Tax Guide

Debt collectors calling? Know your rights

Posted February 17, 2009 6:12 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— 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.

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.