Tax Guide

Debt collectors calling? Know your rights

Posted February 17, 2009
Updated March 9, 2009

— Ignoring calls from bill collectors won't make the debt vanish, but consumers do have rights under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

The act, administered by the Federal Trade Commission, contains a list of guidelines for debt collectors. The agency reported 71,000 complaints about debt collection violations in 2007.

NC Sales Tax Act protects consumers in debt collection

Esther Acker, counseling services manager for Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Fayetteville, said no collection agency representative should yell or use profanity on the phone.

“If someone is yelling at you on the phone, hang up on them,” Acker said.

Debt collectors may not harass or abuse the consumer or any third parties they contact, she said.

Collectors are also prohibited from:

  • using threats of violence or harm
  • publishing a list of consumers who refuse to pay their debts
  • falsely implying that they are attorneys or government representatives
  • contacting a consumer before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. unless the person has agreed to it

Collectors also cannot say you will be arrested. In North Carolina, a collector also cannot threaten to garnishee your wages.

Acker said consumers can mail a letter requesting the person stop contacting them.

“Once you have written them and asked them to stop contacting you about a debt, they can call you one more time,” Acker said.

If the collector persists and calls more than once, Acker said consumers should file a complaint with the state Attorney General's Office.

Acker said she hears from clients regularly who plead for help with how to handle debt collectors.

“We’ve had people actually come in for help with their mortgages that have been intimidated by creditors to pay debt instead of paying their mortgages,” Acker said.

People often face the decision between paying off their bills and paying off their other debts, Acker said.

“The first priority should be your food, clothing, shelter, utilities and transportation costs. That’s everything to run your household,” Acker said.


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  • eaglesphanatic Feb 18, 2009

    Actually, and I am surprised most do not know this, you can have the debt wiped away completely with just a couple of phone calls. it's called a "hardship status". It's really simple and all you have to do is ask for it. Most will act like they don't know what it is, but when you threaten ot request it in writing, evveryone I have ever dealt with succumb to it. Then again I have friends at Equifax and Trans also. If I don't feel like paying, I just don't.

  • angora2 Feb 18, 2009

    "What's wrong with living within your means? And paying what you owe?"

    Nothing as long as you're working and able to provide for yourself and your family. Consider being a father of four with a wife who is a homemaker. Suppose you get laid off, and the $5,000 used car you bought last month is still being paid off. You want to feed your family and keep the house, but the finance company keeps calling for the $150/month you owe on the car. What would you choose?

  • Bechtellaw Feb 18, 2009

    Let me just begin by saying you are right everyone should pay what they owe and live within their means however, sometimes things do happen that we did not plan for while we were living within our means. Grow up, not everyone in life that has problems paying their bills is a low life. I make a choice every month to pay $1240 for COBRA Insurance for my family before paying any bill. I consider that very responsible that I am providing insurance for my family and not relying on the welfare system while one of us is unemployed. Thank you.

  • way2go Feb 18, 2009

    Although the statute is 3 years from some debts, that is not the case with all. If you signed a document under seal, it is good for 10 years.

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Feb 18, 2009

    The way to avoid debt collectors calling your house is to live within your means and pay your bills on time.

    I personally don't think that the law and the legal system should protect people from debt collectors.

    You bought the products money, you're responsible to pay off the debts.

  • fatcat11 Feb 17, 2009

    Pay your debts,there are no rights,just pay what you owe...

  • boolittlek Feb 17, 2009

    Special Proceedings can also help creditors when debtors start playing the shell game.

  • Scrofula Feb 17, 2009

    "Understand as well. If you write a letter, or if you make a phone call to them even asking them what time it is, it resets your statute of limitations to 7 years. And they will hound you for 7 years."

    Absolutely incorrect. I'm going to need to see your citation / verification of this.

    Only extending an offer to pay, or actually making some sort of payment, resets the statute, and even then only back to the beginning of the same three year period in NC. There is no provision in the law which transforms the SOL into a 7 year period.

  • boolittlek Feb 17, 2009

    "Understand as well. If you write a letter, or if you make a phone call to them even asking them what time it is, it resets your statute of limitations to 7 years. And they will hound you for 7 years."

    Stat generally runs from date of last payment (or date of last service if no payment has been made). Unsecured debt (like a credit card) is typically 3 years. Sale or lease of goods is typically 4 years; if the contract was signed under seal, it's typically 10 years.

  • Scrofula Feb 17, 2009

    "But considering a judgment is good in NC for 10 years (and can be renewed for another 10 years), there are a lot of people whose financial circumstances won't allow them to wait out their judgments."

    Which is where two little gems called Family Limited Partnerships and Limited Liability Companies come into play, along with the provisions allowing for migratory trusts.

    Trust me, it can be done. I could walk away from every creditor I owe, enjoy the same standard of living and they'd never collect a dime, especially in this state.

    The folks they manage to collect from are those either unsophisticated enough or easily frightened enough that they get coerced into playing along.

    That said, I'm in favor of paying what you owe, but if you realistically can't, then you can't, you know?