You are here: Home Finances Financial Crunch ... Debt Collectors ...
Information about all aspects of finances affected by a serious health condition. Includes income sources such as work, investments, and private and government disability programs, and expenses such as medical bills, and how to deal with financial problems.
Information about all aspects of health care from choosing a doctor and treatment, staying safe in a hospital, to end of life care. Includes how to obtain, choose and maximize health insurance policies.
Answers to your practical questions such as how to travel safely despite your health condition, how to avoid getting infected by a pet, and what to say or not say to an insurance company.

Some collection agents have become very aggressive in collecting outstanding bills, making harassing telephone calls at late hours, threatening to sue and other techniques. There are laws which protect people against debt collectors. 

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is a federal law that provides protection against obnoxious collection efforts. State laws may extend the federal law's protections even further.

Who The Laws Apply To

  • The federal law only applies to the activities of debt collectors other than the person or company to whom you owe the debt. Some state laws have similar state consumer protection laws which mirror the federal provisions which regulate the original creditor.
  • People or companies who purchase debt are subject to the federal law even though they are attempting to collect their own debts.
  • To find out if additional debt collectors are covered by the law in the state in which you live, see: offsite link Alternatively, type into your favorite search engine the name of the state in which you reside, plus the words "debtor protection law"

Transactions That Are Covered By The Debt Collection Laws

  • The federal law only concerns personal and non-commercial transactions. For example, the law protects you owe money to a credit card company or to a retail store or to a health care provider. The law does not cover debts owed by businesses.
  • To find out if additional transactions are covered by the law in the state in which you live, see: offsite link Alternatively, type into your favorite search engine the name of the state in which you reside, plus the words "debtor protection law"

Actions A Collection Agency MUST Take

A debt collector must do each of the following:

  • Identify him or her self as a debt collector and that any information received will be used to effect collection of the debt.
  • Within 5 days after the initial communication in connection with the collection of a debt, the debt collector must send a written notice (the "validation notice") containing, among other information, the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed, and a statement that unless the consumer disputes the validity of the debt within 30 days after receipt of the notice, the debt will be assumed to be valid by the debt collector. If you fail to dispute the validity of a debt as requested, it may not be construed by any court as an admission that you owe the debt.
  • Upon your written request made within 30 days of receipt of the validation notice, the debt collector must provide you the name and address of the company to which the debt was originally payable.
  • Provide written verification of the debt if you send a written dispute or request for verification within 30 days of receiving the validation notice. (For more about a dispute letter, see "If You Believe A Debt Is Not Yours" below.
  • The creditor must report asserted disputes to any credit bureau that reports the debt.

Actions A Debt Collector Is Not Allowed To Take

Under the federal law (the Fair Debt Collections Protection Act),  a debt collector may not engage in any of the following practices. State law may provide additional protections.

  • Prohibited abusive and deceptive practices include the following
    • Contact you before 8:00AM or after 9:00 PM your local time (unless you give specific consent to the debt collector to contact you at a different time).
    • Contact you at your place of employment if either of the following occur:
    • You notify the creditor verbally or in writing.
    • The collector knows, or has reason to know, that your employer prohibits you from receiving such communication.
    • Contact you again if you advise the debt collector in writing that you refuse to pay the debt or that you wish the debt collector to cease further communication with you. The only exceptions to this rule are:
      • The debt collector can advise you that further debt collection efforts are being terminated.
      • To notify you that the debt collector is proceeding with legal remedies.
    • Contact you at all if the collector knows you have an attorney with respect to the debt and the collector has the attorney's contact information.
    • Contact any third parties such as friends or neighbors or your employer about the debt.
    • Seek unjustified amounts of money.
    • Misrepresent that the collector is an attorney or a law enforcement officer.
  • Prohibited harassment include the following:
    • Threaten to use violence or inflict harm.
    • Use obscene or profane language.
    • The publication of a list of consumers who allegedly refuse to pay a debt.
    • Call you or any person in your household repeatedly, or keep one of you in a conversation with the intent to annoy, abuse, or harass you or anyone at the number called.
  • Prohibited false or misleading representations include the following:
    • The debt collector cannot falsify the character, amount or legal status of the debt.
    • The threat to take any action that cannot legally be taken or that is not intended to be taken.
    • The false representation or implication that a transfer of an interest in the debt shall cause you to lose a claim or defense to payment of the debt.
    • Use any false representation or deceptive means to collect a debt or to obtain information concerning a consumer.
  • Prohibited unfair practices include the following:
    • The debt collector is prohibited from communicating with you regarding the debt by postcard.
    • The debt collector is also prohibited from communicating with you through an envelope which indicates the agency is in the debt collection business.
    • If you give a debt collector a postdated check (a check dated in the future) that is dated more than five days in the future, the debt collector may not deposit the check unless it gives you notice of intent to deposit not more than 10 nor less than 3 business days prior to such deposit.
    • A debt collector cannot report, or threaten to report, false information to the credit bureaus about the debt or collection process.
    • Legal action can only be brought in a jurisdiction in which you signed the contract sued upon or in which you reside at the commencement of the action. If the case involves enforcement of an interest in real property securing your obligation, the action may only be brought in an area where the real property is located.
    • Additional actions may be prohibited by state law.  To find out if additional actions are prohibited by the law in the state in which you live, see: offsite link Alternatively, type into your favorite search engine the name of the state in which you reside, plus the words "debtor protection law"

If You Believe A Debt Is Not Yours OR That It Was Paid OR The Debt Is Too Old

  • All states have statutes which limit the period of time during which you can be sued to repay a debt. These laws are known as Statutes of Limitation. You can find the period of time in your state at offsite link.
  • If the debt is so old that the creditor no longer has a right to sue for the money because of the Statute of Limitations in your state, do not acknowledge that the debt is yours or make even offer to make a partial payment. Either of these actions can start the Statute of Limitations clock all over again.
  • If you believe a debt is not yours, or has already been paid, or that it is too old so that it is no longer enforceable, it is recommended that you write a letter disputing the debt.
    • You can find a sample dispute letter on the Privacy Rights web site. Go to offsite link, and click on: "Consumer Form Letters," then click on: "Dispute Letters."
    • With your letter, include copies of all relevant evidence, such as both sides of canceled checks. Make a copy of the letter and evidence for your file. Mail the letter in such a manner that you obtain a receipt showing it was received.
  • A collection agency is required to investigate the legitimacy of the debt before going any further.

How To Enforce Debtor Protection Laws

  • If a law is violated, warn the debt collector in writing that it has violated your legal rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act or state law. You can threaten legal action if the abuse continues.
  • If the abuse continues, you can hire an attorney and pursue your rights in court. You can recover your actual damages plus such additional damages as the court allows up to $1,000. You can also recover reasonable attorney fees if a debt collector is proven to have violated the law unless due to a "bona fide error." (You can locate an attorney with expertise in this are through the National Association of Consumer Advocates, offsite link
  • Report the collection agency to the Federal Trade Commission at offsite link or Tel.: 877.382.4357 and to your state's attorney general. You can find the contact information for your state's attorney general at the National Association of Attorneys General web site at offsite link
  • To learn how to enforce the debt collection laws of the state in which you reside, locate your local law at: offsite link
  • For information about choosing a lawyer, click here.


  • It is advisable not to pay a debt that is being collected until you receive proof that you owe the debt and the amount owed.
  • If you do make payment, do not pay by check or credit card over the phone. Do it in writing, preferably by check. If you are settling the debt for less than you owe, get agreement in writing to the deal before sending the check.

To Learn More

More Information

Credit 101

Related Articles

How To Deal With A Financial Crunch Bankruptcy