One of the Founding Fathers of the United States, the great Benjamin Franklin, once said that there’s nothing certain in this world except death and taxes. However, with the economic disruptions amid the pandemic, the cost of basic commodities and services has skyrocketed. Debt may then be a looming addition to the equation.
As movement restrictions negatively impact income opportunities, more and more individuals are taking out a loan to survive, prompting debt collectors to work double-time in asking debtors to repay what they owe.
Debt Collectors: Who are they and what do they do?
If you have a debt collector hot on your heels, that means you’re considered a delinquent borrower. Debt collectors reach out to debtors through phone calls, emails, or letters to convince the latter to pay. They may work independently or for a company, such as a medical collection agency, while some are lawyers.
When debt collectors can’t locate a borrower based on the provided contact information, they may hire private investigators, use software programs, and conduct thorough research about a debtor’s financial standing to determine the debtor’s ability to pay. They get paid each time they’re able to convince a debtor to repay.
Despite the additional rules set up by the federal, state, and local governments in protecting individuals with debt issues, debt collection may not be as cordial as expected.
Dealing with Debt Collectors
You have rights as a borrower, too, and you have the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to protect you. Knowing your rights as a debtor helps you avoid major problems that could put you at a disadvantage.
The FDCPA lays out debt collection rules, but they’re applicable only to third-party collection agencies.
Below are the main FDCPA violations, so debt collectors should not:
- Ask you to pay more than you owe
- Require you to pay additional fees not allowed by law
- Resort to harassment
- Call or contact you during inconvenient times or when you’re working
- Inform other people regarding the debt, except for your spouse (if any), the creditor and their lawyer, and the credit reporting agency
- Constantly contact a friend or family member to extract information about you
- Ignore your written request to verify how much you owe
- Fail to send a written debt validation notice
How to Uphold Debt Collection Rules
Based on the points discussed earlier, here’s what you can do when a debt collector is employing questionable tactics to get you to repay:
Don’t pay for more than what you owe. FDCPA rules prevent collectors from unlawfully imposing additional fees, interests, and other add-on costs on top of your principal loan amount. You can also question an exorbitant amount charged to you.
Tell the debt collector to stop calling. Send a written letter to let the debt collecting agency know that you don’t wish to be contacted for various reasons. After receiving this letter, the agency is allowed to contact you perhaps for the last time, to inform you of the next steps or what to expect from them.
Ask the collector to call only at convenient times. According to the rules, collection calls should only be from 8 AM and 9 PM. If you’re working during this period, you can let the collector know, and they’re expected to stop bothering you.
Request for debt verification. The debt collector is mandated to inform you that you have the right to dispute the validity of your debt during their first contact. You’re given a month to send a letter requesting proof that the debt is yours. Debt collectors and agencies shouldn’t contact you until the validation process is done.
Contest inaccuracies in the summary or report. The FDCPA states that your credit report could only contain timely, authentic, and valid information. Send a credit report dispute to the bureau if you notice any error. Follow up with the collection agency if the mistakes have been corrected.
Avoid payment on an expired debt. Depending on the type of debt and the state, there’s a limited period in which a collector can sue for a debt, and it’s laid out in the statutes of limitations. Even if the statute has passed, you still owe the company, and your credit report will be impacted, but you have the right to withhold debt payment.
Insist on your right to privacy. Debt collectors may contact your family or friends once and only if they believe their information about you is erroneous. They’re allowed to contact third parties in an attempt to locate you, but they should only ask for your address, home phone number, and place of employment. They’re prohibited from informing other persons—except for your spouse, lawyer, or parents if you’re under 18—about your debt.
Ask for the correct information. Debt collectors shouldn’t represent themselves as lawyers, accuse you of a crime, or make it appear that legal forms are not lawful, and vice versa.
For instance, you may receive a court summons for a lawsuit about your debt, which could have been fabricated by the collector or could be an actual legal document. Search for the court’s contact information and contact the court to confirm that they issued the summons.
Sue an overstepping debt collector. If your debt collector is harassing you or repeatedly violating FDCPA rules, you can go to a state court or federal court to file a complaint. If it becomes systematic or happens to many borrowers, a class action lawsuit can be filed.
If you succeed in doing these steps, some circumstances still allow debt collectors to contact you. And it’s only to tell you that it’ll be their last contact or a lawsuit has been filed against you.
The FDCPA protects consumers with debt issues. This, however, doesn’t give you an excuse to renege on your financial obligations. Perhaps the most important lesson is to live within your means and find smarter ways to augment your income.