they are doing this process to creditors, oh well lesson learned the hard way!!$

    • Hello John. I am disabled and have no credit card, Does that mean I cannot check my credit? Is there a place I can get my credit checked without a credit card? I haven’t checked it in perhaps a decade at least. Curious

    • i was in the mortgage banking industry for years. and saw many credit profiles and heard many horrifying stories. well i have had myself in a traumatic health issues and living terrible credit problems because of this. i would be very interested in improving these credit issues with the credit industries myself. i have paid out the nose and gotten nowhere with credit helpers. sign me up for this class action.

    • I want to know more. Credit is hard work and too easily damaged. My FICO dropped 100 points from recent fraud and proof but still have hard work and a lot of time ahead before recovering.

    • I have been fighting with creditors and the 3 credit bureaus for the past 4 years I feel they should do away with these crooks and come up with a better way to handle this carp! I would like to join the class action suit too!

  • My only income is Social security. I cannot work due to a disability. Can my debtors take me to court to sue me for the balance owed?

  • Boght a car it was total buy a deer. I pay my payment evermonth on time abd they mess up my credit i can not get a lone why wont anybody help me with a car . they said becaue i dont have they car anymore what can i do

    • Did the insurance company pay off he car? If not and there is a debt owed then they can report, but if the payments were made and the car is paid off then there is no reason for it to be a negative mark on your credit

  • When sending a collection agency a second debt validation letter along with the wollman ftc opinion letter. Do you send it as is? Or do you rewrite the wollman ftc opinion letter in your own words.

    • I would leave it as is and make sure you add this is a second or third or however many attempts it has been, send it verified mail so they have to sign for it . This way they cannot say they never received it.

  • I’m retired I have health care from my job my PCP ordered a test Atena said it was covered they paid the bill. I get a letter from the hospital where the test was performed saying I owe $300 plus dollars and a $20.00 co-pay I called Atena they said according to their contract the hospital had to accept the payment they are not to charge me. The hospital sent it to collectors I explained it to them I even sent a copy of my cancelled check for the $20.00 and they are still trying to collect these fees from me. What can I do ?

    • do not talk to the collection agency, call the hospital and confirm the insurance paid the bill, they should work with you if it’s just a mistake.

    • This is something that is part of the issues associated with debt collectors, I have beat these guys down and actually had them shut down . Email me your info and we can get the ball rolling

      • Not speaking to them will not help, they will continues to bother you until someone else takes control, they feel as though you have no help and will continue to call, email me and we can get them off your back

  • I’m unemployed unemployed, my unemployment will be exhausted in a month. I own my trailer and 500.00 car. What can they do, especially about my trailer? Thanks

    • Hi William,
      Thanks for reading! We’re so sorry to hear about your situation. But since we don’t know more about your debt, we can’t offer any more advice beyond what’s in this article. It may be worth your time to seek a free consultation from a lawyer. Best of luck!

  • Was paying my credit cards bills every month but even thow i wasn’t using my cards the payments never went down even had a lawyer sub pine me and i kept on paying until two years ago i was getting some income tax return for the first time in years ,when the time came to get the return the I.R.S.send mea notice that the return was already collected ,when i send them proof that i never received any refund they discovered that somebody else had stolen my identity.never got to find out who or when that happened except i had to make a lot of calls to different agency but still two years later have creditors calling me is there any end to this madness?one of the three credit co.send me a copy of the repot and there were things bought all over even if i was denied to use the cards whoever had my identity was able to use them i just don’t understand nedless to say can’t buy anything unless i use cash but can’t afford car or can’ buy any
    Thing expensive for the last five or six years

    • Find the accounts that are not yours and fill out a police report, and then give that info to the creditors and the credit bureau, that is a tough situation and would probably need an Attorney to advise you. lol..

    • Sounds like everyone has the idea that an attorney is the only answer to these issues, this is the way that people get in more debt and get no exults, lawyer fees are more than the debt most of the time, there are ways to get this repaired without the cost of a lawyer.

      • I just found out that a medical bill also 4yrs ago. Was not covered by my insurance company. Now I was in collections I didn’t know about this problem. It should have been paid by my insurance. Why didn’t I get anything from collections except a call I answered one day. He said it’s been to long? I didn’t even know I owed. Within days of me answering the call. It went straight to my credit report for no payment mark. It’s unbelievable that they can wait yrs to attack you and your CC score. When your CC is good. Bam your done!

    • A charge off just means that the original creditor has stopped trying to collect on the account, and yes they can still take you to court, most big company’s have collection agency’s they are contracted with to collect on the debt for them, once the debt is collected, the account goes back to the original creditor and you should receive a letter of paid in full, unless you settled the amount owed for less, then you would receive a settlement letter, your credit bureau would update as , acct settled for less than what was owed.

    • A charge off is when the debt collector has written off the debt and either sold it to a collector or has there own collection department that will still collect or try to collect on the debt, this is nothing more than a company saying they have written it off as a loss.

Leave a Comment