Understanding the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

Most people want to pay their bills, but sometimes circumstances arise that make it impossible to make even minimum payments and meet due dates. When events happen that keep you from paying your bills, promptly contact your creditors. In many cases, if you contact creditors directly, they may be willing to reschedule payments or make other considerations to help you repay the debt.

If a debt goes unpaid for an extended period of time, creditors may turn your account over to a collection department or agency. While most collection professionals do not utilize threatening and intimidating collection techniques, it is important that you know your rights as a consumer when dealing with collectors.

Collectors are permitted to do the following:

  • Contact your friends, coworkers, or neighbors to inquire about your whereabouts
  • Demand payment
  • Take legal action if necessary

Debt Collectors are not permitted to:

  • Phone your home repeatedly
  • Call before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. without permission
  • Use obscene language or threats of violence
  • Threaten you with false statements

If collection calls are causing you a lot of undue stress, the FDCPA states:

“If a consumer notifies a debt collector in writing that the consumer refuses to pay a debt or that the consumer wishes the debt collector to cease further communication with the consumer, the debt collector shall not communicate further with the consumer with respect to such debt, except—(1) to advise the consumer that the debt collector’s further efforts are being terminated; (2) to notify the consumer that the debt collector or creditor may invoke specified remedies which are ordinarily invoked by such debt collector or creditor; or (3) where applicable, to notify the consumer that the debt collector or creditor intends to invoke a specified remedy. If such notice from the consumer is made by mail, notification shall be complete upon receipt.”

Notifying your debt collector by mail to stop collection calls

In your letter, let the collector know that you are aware of the FDCPA and this provision of the law. Be sure to send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you have proof it was received. Keep a copy of the letter for your files. Please be aware that stopping the calls does not relieve you of your responsibility. You will still owe the money and the company may pursue additional collection efforts such as initiating a lawsuit.

If you feel that a creditor has engaged in unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices, you can choose to sue a collector for the violation of the FDCPA. You have up to one year after the alleged violation to sue. If you win, you may be entitled to damages. You may also be able to recover court costs and attorney’s fees. A group of people may sue a debt collector and recover money for damages.

At the very least, you should file a complaint with the FTC by visiting FTC.gov or call 1.877.FTC.HELP. Although the FTC does not act to resolve individual problems, it does look for patterns of possible law violations. 

  • The Consumer Federation of America (CFA) is an association of nonprofit consumer organizations that was established in 1968 to advance the consumer interest through research, advocacy, and education. Today, nearly 300 of these groups participate in the federation and govern it through their representatives on the organization's Board of Directors.
  • The National Council of Higher Education Resources (NCHER) is the nation’s oldest and largest higher education finance trade association. NCHER’s membership includes state, nonprofit, and for-profit higher education service organizations, including lenders, servicers, guaranty agencies, collection agencies, financial literacy providers, and schools, interested and involved in increasing college access and success. It assists its members in shaping policies governing federal and private student loan and state grant programs on behalf of students, parents, borrowers, and families.

  • Since 2007, the Homeownership Preservation Foundation (HPF) has served as a trusted, neutral source of information for more than eight million homeowners. They are partnered with, and endorsed by, numerous major government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of the Treasury.

  • The mission of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all. HUD works to strengthen the housing market in order to bolster the economy and protect consumers; meet the need for quality affordable rental homes; utilize housing as a platform for improving quality of life; and build inclusive and sustainable communities free from discrimination.

  • The Council on Accreditation (COA) is an international, independent, nonprofit, human service accrediting organization. Their mission is to partner with human service organizations worldwide to improve service delivery outcomes by developing, applying, and promoting accreditation standards.

  • The National Foundation for Credit Counseling® (NFCC®), founded in 1951, is the nation’s largest and longest-serving nonprofit financial counseling organization. The NFCC’s mission is to promote the national agenda for financially responsible behavior, and build capacity for its members to deliver the highest-quality financial education and counseling services.