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Your Rights Under Federal Law

FDCPA Basic Rights

Types of debts covered: Personal, family, and household debts. Unlike the FCBA, this includes open-ended and fixed-payment accounts such as personal credit cards, car loans, medical bills, and mortgages. Debts incurred running a business are NOT covered by the FDCPA.

Hours of contact: Debt collectors cannot call before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. unless you say so (and why would you?).

Discontinue phone contact: If you want a debt collector to stop calling, simply tell them verbally and follow up in writing. Write a letter, make a copy of the letter, and send it by certified mail, return receipt requested so that you can document that the debt collector received your letter. Once you've notified the debt collector, they can only contact you to let you know they will not contact you again (seems odd, but that's the way it works), or to let you know that they intend to take specific legal action, like filing a suit. Keep in mind "no contact" doesn't mean "no debt"—at this point you still owe the debt. The debt collector just can't call you anymore.

Contacting Others: Debt collectors are only allowed to call or write other people in order to get your contact information—they can't state any other purpose for their call. Debt collectors are not permitted to discuss your debt with anyone but you and your spouse (and your attorney if you have one).

Validation rights: If you send the debt collector a request for validation or verification of the debt, they cannot contact you during the interim period, cannot continue collection efforts, and cannot report any negatives to the credit bureaus. Once they do provide validation, they may resume collection and reporting activities.

Income Garnishment: Even if you do lose a lawsuit, many forms of income cannot be garnished. For example, Social Security, pensions, civil service and federal retirement and disability benefits, military pensions and annuities, and even FEMA disaster assistance (check with your state's Attorney General for a complete list) cannot be garnished. If they threaten to go after this income they can't follow through, and threatening means they just violated your rights.

Debt collectors cannot:

  • Harass, abuse, or intimidate
  • Use obscenities or profanity
  • Publish names of people who are in default
  • Use the phone to annoy (The FDCPA allows "reasonable" contact frequency. Reasonable is hard to define, but, in general terms, receiving multiple calls a day could be considered annoying and excessive. Some state laws set specific limits.)

Furthermore, debt collectors cannot make false statements including any of the following:

  • Claim they work for the government
  • Claim they are attorneys (unless they are, of course)
  • Claim you've committed a crime
  • Claim they work for a credit bureau
  • Misrepresent how much money you owe
  • Threaten legal action if legal action is not intended (a little hard to prove, admittedly)
  • Give inaccurate credit information about you to other parties
  • Send documents that look like they come from a government agency or court
  • Identify themselves inaccurately (like using a fake company name)
  • Say you can be arrested or go to jail for not paying your debts

And you Are NOT required to:

  • Answer the phone if a debt collector calls (which is a great use of caller ID)
  • Speak with the debt collector if you do answer the phone
  • Discuss anything with a debt collector that you don't wish to discuss
  • Answer any questions about the debt, your finances, your income level, where you live, your monthly expenses, your willingness to pay the debt, or when you'll make your next payment—in short you don't have to answer any questions
  • Be truthful about your financial situation
  • And most importantly, acknowledge that you owe or are in any way responsible for the debt

If you acknowledge the debt, or make a partial payment, you could extend the time period within which the debt collector can sue, and you may lose the ability to tilt the playing field back in your favor. Never acknowledge that you are responsible for the bad debt, even in the most general or vague terms (more about that later).

> Dunning Letters: Your Rights (and Responsibilities)

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