Posted May 18, 20221:50 pm
By Eric Zell, Esq.
Perhaps, like many other people in the COVID era, you fell behind on paying your credit card bills, medical bills, rent, or other “consumer” expenses. Now, your debt has been sold to another company and debt collectors are calling and sending letters trying to get you to pay those debts.
Do debt collectors have limits on what they can do or say when they are collecting money from people? And what rights do you have when those debt collectors contact you?
Debt collectors cannot do or say whatever they want. They must follow a law called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The law tries to make sure that debt collectors are treating consumers like you fairly as they try to collect money.
There are four things that a debt collector can legally do if you do not pay a debt: (1) stop doing business with you; (2) report the debt on your credit report; (3) contact you to ask for payment; and (4) file a lawsuit.
When debt collectors contact consumers for payment, they often try to harass and intimidate the consumer. For example, the debt collections make repeated unwanted phone calls or send many text messages. They also attempt to contact a consumer’s friends and family, or threaten consumers with jail time or garnishment of paychecks. These types of actions are not allowed under the FDCPA.
If you feel that a debt collector is harassing you, sending a “stop contact” letter to the debt collector should make the communications stop. If your income is protected from collection (e.g. your income is only from Social Security or your paycheck is too low to be garnished), you can send a letter telling the debt collector this information. If you think the amount of the debt is wrong or the debt is not yours, you can send a “dispute letter” telling the debt collector that something is wrong.
If the debt collector continues to contact you after you ask them to stop or is harassing you about a debt that is wrong or does not belong to you, you may have a claim under the FDCPA. In this case, you should consult with a lawyer. Consumers with low income can attend a Legal Aid Brief Advice Clinic to get help in such a situation.
Additional information available in Legal Aid’s bilingual brochure “How to Deal with Debt Collectors.”
This article was published in Legal Aid's newsletter, "The Alert" Volume 38, Issue 1, in Spring 2022. See full issue at this link: “The Alert” – Volume 38, Issue 1 – Legal Aid Society of Cleveland (lasclev.org).