What Is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act?

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If you’ve fallen behind on repaying a debt, you may receive letters and phone calls from creditors or collection companies. While hearing from creditors can be stressful, you shouldn’t have to deal with threats or deceptive collection practices thanks to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

The FDCPA protects consumers from unfair practices to ensure collectors aren’t abusive, deceptive, or unfair. It also requires debt collectors to provide you with information about your debt so you can dispute it if necessary.

What is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act?

Congress passed the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act in 1977, and it became effective in March 1978. The intention behind the act was to protect consumers from abusive and deceptive practices from collectors.

Since its inception, the act has undergone several changes, including adding attorneys to the list of parties who can’t harass or abuse consumers in an attempt to collect on a debt. In other words, collection attorneys must use the same fair tactics as collection agencies when trying to collect a debt.

In 2021, Congress further modernized the FDCPA by updating the methods debt collectors can use to communicate with consumers — adding emails and text messages to their communication options.

It also expanded the information debt collectors must provide consumers, prohibited collectors from threatening legal action after the statute of limitations is over, and gave consumers more control over how debt collectors communicate with them.

The FDCPA covers the collection of mortgages, credit card debt, medical debts, personal loans, and most other types of personal debts. However, it doesn’t cover business debts.

Through all the changes, the FDCPA gives consumers the following rights:

  • Restrictions on communication: Debt collectors may only call between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. If collectors call at a time they know or should know is inconvenient for you, such as when you’re at work, you can tell them and they are required to end the call. They can’t call you more than 7 times within 7 consecutive days unless you’ve given them consent.
  • The right to cease communications: You have the right to tell debt collectors you’re not paying the debt or do not want to be contacted. You can also let them know that you don’t want to be contacted in a specific way. For example, if the debt collector contacts you via email or text, they’re also supposed to give you an easy way to opt out of receiving the communications.
  • The right to defer to your attorney: If you’re working with an attorney and the debt collector is aware of that fact, they must stop calling you and direct all communication through the attorney.

How does the FDCPA protect me?

The FDCPA protects consumers from abusive practices in several ways beyond setting boundaries on how and when debt collectors can contact you. This doesn’t mean collectors can’t try to collect on a debt, but they must do so in a way that’s fair to everyone involved.

Prevents abusive practices by debt collectors

Debt collectors may not use abusive tactics to get you to pay your bill. This means they can’t threaten violence, use profanity or aggressive calling tactics, publicize a list with your name on it, or call without identifying themselves as a debt collection agency.

Debt collectors must validate your debt in writing

Within five days of contacting you for the first time, the creditor must send you a validation letter that includes the following information:

  • The amount you owe
  • The creditor you owe the debt to
  • A statement that says if you don’t dispute the debt within 30 days of the notice, the debt is assumed to be valid
  • A statement that the debt collector will supply the name and address of the original creditor if you request it in writing within 30 days

Debt collectors must be truthful

Debt collectors must be honest when they talk to you. They’re prohibited from using false information to coerce you or mislead you to pay the debt. They can’t use any misleading information that implies:

  • They are attorneys or represent law enforcement or the government.
  • You are breaking the law by not paying your debt back.
  • You’ll experience criminal penalties for not paying the debt back.
  • They work for credit reporting agencies.

Any information or facts they provide must be truthful and realistic. They can’t imply they will take any measures they aren’t allowed by law, however, if action can be legally taken against you, the FDCPA won’t apply.

Debt collectors can’t engage in unfair practices

Debt collectors also can’t use unfair practices while collecting debts. They can’t threaten things they’re not allowed to do by law.

For example, debt collectors are not allowed to:

  • Threaten to take property that’s not part of the credit agreement.
  • Warn of penalties or interest not described in the credit agreement.
  • Cash a postdated check before the date on the check.
  • Use a postcard to contact you about your debt.
  • Charge you for collect calls or telegrams.

What to do if your rights are violated

If a debt collector violates any of your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you have several options:

  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC oversees debt collectors to ensure they’re not violating a consumer’s rights, and you can file a complaint about a debt collector online at reportfraud.ftc.gov.
  • Sue the collection agency. You can sue the collection agency in small claims court. This can be a good option if you don’t want to hire an attorney, because you can argue your case to a judge yourself. You can also sue the debt collector in state court, but this typically requires hiring an attorney and is a more time-consuming and lengthy process than small claims court.
  • File a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB doesn’t oversee debt collectors, but it can pass the information to the creditor. The CFPB will also work with you and the creditor to resolve the issue. You can file a complaint with the CFPB online at consumerfinance.gov/complaint.
  • Report the debt collector to your state’s attorney general. Many states have laws about debt collection practices that are similar to the FDCPA. If you believe a debt collector violated state law, you can report them to your state’s attorney general’s office and discuss the possibility of state action.

Be sure to keep copies of all written communications to and from the debt collector and records of all phone calls. If you decide to pursue a complaint or lawsuit against a debt collector, these records will be a vital part of your case.

A personal loan may be the answer to your debt problem, depending on your situation. It could allow you to pay off what you owe, which can help you avoid having to deal with debt collectors altogether.

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About the author
Janet Berry-Johnson
Janet Berry-Johnson

Janet Berry-Johnson is an authority on income taxes and small business accounting. She was a CPA for over 12 years and has been a personal finance writer for more than five years. Janet has written for several well-known media outlets, including The New York Times, Forbes, Business Insider and Credit Karma. In 2021, Canopy named her one of the Top 10 Influential Women in Accounting and Tax.

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