Yes, there are plenty of ads for lawyers and debt consolidation agencies who promise to stop the debt collectors from ruining your life. But they all just do one thing, which you can do for yourself: write a letter saying you no longer wish to be contacted.
Of course, you’ll still owe the debt. The creditor may report your delinquency to credit bureaus, repossess your car if it’s a car loan, and take you to court if legally possible. But at least they don’t have the right to harass you if you say no.
The law that says what debt collectors can and cannot do is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). It’s been around since 1977. Unfortunately, many people don’t know that the bad old days when creditors could run rampant have been over for about three decades.
Ten Things Debt Collectors Can’t Do
- Pretend to be someone else. A debt collector cannot tell you or anyone else that they are someone they are not. For instance, they cannot leave a message that they are actually calling because they want to hire you for a job.
- Threaten. A debt collector cannot say that they are going to take any action they cannot legally take, or that they realistically do not intend to take. So, any threat to take your house away to pay an unsecured credit card debt is not only bogus but illegal. Of course, if they say they are going to ruin your credit rating and they haven’t already, that’s not so much a threat as a promise.
- Impersonate government officials. No letters that look like they came from a court unless they actually did come from a court.
- Lie. Just in case debt collectors come up with a form of dishonesty that isn’t covered above, the FDPCA has a general prohibition against telling falsehoods of any kind.
- Tell other people, aside from credit bureaus, that you are in debt. They can call neighbors, relatives, employers, and others to try to confirm your current contact details. But they cannot say they are doing so to collect a debt.
- Repeatedly call third parties. Debt collectors only get one bite at the apple when it comes to contacting your friends and neighbors to ask if they know where you are. They can’t try to harass you indirectly by contacting other people more than once, unless they have a real reason to believe these people would have information they did not have last time they called.
- Mail you postcards or envelopes with any mention of collections on them.
- Telephone you before 8 am or after 9 pm.
- Swear or use profanity of any kind.
- Contact you at work if they know your employer disapproves. Hint: if your employer disapproves, tell the collectors not to call you at work.
In short, the FDCPA gives you a lot of leverage with collection agencies and creditors to negotiate a payment plan. You might even try to demand that the incident be removed from your credit report.
Thanks to the FDCPA, collection agencies can’t do anything but ruin your credit rating—which in reality they have probably already done—or take you to court—which, in the case of unsecured debt such as credit cards, is often practically and sometimes legally impossible.