When an account goes into collection, it’s stressful and overwhelming for anyone. But debt collection can be especially troublesome for military service members. Frequent moves and relocations can make it difficult for service members to keep up with bills and collection notices. If an account does go into collection, debt collectors often use aggressive tactics to try and collect payments. However, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which makes it illegal for debt collectors to use abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices when they collect debts. The key to successful interactions with debt collectors is to know your rights under the law.
How Does the Law Protect You?
Debt collectors cannot revoke your security clearance. Debt collectors can report debts to credit reporting agencies. Reported debts will show up on your credit history report and may lower your credit score. During a background investigation to review your security clearance, credit history is just one of many factors in determining your clearance level. You have the right to get free copies of your credit report and dispute incorrect items. If your clearance gets suspended due to debts, you have the right to appeal. Contact the Legal Assistance Office for help if you are informed your security clearance is being revoked.
Under California and federal laws, debt collectors are not allowed to call other people without your permission to tell them that you owe a debt, continue to call or contact you if you asked them in writing to stop doing so, or harass/abuse/annoy you, which means they cannot contact you at inconvenient places or times, use abusive language, or threaten to harm you, your loved ones, or your property. Additionally, they may not lie to you or misrepresent the amount you owe.
Debt collectors cannot report your debt to your command. Debt collectors cannot contact your command in order to collect a debt, unless they have your consent to do so. Consent is not valid unless you give it after the debt becomes due. You are not required to give consent.
Debt collectors cannot garnish (automatically take payment from) pay unless a court entered a judgment against you. In most cases, debt collectors cannot garnish veterans’ benefits. To learn more about military pay garnishments and involuntary allotments, visit https://www.dfas.mil/
What are Your Options?
If you have questions or concerns about whether an attempt to collect a debt is legal or legitimate, you can make an appointment with an attorney in the Legal Assistance Office by calling 760-380-5321 or stopping by during office hours to Bldg. 230 on the corner of C Ave. and 3rd Street.
Whenever possible, prevent your accounts from going into collections. Set up automatic payments when you can and always make sure to update your address to avoid missing bills.
Don’t ignore debt collectors! If a debt collector is trying to collect a debt that you do not owe or already paid, you should dispute the debt in writing as soon as possible. If you dispute the debt within 30 days of the first time the collector contacted you, the collector must stop collection until it shows you written proof of the debt.
While you are on Active Duty, you may be able to lower the interest rate on your debts and postpone your mortgage payments, car lease payments, and other payments. The Legal Assistance Team can help with all of these things, and the sooner you get an attorney involved, the more success you are likely to have.