Commentary

April 5, 2013

The mystery of debt collection revealed

Have you ever had debt collectors calling you at all hours of the day and night, threatening to have you arrested if you did not repay the debt immediately? If so, they were in violation of federal law. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors (those who regularly collect debts owed to others) from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices.

A collector should not call you before 8 a.m., or after 9 p.m., or at any other time or place that is inconvenient. You can notify a debt collector in writing (certified mail, return receipt requested so that you have proof) of your refusal to pay a debt or that you wish for the collector to stop contacting you. If you are represented by an attorney, the debt collector must contact your attorney instead of you. Within five days of the first time the debt collector contacts you, they are required to send you written notice of your debt and instructions on how to dispute the debt. You have 30 days to request additional information, such as verification of the debt.

Debt collectors cannot threaten you, use bad language, publicize your name as someone who refuses to pay a debt, repeatedly call to annoy or harass you, and have to provide you with their contact identity. They cannot falsely represent that they work for the government, the amount and status of the debt, claim they are an attorney if they are not, or threaten you with arrest or garnishment of wages.

If you do owe a debt and do not pay it, a creditor or debt collector can sue you to collect the money. If they win, the court will enter a judgment against you. The judgment states the amount of money you owe, and can be used to get a garnishment order against you which means they can get the money directly from your paycheck or your bank.

What should you do if you receive communication from a debt collector? First, check your credit. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the three credit bureaus to provide you with a copy of your credit report free yearly. You can order these reports at www.annualcreditreport.com. If you see any debts that do not look familiar, dispute them with the credit bureau. Second, if the debt collector has not sent you the required written notice of the debt, request it in writing. Third, if you do not wish to have the debt collector call you anymore, send them a letter telling them to stop contacting you. Fourth, if the collector is doing something illegal, seek legal advice. Fifth, if your receive paperwork that looks like it is from a court, seek legal advice.

Army Community Services can help with you with debt issues, or if you would like to speak to an attorney about your debt, visit the Legal Assistance Office, building 288 on Barstow Road, between Second and Third Street or call 380-5321.




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