Fair Debt Collection Practices
Authored By: Legal Services Alabama
If you use credit cards, owe money on a personal loan or are paying on a home mortgage, you are a "debtor." If you fall behind in making payments, a "debt collector" may call or write to you.
You should know that federal law says debt collectors must treat you fairly. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act puts limits on what debt collectors can do. Of course, the law does not erase any debt you owe.
What debts are covered?
This federal law covers personal, family and household debts. This includes buying a car on time and owing for medical care or credit card accounts.
Who is a debt collector?
A debt collector is anyone who regularly collects debts owed to others. This can include lawyers.
When may a debt collector call me?
Unless you give permission in advance, a debt collector may not call you at before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. If the debt collector knows your employer does not like debt collection calls, then the collector cannot call you at work.
Can I stop a debt collector from contacting me?
You can write a letter to the debt collector telling it to stop. Once the collector receives your letter, it may not call you except to say the debt collector or the creditor plans to sue you or do something else specific.
Sending the letter does not make the debt go away. Either the debt collector or your original creditor could still sue you.
May a debt collector call or write to anyone else about my debt?
If you have a lawyer, the debt collector must call the lawyer, rather than you. If you do not have a lawyer, a collector may only ask other people where you live, what your phone number is, and where you work. Collectors usually cannot call these people more than once. In most cases, the collector may not tell anyone other than you and your lawyer that you owe money.
What must the debt collector tell me about the debt?
Within five days, the debt collector must send you a written notice telling you:
- the amount of money you owe
- the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money
- what to do if you believe you do not owe the money
What happens if I tell a debt collector I believe I do not owe money?
If you send a letter denying the debt within 30 days, a debt collector cannot call you until the collector has sent you proof of the debt. This proof can be a copy of a bill for the amount owed.
What can't a debt collector do under the law?
Harassment. Debt collectors may not harass you. They cannot:
- use threats of violence or harm;
- put an ad in a paper naming you as a consumer who refuses to pay debts;
- use obscene or profane language; or
- repeatedly use the telephone to annoy you.
False statements. Debt collectors may not lie or mislead you. For example, debt collectors may not:
- make you think that they are lawyers (unless they are);
- make you think that they work for the government;
- suggest you have committed a crime;
- overstate the amount of your debt;
- send you papers and say they are legal forms when they are not;
- send you anything that looks like an official document from a court;
- say you will be arrested if you do not pay your debt;
- say they will garnish you, unless they have a judgment against you;
- say they will file a lawsuit if they do not intend to file a suit;
- give false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit bureau; or
- use a false name.
Unfair practices. Debt collectors may not engage in unfair practices when they try to collect a debt. For example, collectors may not:
- deposit a post-dated check prematurely;
- trick you into accepting collect calls or paying for a telegram;
- send you a postcard.
What control do I have over payment of debts?
If you owe more than one debt, the debt collector must apply your payment where you say. A debt collector cannot apply a payment to a debt you dispute.
Where can I report a debt collector?
Report any problems you have with a debt collector to your state Attorney General's office and the Federal Trade Commission. You also have one year to sue a debt collector who violates the law.
Reviewed September 2003
AlabamaLegalHelp.org offers legal information, not legal advice. We try hard to make sure this website accurately explains your rights and options. However, the site does not apply the law to your personal facts. For this sort of legal advice, you should call a lawyer. To apply for free legal services in Alabama, call the Legal Services Alabama office that is closest to where you live OR call toll-free 1-866-456-4995. You can also apply online at intake.alsp.org.