5 On Your Side

Creditors hassling you? Know your rights

Posted September 15, 2009

These days, many people have stacks of unpaid bills, and with them typically come harassing calls from collections companies. Creditors can be relentless, but there are limits of how far they can go.

“(Creditors say) awful stuff, things that are almost scary,” said Rebekah O’Connell, a certified consumer credit counselor with Triangle Family Services.

O’Connell said she hears the horror stories. Sometimes collection agencies even call neighbors.

“(A woman) said at 8 in the morning, the next door neighbor came running over with a baby wrapped up in a blanket knocking on the door saying, ‘I had a call from these people, and it's an emergency. They can't find you,’” O’Connell recalled.

Creditors hassling you? Know your rights Creditors calling? Know your rights

O'Connell says it's best to deal with your lender to try to keep it from going to collections in the first place.

“Call your lender and see if they can help you out. If they can put a payment back for one month or two, if they'll agree to take a partial payment, if they'll work with you in some way,” she said.

If it does go to collections, there are limits on what the companies can do. They're spelled out in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

“They can't use harsh or abusive language. In other words, they can't call you names. They can't threaten to tell your employer. They can't threaten to garnish your wages or put you in jail or come to your house and break in and take property. And they can't discuss your debt with anyone but you unless you've given them permission to do so,” O’Connell said.

They also can't call before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. Plus, you have the right to make the calls stop.

“You must put the request in writing for them to stop communication with you on the debt,” O’Connell said. “They cannot continually do the collecting calls once they've been notified in writing and that's what everyone should do.”

If you owe, you should pay. However, O’Connell says you shouldn't also have to deal with endless, harassing and sometimes dishonest phone calls.

“You deserve a chance to pay them in a reasonable fashion. All sorts of things happen to people. These days: unemployment, major medical crises, divorce and separation. Nobody ever goes into debt intending not to pay it. And most people given a reasonable alternative, or chance to pay, really will pay. That's what they want to do,” she said.

If a creditor goes too far, complain to the Federal Trade Commission. As far as overdue bills, O'Connell recommends you first pay those that are not already in collections. Also, a certified credit counselor can help you come up with a payment plan.

Coming Wednesday: 5 on Your Side examines the process and risks of filing for bankruptcy.

Coming Thursday: 5 on Your Side looks at the new credit card law and what it means for cardholders.


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  • rogers922 Sep 17, 2009

    I had one creditor call me and tell me that they were prepared to go to court and get a judgment on a debt that was 10 years old. I told the woman calmly that her company could not do that because the statute of limitations had expired on their ability to file for a judgment. She then began to yell at me through the phone that "SHE" and "Her Company" could do anything thing they liked. I told her to go for it. A week later I get a call from her co-worker. I told him I was advising him I was taping the call. He hung up. Haven't heard a word from them in months.

    It should be noted that this woman also told me she could garnish child support and federal school loans. ROTFL - I told her to try her best.

  • meh_whatever Sep 17, 2009

    Nah.... most people have good intentions regarding credit. Stuff just happens, and not everyone is a wiz with finances.

    I wish they taught finance as mandatory for all high school students.

    It would be a big help, because not all kids have parents who are great with money, either.

  • affirmativediversity Sep 16, 2009

    You have the right to pay cash for everything and NOT GO INTO DEBT IN THE FIRST PLACE.

    I completely understand the the "unexpected" can happen and "some" people can and do find themself in a position they never thought possible...that is more debts to pay than income to pay them with...BUT

    I believe there are a great many more people who (foolishly or not) over extended themselves with little or not ability or intention of actually repaying those debts...simply because "they could"!

    Thus, the mess we are in now...even people with excellent credit histories have trouble getting credit because too many losers GAMED THE SYSTEM!

  • Clinton Sep 16, 2009

    The best advocate is YOU. Read up on what they can/can't do. Be informed. Here are a few websites that will give you good information.



    Here is a FAQ link:

  • swordmistress Sep 16, 2009

    Also, you have the right to demand proof that you actually owe this debt. A lot of companies buy up really old debt, but they have no real documentation. If they cannot provide written documentation of this, it may not actually be yours. I actually had that happen. Admitted, I had to get a lawyer involved as they refused to send me any information, yet refused to pull the debt. Still, all it took was a laywer to write a letter and it was all good (and far less expensive than the debt itself).

  • LambeauSouth Sep 16, 2009

    document everything, you can even record the conversation, in the State of North Carolina conversations may be recorded as long as one person is aware of the recording, namely YOU. Also try to get them to give you their name, fax, phone all contact information you can. And last but not least you always have the option to hang up. P.S. to the lady in the story, they will not work with you, credit counslers are just as much crooks as the aforementioned.

  • htomc42 Sep 16, 2009

    I'm really thrilled that these people are calling neighbors with false "emergency" calls in order to find debtors. Cry "wolf" enough times like that, and nobody will take any sort of desperate emergency calls seriously.

  • IzzMad2016 Sep 15, 2009

    I had a friend once who had a collection agency call her about one of a friend she hadn't been in touch with for years. Told her that because her friend had put her name down as a personal reference that she was liable for the unpaid debt. First she laughed out loud at them and then she gave them a profanity-laced piece of her mind. Needless to say they never called her again.