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How to Stop Debt Collectors From Calling
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If you’re getting peppered with calls from debt collectors, it’s best not to ignore them. Instead, you may be able to stop collection calls by sending a cease-and-desist letter. Here’s how to stop debt collectors from calling.
What are your legal rights when a debt collector calls?
A debt collector, often called a collection agency, is a company that works to convince consumers to pay their overdue credit obligations.
Debt collectors are governed by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a federal law that protects you from abusive or unfair debt collection. Debt collectors must follow these guidelines under the FDCPA:
- May not contact you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. without your permission
- Cannot call you at work if you’ve told them you cannot receive calls there
- Must disclose information about the debt, including the creditor, the amount and what you can do if you suspect the debt isn’t yours
- Cannot contact you after you’ve requested (in writing) that they stop communication (they may still contact you to respond to your request and to notify you of any specific actions being taken, such as a lawsuit)
- Must communicate with your attorney if they know you’ve attained legal representation, unless your attorney is unresponsive or agrees to direct contact between you and the debt collector
The debt collector isn’t allowed to harass, threaten or lie to you or engage in unfair practices, such as collecting fees on top of what you owe (unless your original contract or state permits it).
How to stop debt collectors from calling
1. Verify whether the debt is yours
The first step when interacting with a debt collector is to verify whether the debt is even yours to begin with.
When you answer the phone, you can choose not to discuss any debt with the caller until you receive a written debt validation letter. This letter should include the debt balance, the name of the creditor and a summary of your rights under the FDCPA.
Ask the caller to provide their name, company, street address, telephone number and a professional license number (if your state requires debt collectors to be licensed).
During this conversation, do not provide your personal or financial information to the caller until you’ve established that the debt collector is legitimate.
2. Determine whether you have to repay your debt
If the debt collector confirms that the debt is indeed yours, you may not have to repay it any of the following situations apply:
- Your debt is time-barred. Once the statute of limitations runs out, it becomes known as time-barred debt. If this is the case, your creditor can’t sue you for the unpaid debt, though they can still contact you regarding the debt. Keep in mind, the amount of time it takes for your debt to reach its statute of limitations will vary depending on the state and the type of debt you have.
- You’ve recently declared bankruptcy. After you file for bankruptcy, your creditors and debt collectors can’t attempt to collect from you — this is referred to as an automatic stay. During the bankruptcy process, you should avoid making regular payments to your creditors unless directed to do so by your attorney or the bankruptcy court.
- You are considered “judgment proof.” Judgment proof means that your income can’t be garnished, you don’t own many assets and the assets you do own are protected by exemptions. While creditors can still sue you for debts if you’re considered judgment proof, they can’t collect.
- You’re at the maximum wage garnishment. Under federal law, your paychecks can only be garnished up to 25%. If you’ve already reached the maximum garnishment amount, your other creditors may have a difficult time collecting on that debt.
3. See if a creditor is willing to negotiate
If you find that you’re still responsible for your debts, ask your creditor if they’re willing to negotiate for a lower amount than what you owe. Your creditor may be more willing to accept a smaller amount if you’ve had a history of on-time payments in the past.
While debt settlement can negatively impact your credit score and you may have to pay taxes on the waived balance, it may be worth considering to avoid getting sued by your creditors and want bill collectors to stop calling.
4. Send a cease-and-desist letter
For debts handled by third-party debt collectors, you can send a letter asking the company to stop contacting you. You have the right to make this request, thanks to the FDCPA. The act typically doesn’t apply to creditors that collect their own debts, but if a creditor operates its collections under a different name or sells the debt to a third-party collector, your FDCPA rights apply.
Writing a cease-and-desist letter
When you send a written notice to a debt collector requesting that it halt all future communication with you, the FDCPA requires the company to honor the request. If you need help in writing a letter, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) provides sample letters you can use as a guide.
Your letter, commonly called a cease-and-desist letter, should include the following information:
- Current date
- Collector’s name and address
- Your name and address
- Information about the account itself (account number, balance, etc.).
Be careful not to confirm that the debt is valid (more on that below), but be sure to note that you want the collector to stop contacting you. Make a copy of this letter for your records and send the notice via certified mail with a return receipt requested.
After receiving your letter, the collector may only contact you to:
- Confirm that it will stop additional communications
- Let you know that it has the right to take further actions (like filing a lawsuit)
- Notify you that it actually is taking further action against you
How to stop bill collectors from calling your work
While third-party debt collectors can call you at work, not only are they legally limited by what they can say about your debt, but they can’t continue calling you there if you tell them to stop. It may be best to put this request in writing, in case they don’t honor your verbal request.
If a debt collector continues to call you at work after you’ve told them to stop, they are in violation of the FDCPA. Keep in mind, however, that the FDCPA doesn’t cover creditors themselves.
Pros and cons of sending a cease-and-desist letter
Debt collection calls can be a nuisance, but it’s important to be aware of the potential consequences if you send a cease-and-desist letter, asking them to stop contacting you.
Telling debt collectors to stop calling can relieve some of the pressure you’re feeling from continuous phone calls
Speaking to debt collectors could complicate you situation — if you agree to make a payment, you could validate your debt and extend the statute of limitations
You may overlook your rights as a consumer if you feel pressured during a conversation with a debt collector — a cease-and-desist letter may help prevent that
If a collector cannot contact you by mail or phone, it might opt to file a lawsuit against you
Your creditor may add additional fees and interest to your current balance, and keeping an open line of communication can help you stay on top of any changes to the account
If you don’t respond to a court summons after a creditor sues you, the creditor can win by default and you may be held in contempt
Debt collection calls: Do’s and Don’ts
Watch for your validation notice: Per the FDCPA, a debt collector must send you a validation notice no later than five days after it first contacts you. This notice should contain details about the balance you owe, the name of the original creditor and what you can do if you don’t believe the debt belongs to you.
Ask for verification: If you don’t believe you owe the debt, one of the first steps you may want to take is to ask for verification. You will need to send your verification request in writing and, again, send the letter by certified mail with a request for a return receipt. As long as you mail in your request within 30 days of receiving the validation notice, the collector must send you written confirmation of the debt. This confirmation may include details like a copy of the original bill or a copy of the judgment filed against you (if applicable).
Keep a written record of conversations: When you speak with a debt collector, it’s a good idea to keep detailed notes about those conversations. A debt collection call log might come in handy if a collector promises you something (like a settlement), but then changes its story after the fact.
Know what debt collectors can or can’t do: The FDCPA sets a number of rules that debt collectors have to follow. For example, debt collectors can only call you between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. (based on your time zone), and they can’t threaten you or lie to you. Becoming familiar with these rules can protect you from unfair practices.
Ignore the debt collector: Answering debt collector calls can present a tricky challenge: you don’t want to feel compelled to reveal certain information, but it’s not a good idea to ignore the calls either. Simply letting the calls go unanswered won’t stop debt collectors from attempting to contact you or collect on overdue bills. In fact, if the collection agency is unable to reach you, they may try additional ways to collect, like calling you at work or filing a lawsuit.
Provide personal or financial information: Unfortunately, debt collection scams are common. For this reason and others, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) encourages consumers to exercise caution when sharing personal or financial information with a debt collector. This advice is even more important if you speak with a collector you don’t know or recognize, especially before you receive a validation notice via mail.
Admit the debt is valid: Debt collectors have to follow a statute of limitations when suing you over unpaid debt. Depending on your state of residence and the type of debt, this time frame commonly ranges from three to 10 years (sometimes longer). However, if you admit a debt is valid, either in writing or over the phone, you might reset the clock on a time-barred debt.
Make a payment, no matter how small: Another misstep that could revive a time-barred debt is making a payment — even a small payment can reset the collection clock and leave you vulnerable to potential lawsuits. Instead, if you want to pay a debt (time-barred or otherwise), it’s typically best to pay the entire balance or agreed-upon settlement amount in full.
Expect that paying a debt will raise your credit score: It may be wise to pay or settle a collection account if the debt is legitimate, but you should maintain realistic expectations with regard to your credit score. Depending on the credit-scoring model a lender uses and the other items on your credit profile, paying off a collection account might not do much to improve your score.