If you feel powerless when dealing with debt collectors, know that their tactics are limited by the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act. Here are 10 things third-party debt collectors — those who collect a debt on behalf of another creditor — can't and can do.
5 things debt collectors can’t do
1. Come to your workplace
Under the FDCPA, it’s illegal for a debt collector to come to your workplace to collect payment. The act prohibits publicizing your debts, and showing up at your job to collect your debt counts. This means that debt collectors cannot harass you in-person at your work.
However, a debt collector, like a credit card company, may call you at work, though they can’t reveal to your co-workers that they are debt collectors. To stop these calls, ask the debt collector not to contact you at work. They must stop, according to the law.
2. Harass you
Harassment from a debt collector can come in many forms:
Threats of violence
Publishing information about you
Abusive or obscene language
All of these are illegal under the debt collection practices act.
3. Arrest you for debt
You can’t be arrested for a debt you owe to a debt collector.
However, if a debt collector sues you over debt and you fail to show up in court, you may lose by default and be ordered to pay. Then if you defy that court order, the collector may pursue an arrest warrant.
4. Pursue you for debt you don’t owe
The debt collection industry is rife with inaccuracies. Incomplete or inaccurate documentation can lead a debt collector to pursue the wrong person for payment, or pursue the right person for a debt he or she already paid. This issue isn’t uncommon, but it’s illegal. If you doubt a debt you’re being asked to pay, start by checking your credit report.
5. Call you whenever they want
If you've wondered what time a debt collector can call you, know that they can’t call you before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. You can also request that a debt collector stop calling or writing in pursuit of payment on a debt. Your obligation to pay the debt remains, however.
5 things debt collectors can do
1. Seek payment on an expired debt
All unsecured debts, like credit cards and medical bills, have a statute of limitations. After this date, the debt is “expired” and you can’t be sued for payment. But you still owe it, and debt collectors can still seek payment on these old financial obligations.
2. Pressure you
While debt collectors can’t threaten you or mislead you, they can apply pressure to collect payment. This pressure can include daily calls, frequent letters, or talk about pursuing a lawsuit for payment on the debt — as long as they stay within the bounds of the law.
3. Sue you for payment on a debt
Debt collectors can sue you for payment on a debt as a last-ditch effort. These lawsuits often result in wage garnishment, bank levies or both, because most debtors don’t show up to court and lose by default.
4. Sell your debt
A collector may resell debt it hasn't been able to collect on, or sell the remainder if only partial payment was made. So if one debt collector stops contacting you about a debt, don’t be surprised if another starts. If you do pay off a debt in full, make sure you get the agreement in writing so you can prove it.
5. Negotiate what you owe
Because debt collectors buy debts for pennies on the dollar, they have fairly large profit margins if they collect the original amount owed. This gives them more flexibility in negotiating payment from a consumer. You may be able to negotiate a settlement for 25% or 30% of what you originally owed. Again, get the agreement in writing, so you have proof the debt was considered paid in full for the agreed-upon settlement amount.