Debt goes hand in hand with credit.  When you borrow money to buy something, you have to pay it back.  Once a creditor thinks you are no longer going to pay them, they can sell your account (or your debt) to a third party.  Why would they do that? When they do, they get paid a smaller amount in exchange for not having to worry about you making any more payments.

 

Debt Collection
Photo credit: Flickr – Reese Baker

 

Under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, a debt collector is a person or company that collects debts owed to others, usually when those debts are past due.

If you are receiving calls from a debt collector, it is because a creditor believes you owe a debt or they are trying to locate someone you know- who owes a debt.  (Only they can’t tell you that!)

Under federal law, a debt collector can contact you looking for someone you know or vice versa, but only to find out how to contact the person who owes a debt. There are strict limits on what a debt collector can say to someone that is not the person who owes the debt. A debt collector can only ask where the person who owes a debt lives, what their contact information is, and where they work.  They cannot, under any circumstance, tell you that they are looking for this person because they owe a debt.

Here is what a debt collector is required, by law, to tell you (if you are the person who they claim owes the debt):

  1. The name of the company claiming you owe a debt;
  2. The amount owed;
  3. That you have a right to dispute the debt within 30 days;
  4. That if you do not – the debt collector will assume the debt is valid;
  5. That if you do – the debt collector will provide you with a verification of the debt; and
  6. That if you request the name and address of the company claiming you owe a debt within 30 days, the debt collector will provide you that information.

If the debt collector doesn’t provide the above information in the initial contact with you, the debt collector is required to send you a written notice including that information within five days of the initial contact.

Here is what they CANNOT do:

  • Debt collectors may not contact you at an unusual time or place, or at a time or place they know is inconvenient to you, and they are prohibited from contacting you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.   Ex. If a debt collector knows that you’re not allowed to receive their calls at work, then the debt collector is not allowed to contact you there.
  • Debt collectors may not harass you or anyone else, over the phone or through any other form of contact.
  • If a debt collector knows that an attorney is representing you about the debt, the debt collector generally must stop contacting you and must contact the attorney instead. If an attorney is representing you and a debt collector calls, tell them which attorney is representing you and that they should contact your attorney, not you.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has prepared several sample letters to use in responding to debt collectors.  They cover the most common topics, like:

  1. I do not owe this debt;
  2. I need more information about this debt;
  3. I want the debt collector to stop calling me;
  4. I want the debt collector to only contact me through my lawyer; and
  5. I want to specify how the debt collector can call me.

Take a peek at those letters here.

Lone Star Legal Aid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm focused on advocacy on behalf of low-income and underserved populations. Lone Star Legal Aid serves the millions of people at 125% of federal poverty guidelines that reside in 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas, and also 4 counties of southwest Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its resources on maintaining, enhancing, and protecting income and economic stability; preserving housing; improving outcomes for children; establishing and sustaining family safety and stability, health and well‐being; and assisting populations with special vulnerabilities, such as those who have disabilities, or who are elderly, homeless, or have limited English language skills. To learn more about Lone Star Legal Aid, visit our website at www.lonestarlegal.org.  To apply for assistance with Lone Star Legal Aid, call 1- (800) 733-8394.