Feeling Harassed? Know Your Rights
If you ask the average bill collector about his or her job, they'll probably tell you it's a hard job, as they have to collect money from deadbeat consumers who don’t want to pay their bills. But is that really what it's all about? No, not really. In most cases consumers who can't pay their debt have run into some situation that has made it impossible for them to keep up with payments. Many times it's huge medical bills, or a layoff—some hardship that has completely changed their ability to pay. They want to pay, but they can't. Or they're simply not educated enough in handling their debt properly and have run into problems with over-limit fees, late fees, raised interest rates, or even doubled minimum payments and don't know how to handle it all. Bill collectors have been know to take advantage of the financially naïve consumer and violate certain laws to try to collect a debt.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA*) is a United States Statute written in 1978 to protect consumers from abusive collectors and collection agencies. Many consumers have no idea that there are laws governing collectors, regulating things they can or can't say or do. If you don’t know this, you could be pushed to pay with threats and harassment, when by law you really don't have to take it at all. Now don’t get me wrong, I'm not in support of people getting out of paying their debt, but there are right ways of collecting it, and some that are very, very wrong.
The FDCPA states that bill collectors cannot harass a consumer to collect a debt. But what does harass mean? Dictionary.com defines it as, “to disturb persistently; torment, as with troubles or cares; bother continually; pester; persecute.” If a bill collector contacts you more than you like, or bothers you continually, they're in violation of the FDCPA and you can file suit against them. You can get up to $1,000 per offense. So if you've done your homework and you know the laws, you can communicate with collectors in a manner in which you're the boss.
If you've gotten yourself into a situation where you have bill collectors calling you day and night and it's stressing you out, learn your rights. If they're threatening to sue you, there is something you can do to determine if they actually will sue you or not. First, find out if the company is in your state. For example, if a collection agency is from Chicago and you’re in California, that company cannot sue you across state lines. They can, however, transfer the account to an attorney in your state, (or they could have an extension office in your state), but in order to file suit they have to transfer the account to someone else. They usually don’t want to do that because they then lose their commission if you pay. So if you get a collector who is threatening you ask, “What state are you in?” If it's not yours, tell them that they're in violation of the FDCPA and you'd like to talk to their supervisor. Hold your ground, no matter what they say, and know that you have the law on your side. Next, if the person just won't stop harassing you, hang up the phone, call back, and ask for his supervisor—and report him for violating the FDCPA. You can also tell them that you'll file complaints with the FTC, Attorney General in their state, and the original creditor if you don’t get what you want.
The law states that a creditor cannot threaten arrest or legal action that is either not permitted or not actually contemplated. This means that if they can't do it, or have no intention of doing it, then they can't threaten it. They also can't call you before 8 am or after 9 pm your local time, and they can't call you at work if you ask them not to. And if you tell them in writing to stop communicating with you, they have to. If you feel like you're being harassed and bill collectors have the upper-hand, get yourself educated on this law and you'll regain control on the situation. Then make a game plan on exactly how you're going to take care of your debt and stick to it.
The Debt Lady Says, “Do your homework and you will get an A in the class.”
*Search “FDCPA” on wikipedia on the internet—it lays out your rights in easy to read language, without all the usual legal mumbo jumbo.
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Jerri Simpson, known as “The Debt Lady” (www.thedebtlady.com/), has worked in the finance industry for over 31 years, helping others conquer their financial troubles. She is well-known for her blogs (thedebtlady.blogspot.com/) and has helped thousands gain control over their finances.
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