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Your Rights Under Federal Law

The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act

You may be tempted to skip this section. Please don't.

The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act not only defends your legal rights and protects you from harassment, it can also serve as a playbook for going on the offensive against credit card companies using debt collection laws.

Let's get the basics out of the way. The FCBA protects your rights when dealing with original creditors. The FDCPA protects your rights when dealing with debt collectors. Debt collectors are required by the FDCPA to identify themselves as such. If you are being contacted after 180 days of non-payment you can be reasonably sure it is by a debt collector. The FDCPA gives you the right to sue debt collectors who unlawfully threaten, intimidate, berate, or harass you; who call during odd hours; or who falsely represent themselves and their intentions.

See whether debt collectors have done any of the following to you:

  • Contacted your employer about a debt you owe
  • Called every day, or even several times a day
  • Contacted your neighbors about your debt
  • Threatened criminal punishment or even arrest
  • Threatened you with eviction
  • Threatened to sue for costs or fees not allowed by your original agreement or by state law
  • Pretended to be a lawyer, government official, or anyone other than who they actually are

FDCPA violations are limited only by the creativity of the debt collectors. Most assume you do not understand your rights, or that, even if you do, you won't act if your rights are violated.

In fact, many debt collectors themselves don't know what your rights are and what they are prohibited from doing. If you are contacted by a debt collector about a credit card debt, the person on the other end of the phone is likely to be an under-paid, overworked employee sitting in a massive call center under tremendous pressure to generate revenue. Training is almost nonexistent and job turnover is high.

In short, they don't know your debt collection rights and even if they do, they probably don't care.

So what happens if your rights are violated when dealing with debt collectors? It depends on the severity of the violation. In addition to fines, you might be entitled to damages. Some debt collectors have gone so far as to threaten arrest, jail, or harm to loved ones, including informing friends and work associates of the debtor's financial embarrassment. They often threaten wage attachment, even in states that do not allow wages to be garnished. Any threat to take some kind of action that is not allowed by law is an FDCPA violation you can use against the debt collector. We'll talk about how to take action if/when your rights are violated a little later.

> FDCPA Basic Rights

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