The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act: Stop creditor harassment

Like many Americans, you may be struggling to make ends meet. Bills might be piling in and you may be overwhelmed with the amount of contact experienced from debt collectors. However, while you might be behind on your finances, this does not negate the fact that you have rights. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been established to protect the rights of the consumer. Specifically, it enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which forbids collectors from using abusive language and deceptive practices of collection.

What rights are available to consumers under FDCPA?

The right to be informed: Upon initial contact, debt collectors must inform you of the creditor that they represent, the amount of debt owed and your right to dispute any amounts. Additionally, you should be informed about any procedural limitations. For example, you generally have 30 days to dispute any balances. Under federal law, such information must be relayed over the phone or in writing within five days of initial contact.

The right to stop creditor harassment: Furthermore, the FDCPA prohibits harassment. Collectors must not call and harass you incessantly over the phone. They cannot utilize abusive language or threats. Additionally, callers may not contact you at inconvenient times, such as early in the morning, late at night or during working hours.

If collectors are calling you too much, you may need to send a "cease communication letter." This letter notifies debt collectors that they shall communicate with you only in writing or stop communication altogether. You may also use this letter to inform creditors that they are in violation of federal law.

The right to financial privacy: The act also protects your privacy. The collectors may not disclose of the existence of debts to anyone who is not authorized to know about such debts. For example, they cannot call your neighbors, coworkers or friends about the status of your finances.

The right to representation: If a lawyer represents you in a collection case, debt collectors must communicate directly with the lawyer - not you.

These are just some of the protections available under federal law.

If you are over your head in bills and other debts, you do have options. It may help to work with a qualified attorney. A lawyer can help you create a debt-reducing plan. In the meantime, if debt collectors contact you, ensure that they are operating in accordance with federal law.