If you are struggling to pay mounting bills, you might also be experiencing endless collection attempts. While standard debt collection is legal, creditor harassment is prohibited by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). But how is debt collection supposed to proceed, and what is technically considered creditor harassment? What rights and responsibilities do you have as the debtor, and what laws must a creditor follow?
Knowing what to expect can help you prepare for collection procedures, bankruptcy filings, and even lawsuits. If you can empower yourself with as much knowledge as possible, you will be better equipped to fight for your rights and hold creditors responsible for unlawful practices.
Here are the answers to 9 frequently asked questions about debt collection.
1. How can a debt collector contact you?
Debt collectors can use a variety of contact methods, including letters, emails, texts, and phone calls.
2. What is considered creditor harassment?
According to the FDCPA, creditors cannot use abusive, deceptive, or generally unfair practices in the attempt to collect what you owe. One example of creditor harassment is if a creditor calls you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. Another example is if they use obscene or abusive language, or if they threaten you with violence.
Deceptive practices include misrepresentation of any kind. For instance, a creditor might exaggerate the amount you owe, or they’ll claim they are a government official as an intimidation tactic.
3. How many calls from a debt collector is considered harassment?
The FDCPA does not mention a specific amount of calls in the definition of creditor harassment. In order to prove that the collector was breaking the law, therefore, you will need to demonstrate that their calls were clearly intended to annoy or abuse you.
4. Can a creditor contact people you know?
A creditor may contact people you know, such as employers, family, or neighbors.
This is fully legal so long as:
- You and your lawyer agreed to this in writing;
- A court granted the creditor permission to do so;
- The creditor is contacting people you know to obtain your location; or
- The creditor is contacting your employer to verify your employment, garnish your wages, or, if you have medical debt, find out if you have insurance.
The creditor can contact your spouse and/or attorney without any of the above reasons.
5. What if a collector asks you to pay something you don’t owe?
Collectors are legally obligated to prove that the debt they’re trying to collect is yours. If a collector is asking you to pay something you don’t owe, you can send the collector a letter asking them to verify the debt. They should then mail you a written verification, such as a bill.
6. Can a collector take money from your paycheck?
Yes. This is called wage garnishment. They can only do this when they have sued you and secured a court order allowing them to do so. They may also obtain permission to take money directly out of your bank account.
7. Can you sue a collection agency?
Yes. The first thing you should do if you believe a creditor is breaking the law is to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and your local state attorney general’s office. In this complaint, you will have the opportunity to describe the creditor’s violations.
After you file the complaint, you can sue the collector. You may be able to secure attorney’s fees as well as damages resulting from the harassment. If you succeed, you are still responsible for paying your debt, unless you prove that the collector made a mistake and the debt isn’t yours.
8. What else can you do to stop creditor harassment?
An alternative to suing the collector is sending your complaint to either the creditor or the collection agency, along with a request to negotiate a settlement. You can also tell a debt collector to stop calling, and they will typically send a reply that says they will end contact. They might also say they will be taking legal action against you.
9. What happens when you get served papers for debt?
A creditor can sue you for not paying your debt. In fact, it has become exceedingly common in recent years. If you are sued by a creditor, responding to the summons immediately is vital—even if you believe you do not owe what they are requesting.
In some cases, creditors will sue debtors for time-barred debts. A debt is time-barred if it has been a certain number of years since you failed to make a payment. This time frame is called the statute of limitations, and it differs depending on state law and the type of debt you owe. In New York, for example, creditors have six years to sue a debtor for any type of consumer debt.
While creditors cannot sue you for time-barred debts, you will still technically owe these unless/until it is officially discharged (i.e. through bankruptcy). If the creditor attempts to sue you anyway, be sure to respond in a timely manner and provide a copy of a notice that shows relevant dates.
Contact Our Firm for Additional Support
If you are struggling under the pressure of exorbitant debt, you have options. At the Law Office of Seni Popat, we help clients handle creditor harassment, obtain relief through bankruptcy, and set themselves up for a better financial future. Our lead attorney has years of litigation experience and a personal commitment to helping the people of New York obtain the results they need as soon as possible.
Schedule your complimentary consultation or give us a call at (718) 340-3385 to get started on your case today.