Drowning in debt is bad enough without having to deal with harassment from an army of debt collectors. Are you struggling to get out of debt while fending off a relentless barrage of debt collectors? We’ll help you get the debt collectors off your back so you can focus on downsizing your debt. Read on to learn your rights, and to find out what you can do to keep the debt collectors from harassing you.
Know your rights
“A lot of people believe that a debt collector has every right to treat them like crap, and that they have to suffer in silence because they owe money,” says consumer rights lawyer Gary Nitzkin. But they’re wrong. “They don’t have to suffer abuse.”
Luckily, you’re not helpless against the more aggressive tactics of unprofessional debt collectors. The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) has several provisions that protect consumers against third-party collections agencies.
What are your rights under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act?
The FDCPA forbids third-party debt collectors from taking the following actions. That means that if your debt collector has taken any of the actions listed below, you have the right to file a claim against them with the FDCPA.
Disclosing your debt to other people
Debt collectors can call your friends, relatives, employer, or others in their efforts to locate you. However, they cannot legally tell outside parties about your debt. So if your friend or employer gets a call from your debt collector explaining the intimate details of your debt, you have a viable case against them.
Lying or misrepresenting themselves
Under the FDCPA, debt collectors cannot deceive you when discussing your debt. For example, they cannot misrepresent the amount you owe, falsely claim to be an attorney, or use a fake company name.
Using swear words or threatening violence
Debt collectors might try to coerce you into paying up by using profane or intimidating language, but this practice is illegal. If a debt collector is trying to intimidate you with threatening language, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
An unprofessional debt collector might try to annoy you by calling repeatedly.
How many calls from a debt collector is considered harassment?
Calling three or more times a day is considered harassment in most jurisdictions.
Calling outside of reasonable hours
But what’s considered a “reasonable hour?” According to the FDCPA, anytime before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. is considered “inconvenient.” Legally, debt collectors may not call during those hours.
Calling you at work (after you’ve asked them not to)
Legally, debt collectors can try to contact you at work. However, if you inform them (in writing or over the phone) that you’re not allowed to receive calls at work, they’re legally required to stop.
If you’ve observed your debt collector taking any of the above actions, file a complaint.
How to send debt collectors away for good
Pay your debt
As obvious as it may sound, the best way to keep debt collectors at bay is to pay your debt. Can’t afford to pay it in a lump sum? Not a problem. There are other ways to chip away at debt.
Consider reaching out to your lender or collections agency and asking to set up an installment plan. This way, you can downsize your debt through a series of manageable monthly payments. Simply reaching out and talking with your collections agency is a great first step, as it demonstrates a proactive willingness to pay what you owe. And when you’re in contact with your collector, they’re far less likely to resort to aggressive tactics.
Consolidate your debts
If you have good credit and a steady income, you may benefit from rolling all your debts into a single loan. Do it right and you could end up with a single, more manageable loan payment with lower interest rates. However, it’s important to take a hard look at your spending habits before you use a debt consolidation loan. A debt consolidation loan will only help you get out of debt if you reduce your spending or increase your income.
Explain why you can’t pay your debt
Suppose you’re dealing with an expensive medical emergency or a death in the family. In moments of crisis, you may be entirely unable to pay your debt, even in smaller installment payments. So what should you do?
Again, speak to your collections agency. Simply explaining your situation goes a long way. In many cases, collectors may be willing to put a hold on your interest for a period of time while you get your crisis under control.
Send a cease and desist letter
If you’re receiving a barrage of calls from your debt collector, send them a cease and desist letter by certified mail or fax. Be sure to include your name, address, name of the creditor that you owe the debt to, and a very simple statement asking them to stop contacting you. Once your collector receives the letter, they cannot contact you again.
But remember, unless your debt was in error, you still owe them. That means that if your debt is left unpaid, they can still sue you for it.
Keep a call log
If the calls persist despite your letter, write down the date and time each time the collector calls. Also, make a note if the collector breaks any of the other rules listed above. This will be crucial information when you file a complaint with the CFPB.
Consult a consumer rights lawyer
If a creditor or collector violates your rights, you may be able to take a chunk out of your debt by filing a legal case. Assuming you win the case, your collector generally gets saddled with your legal fees — plus an extra $1000 or more.
On top of $1,000 for the violation, some plaintiffs also get money for emotional damages. To get this additional cash, you’ll need to demonstrate how your collector’s violations of your rights harmed you. This “harm” could be anything from lost sleep to lost appetite — anything that shows evidence of emotional distress.
Of course, this only applies if you can prove that the collector violated your rights. That’s why it’s so important that you keep a log of all incoming calls and other attempts at contact.
Know when to ask for help
But what should you do if debt collectors are stressing you out, but not actively violating your rights? And how should you proceed if you can’t afford to pay what you owe?
A competent debt settlement firm can help you to negotiate an installment plan, or even to reduce your total debt load. Plus, they can negotiate with your creditor on your behalf. Having an ally in your court can get the collectors off your back and help you build a roadmap to a debt-free future.
Don’t make a “good faith payment”
Has your debt collector asked you to make a small payment “as a show of good faith?” This is a common trick — don’t fall for it!
Often, these small payments are just a way for debt collectors to extend the statute of limitations — the period of time in which a debt collector is able to sue you for the debt. That’s because, in most states, the statute of limitations starts on the date of your last payment. So if it’s been a few years since you made a payment, you might be scot-free in a couple of weeks — unless you restart the clock with a “good faith payment.”
How should you handle debt collector harassment?
If you’re dealing with harassment from debt collectors, it might feel like the end of the world. But there are steps you can take to get your life under control again.
Do you need help getting your debt under control and keeping the debt collectors at bay? The right debt settlement firm can help. Click here to browse our vetted list of top-rated debt settlement firms. You can compare their offerings side-by-side, and read reviews from past customers. Enlisting the right ally is a great first step toward a debt-free life.