Almost all of us start our lives as adults with little or no debt – with the possible exception of student loans. However, sometimes debt just starts to accumulate. Before we know it, we’re deep into credit card debt. Our phones start ringing at all hours. If we don’t pay our credit card bills, they can be turned over to collection agencies that start harassing us. If this sounds familiar, relax. There are laws about fair debt collection practices that protect us from unscrupulous collection agencies.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
The U.S. Congress passed the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) in 1966 and amended it in 2006. It is designed specifically to protect us from unsavory collection agencies. If you’re being harassed by one of those agencies, it’s important to understand what bill collectors can and cannot do.
What collection agencies can’t do
According to the FDCPA, collection agencies cannot call you at inconvenient times such as 11:00 PM or call you constantly. It cannot tell any third parties (such as your employer) about your debts and it cannot use abusive or profane language. In addition, a bill collector cannot threaten to take action against you that isn’t legal, threaten to communicate false credit information about you or use deceptive methods to collect money from you. And maybe most important, it can’t call you before 8:00 AM or after 9:00 PM
How to deal with a collection agency
If you are contacted by a collection agency, you should first talk with the collector to see if the matter could be resolved. This is true even if you believe you don’t owe the debt or think you’re being contacted by mistake. In other words, don’t just ignore that first call.
If you don’t want the debt collector to contact you again, you can, according to the FDCPA, write a letter and tell it to stop contacting you. Send the original to the collection agency by certified mail and pay for a return receipt so you can prove the agency actually received it. Be sure to keep a copy for your records. When the collection agency receives your letter, it legally can’t communicate with you again with two exceptions.
First, it can contact you to let you know it will not be contacting you again. Second, it can contact you to let you know that it will be taking a certain action such as suing you.
If a collection agency fails to stop, you can sue it and collect damages. However, in the short term, a better solution might be to report the company to your state’s Attorney General and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Some states have their own laws about debt collection and your Attorney General’s office can help you understand your rights in your state.
Other ways to handle debt
While the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act can protect you from being harassed by collection agencies, it can’t protect you from your debt. If you’ve run up a lot of credit card debt, you will have to pay it off one way or another. Many families have chosen a technique called debt relief (or debt settlement) as a way to get out from under their debt. The way this works is that they contact a debt relief company such as National Debt Relief to negotiate a debt settlement for them. National Debt Relief has a proven track record for being able to negotiate settlements with the credit card companies where the debt has been reduced by 50% or more. Debt relief like this can have an affect on your credit rating but this is usually just for the short term and doesn’t have nearly as drastic an effect as filing for bankruptcy.
If the idea of debt relief appeals to you, be sure to go the National Debt Relief’s website (https://www.nationaldebtrelief.com) and fill out the free debt analysis form you’ll find there. The company charges no upfront fees so you have nothing to lose – except maybe half your debt.