What Debt Collectors Can’t Do to Recover Your Debts

Knowing what debt collectors cannot do to collect a debt from you may help you deal with and protect you from their approaches to debt collection.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is the federal law that governs debt collection for personal, household, and family debts like your mortgage and car loan, other personal loans, your credit card debts, past-due utility bills, past-due student loans, medical and insurance debts, condo fees, unpaid legal judgments against you, and bounced checks. The FDCPA applies to outside debt collectors, but not to a creditor’s own in-house debt collectors (meaning debt collectors who are employees of a creditor).

If your state has its own law that applies to debt collectors, it may be tougher and more comprehensive than the federal law. Contact your state attorney general’s office to find out if your state has a law and about the protections it provides you.

Debt collectors who are covered by the FDCPA cannot do any of the following to collect a debt from you:

  • Call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. unless you tell them it is okay to do so. In fact, you don’t have to talk to debt collectors at all. The FDCPA entitles you to tell debt collectors not to call you again

  • Call you on a Sunday.

  • Contact you at work if the debt collector knows that your employer does not want you to be contacted there during working hours.

  • Get in touch with your employer about a debt you owe, unless the debt is past-due child support.

  • Contact your relatives, friends, or neighbors about the money you owe in order to embarrass you into paying your debts. Debt collectors can contact these people to obtain information about how to contact you, such as your address or phone number, but they are not permitted to say why they want that information.

  • Communicate with you about your debt by using a postcard or an envelope that clearly indicates that a debt collector sent it.

  • Use a letter or envelope that appears to have come from a government agency or a court.

  • Call you repeatedly during a relatively short period of time. Such behavior is harassment, and the FDCPA makes harassment illegal.

  • Swear or insult you when you are having a conversation, or threaten you with the loss of your reputation or with jail time.

  • Order you to accept collect calls from them.

  • Deposit a post-dated check you have given them before the date on the check.

  • Collect more than you owe on a debt, unless the contract you have with the creditor that turned your debt over to collections allows the debt collector to do that.

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