Consumer Guide: Debt Collection

Consumer Guide
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Debt Collection: Know Your Rights

Information from the Federal Trade Commission


Consumer Protection

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

  • The FTC, the nation’s consumer protection agency, enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect from you.

What Debts are Covered

  • The Act covers personal, family, and household debts, including money you owe on a personal credit card account, an auto loan, a medical bill, and your mortgage.
  • The FDCPA doesn’t cover debts you incurred to run a business.

The Rules

There are Boundaries

  • A debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient times or places, such as before 8 in the morning or after 9 at night, unless you agree to it.
  • Collectors may not contact you at work if they’re told (orally or in writing) that you’re not allowed to get calls there.

Pick Up the Phone

  • If a collector is calling you may want to speak with them to try and resolve the matter, even if you don’t think the debt is legitimate, you can’t pay or you think they’re contacting you by mistake.

Take Action

Please Stop Calling!

  • If you don’t want the collector to contact you again, tell them in writing.
  • Make a copy of your letter. Send the original by certified mail, and pay for a “return receipt” so you’ll be able to document what the collector received.
  • Note: This does not get rid of the debt. The creditor can still sue you to collect.

What Do I Owe?

  • Every collector must send you a written “validation notice” telling you how much money you owe within five days after they first contact you.
  • This notice also must include the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money, and how to proceed if you don’t think you owe the money.

The Debt’s Not Mine!

  • If you think the debt is not yours, and want the collector to stop contacting you, you must contact it within 30 days of receiving a validation notice.
  • A collector can begin contacting you again if it sends you written verification of the debt, like a copy of a bill for the amount you owe.

Off Limit Tactics


Debt collectors may not:
  • Use threats of violence or harm
  • Publish names of debtors
  • Use obscene language
  • Repeatedly use phone to annoy someone


  • Debt collectors are prohibited from saying: You will be arrested if you don’t pay your debt
  • They’ll seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages unless they are permitted by law to take the action and intend to do so
  • Legal action will be taken against you, if doing so would be illegal or if they don’t intend to take the action.

Bearing False Witness

Debt Collectors may not:
  • Give false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit reporting company
  • Send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency if it isn’t
  • Use a false company name

Unfair Practices

Debt collectors cannot:
  • Try to collect any interest, fee, or other charge on top of the amount you owe unless the contract that created your debt – or your state law – allows the charge
  • Deposit a post-dated check early
  • Take or threaten to take your property unless it can be done legally
  • Contact you by postcard

Get Help

Vital Resources

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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