Debt collection: Know your rights

If you’re behind in paying a bill, you might be contacted by a debt collector. Federal law – under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act – gives you certain rights in dealing with debt collectors. Here are things to know from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC).

  • Prohibited debt collection practices include:

1. Contacting consumers at unusual times, which typically means before 8 a.m. or after 9 pm in the consumer’s time zone.

2. Using obscene or profane language; threatening or using violence; or falsely stating or implying that the debt collector is affiliated with the U.S. government or a state government.

3. Contacting consumers at their place of work if the consumer has notified the debt collector that they are not allowed to receive calls at work.

4. Telling a consumer’s co-workers or friends that the consumer is in debt.

5. Abusing or harassing a consumer by, such repeatedly calling their telephone or letting it ring continually.

  • The law allows for certain debt collection practices. 

A debt collector can contact friends, neighbors, and co-workers, but only to find out a consumer’s home address, phone number and work address. Also, debt collectors can contact the consumer’s attorney, the creditor, the creditor’s attorney, the debt collector’s attorney, and credit reporting agencies. Debt collectors may also contact the consumer’s spouse, parent (if the consumer is a minor), guardian, executor or administrator.

There are other ways you can protect yourself. 

1. Verify the debt is legitimate. When a debt collector first contacts you, they will probably tell you the amount owed and the creditor’s name. Make sure this information is accurate.

2. Limit communication by hiring an attorney. Once debt collectors know you have an attorney to handle the debt, they will contact the attorney instead of you.

3. Request an end to communication. When a creditor receives your written request to stop contacting you, they must stop (an exception is informing you there will be no further contact or to let you know that a specific action, like a lawsuit, is planned). This does not mean the debt goes away – the debt collector can still take legal action to collect the debt.

4. File a complaint with the FDIC, which directly handles debt collection complaints related to FDIC-supervised banks and forwards complaints to other regulators as needed. Visit www.fdic.gov.