Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is Intended to Protect Consumers from Abusive Practices by Debt Collectors.

Q. What Kinds of Debt Are Consumer Debts?

A. Consumer Debts are defined by the FDCPA as personal, family, and household debts including delinquent mortgage payments, credit card debts, money owed for goods like automobiles and furniture, and services like health care.

Q. Who is a Debt Collector

A. Debt Collectors are defined by the FDCPA as Collection Agencies and Attorneys who regularly collect debts owed to third parties. For example, if you owe medical payments to a doctor or hospital and they contact you for payment, they are not debt collectors because they are trying to collect a debt you owe directly to them. BUT a debt collection agency or an attorney hired to collect the debt is a Debt Collector.

Q. How Does the FDCPA Protect Debtors from Harassment?

A. The FDCPA contains a variety of protections for Debtors from debt collector harassment.   Below on the page are some of the protections.    One of the most important and significant protections is the ability to avoid future telephone calls if you are represented by an attorney.

PROTECTIONS OF THE FDCPA

  • Representation by an Attorney – Debt collectors may not contact you if you if the debt collector has been notified that you are represented by an attorney and your attorney has verified representation.
  • Debtors Not Represented by an Attorney – If you are not represented by an attorney, a debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient locations such as your place of employment if the collector knows your employer does not permit such contact and may not contact you at home at inconvenient times such as early in the morning or late in the evening.
  • Phone Calls – A debt collector may initially contact you by phone, but may not do so again if you write a letter to the collector telling them to stop. After the collector receives your letter, they may not contact you again except to say there will be no further contact or to notify you of some specific action the collector or creditor intends to take. A collector generally may not contact a third party about your debt or discuss your debt with anyone.
  • Abusive and Misleading Statements by a Debt Collector –   Even if the collector’s methods of contact are legal, the substance of the collector’s contact may nonetheless violate collection law.  Some examples of improper debt collection activities are below.
  • Verification of Debt – A debt collector must, within five days of first contact, send you written notice of the amount you owe; the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money; and what action you can take to dispute the debt. If you in fact dispute the debt in writing within thirty days, a collector cannot contact you again until he sends proof of the debt, e.g., a copy of the alleged bill. If it is ever alleged you have an outstanding debt, first and foremost make the collector prove the debt. Remember, the collector cannot contact you ever again once you dispute the debt in writing until he has proof of the debt.

Caution: Keep a Record – It is important to have a written record of the time and date of phone calls and in person contact and exactly what the collector said or wrote. Finally, make sure to maintain all written correspondence received from the collector.

Debtor Collectors May Not: 

  • use profanity or threaten violence or arrest
  • repeatedly use the telephone to harass and annoy
  • threaten to seize your property, garnish your wages or take legal action against you unless it is legal to do so
  • deposit a post-dated check prematurely; or
  • make any false or misleading statements.

Additional information can be found at: Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

For a review of the protection of consumers under New Jersey Law see Consumer Protection Agency, Please visit the NJ Consumer Website

Q. How Can the Bankruptcy Laws Protect Against Creditor Harassment?

A. After you file for bankruptcy, the automatic stay offers potent legal protection against bill collectors. When you file for bankruptcy, something called the automatic stay immediately stops all efforts by most of your creditors and debt collectors to continue any collection efforts.

Caution: The Automatic Stay Does Not Apply to Certain Kinds of Debt

Example:  Child support payments generally cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.  This means that a parent who owes child support cannot escape this duty by filing for bankruptcy. Bankruptcies do not act as a stay, or hold, on actions to establish paternity or to establish or modify child support obligations. The relationship between child support and bankruptcy is complex, and you may need the help of an attorney familiar with bankruptcy law.

Back child support payments (sometimes called payment “in arrears”) cannot be discharged by filing for bankruptcy, so your ex-husband’s obligations on back child support will remain in place.

Debts “in the nature of support” for a child are basically any debts you incurred that relate to your child’s welfare and upbringing, other than debts arising directly from child support payments owed. For example, if you owe debts for medical care that your child received, you will not be able to discharge those in bankruptcy. They will be considered debts “in the nature of support.”

DOWNLOAD A COPY OF THE FAIR DEBT COLLECTION PRACTICES ACT HERE:  FDCPA