Your Rights in Debt Collection

The federal government mandates specific rights for consumers with regard to debt collection and credit reports. Individual states may provide additional rights, as well. There are two federal laws with which you should become familiar in order to protect and exercise your rights: the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA). Overviews of these laws are provided below: the full text of the legislation can be found at their respective websites.

The Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act regulates the behavior which a debt collector or collection agency may exhibit toward you and others that they may come into contact with. For instance, if you have obtained the services of an attorney, they must speak with the attorney and not you unless you give them permission to do so. They cannot contact you at unusual or inconvenient times (this generally includes the hours before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m.). They also may not call you at your place of employment if you aren’t permitted to accept such calls. They cannot call you repeatedly in an attempt to annoy you. They must also identify themselves when they call. Debt collectors cannot call you collect or cause you in any way to be responsible for the costs of phone calls to you. They cannot identify themselves as any member of law enforcement or as an attorney. They may not harass or abuse you, nor can they use or threaten the use of violence or harm against you or your reputation, nor against anyone else.

If you’re contacted by a debt collector, you have the right to instruct them not to call you again and they must abide by your wishes. They can then only notify you by mail of the status of your account. Any correspondence must not appear to resemble court documents or correspondence from a government agency. It must arrive in a plain envelope with no reference to debt collection anywhere on it.

Debt collectors cannot use obscene language toward you. They may not misrepresent the amount that you owe nor can they threaten to take action against you that they don’t intend to take. They cannot ask for a postdated check by threats of criminal action against you, nor accept a check postdated more than five days unless they notify you three- to ten days before cashing it. They also can’t deposit a postdated check before the date written on it.

If a creditor or debt collector violates the FDCPA, you can take action against them. Keep detailed records of all contact with the collector, as well as evidence of the violation. Send a letter to the original creditor, your State Attorney General, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) explaining the violation. Depending on the nature of the violation, you may also be able to sue the debt collector in small claims court. Be sure to seek the advice of a competent legal professional.

The Fair Credit Reporting Act deals with credit reports and credit reporting agencies. It outlines the situations in which you can receive a free report if you’ve been denied credit. You must request the report within sixty days of your receipt of a denial of credit or of employment. In addition, new FCRA legislation allows you to now obtain one free copy of your credit report every twelve months from each of the three major reporting agencies. You can order them online, by phone, or by mail.

You have the right to make a written statement about any entry on your credit report and have it included as a permanent part of your credit file. Reporting agencies must also include on your report a record of all inquiries received in the last six months, as well as a listing of all people or organizations that purchased your credit report within the previous two years for employment purposes, and within the last year for other reasons.

If you find errors or wrong information in your report, you have the right to inform the reporting agency and they must investigate the matter free of charge to you. They must also respond to you of their findings within thirty days. If they cannot verify the validity of the information within that time period, the entry must be corrected or deleted.

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