Frequently Asked Questions

Why am I being contacted by a collection agency?

It usually means that a creditor has not received payment from you, generally for several months. They have negotiated with another company or are using an in-house affiliate to attempt to get you to pay. Third party collectors often purchase your debt for less than you owe, and your debt is now owned by the collector. A collector may also work for the creditor in return for a fee or a percentage of any money collected. In-house collectors that are affiliated with the original creditor work on behalf of the company directly. Because the creditor has taken a loss on your account or because you are late with making payments, this negative information may show up on your credit report.

Another reason a debt collector may be contacting you is that an imposter has used your identity to obtain credit, a crime known as identity theft. You are not responsible for the debt, but you may experience difficulties convincing the debt collector of this. Under federal law, the debt collector has certain responsibilities in investigating your situation and may be liable for failure to cooperate.

How May A Debt Collector Contact Me?

A debt collector may contact you in person, by mail, telephone or telegram. however, it can't be at inconvenient times or places, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. A debt collector may not contact you at work if your employer disapproves. A debt collector may not contact you or a third party if the collector knows you have retained an attorney.

What Debts Are Covered?

Personal, family and household debts, such as auto loans, credit card, medical bills, telephone bills, or utilities.

What should I do if I am being harrassed?

Under the federal FDCPA, a collector is not allowed to make idle threats, express or implied (for example, "We must get your payment no later than the day after tomorrow"), use abusive or profane language, and many other things, as referencd elsewhere on our website. A collector should also not discuss your account with third parties, such as your employer, or use the phone to harass you.

What if I'm already paying a debt collector?

Clarify payments. If you negotiate a repayment plan over the phone, ask the representative to send you the terms of the plan in writing. You may also write a letter that explains your understanding of the negotiated repayment plan. Payments made to a debt collector when multiple debts are involved should clearly specify to which debt the payment is to be applied. It is possible to dispute one debt, but agree to pay another. Also, any promise to remove or adjust reports in your credit history should be documented for later enforcement.

Pay the proper party. Payments should be made to the debt collector and not the original creditor unless you are expressly instructed to pay the creditor directly. In this case, you should confirm such instruction in writing to both the creditor and the debt collector.

Don't be coerced. Never pay a bill you don't owe just to get the collector to "go away." Any payment of the debt is considered an acknowledgement that you are responsible. Even if you pay, that will not erase a negative entry on your credit report.

Examine balances, interest charges, and other fees and charges. Carefully review the amount you are being asked to pay. You should ask the collector to tell you the amount of the original debt as well as give you a breakdown of any interest, fees, or charges that have been added. Federal law prevents a debt collector from charging you any more than the amount you actually owe, if not permitted by the laws of your state or the terms of the original agreement with the creditor. (15 USC § 1692(f))

Should I keep records when dealing with a collector?

Start and keep a file. At the first contact from a collection agency, start a file. Your file should include:

  1. Dates and times of phone conversations, pre-recorded messages the collector leaves on your voice mail, and when you send or receive correspondence.
  2. Notes of conversations along with the name of the collection agency employee.
  3. Copies of correspondence you send, as well as those you receive including envelopes. Collectors are supposed to give you written notice of the collection action five days after you are contacted by phone.
  4. Copies of messages that are abusive or overly intrusive.
  5. There is no set time after which you will never be contacted again about a debt. Some debts are sold to other collectors even after being properly disputed. Keep all records regarding disputed debts indefinitely in case the debt comes back to haunt you, and you need to dispute it again.
  6. Put it in writing. Send any correspondence, including disputes, to both the collection agency and the creditor by Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested. When in doubt, send a written confirmation of anything that you may need to prove later (for example, a promise or threat made, a rude or harassing comment received, or an explanation given you that may show improprieties in the handling of your dispute or your payments.)

What are my rights?

Learn to recognize abusive collection practices. Even if you owe a debt, a collector owes you fair treatment and respect for your privacy. Also, be aware that even if the collector's conduct does not exactly match the language of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, that collector may still be liable for its conduct.

What Can I Do If a Debt Collector Breaks The Law?

You have the right to sue a debt collector in a state of federal court within one year from the date the law was violated. You may recover money for the damages you suffered. Also, under the law, they may have to pay the attorney's fees and costs for you.

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