Summary Of The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (Act) is the main federal law that governs debt collection practices. The Act prohibits debt collection companies from harassing you by using abusive, unfair or deceptive practices to collect past due debts from you.

Some examples of prohibited acts are:

  • Repetitious phone calls that are intended to annoy, abuse, or harass you or any person answering the phone
  • Obscene or profane language
  • Threats of violence or harm
  • Publishing lists of people who refuse to pay their debts (this does not include reporting information to a credit reporting company)
  • Calling you without telling you who they are

The Act covers personal debt, not debts for business purposes. It also does not generally cover collection by the original creditor to whom you may owe the debt. Rather, it governs the actions of third party debt collectors. Pennsylvania has a statute that extends these same types of protections to consumers from actions by the original creditor.

Debt collectors may not contact you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. unless you specifically agree to that. If a debt collector knows that you are not allowed to receive the debt collector’s calls at work then the debt collector is not allowed to call you there.

If a debt collector knows that an attorney is representing you about the debt, the debt collector generally must stop contacting you, and must contact the attorney instead. This is true provided the debt collector knows, or can easily find out, the name and contact information of your attorney. If an attorney is representing you and a debt collector calls, tell him you are represented by an attorney and how the debt collector can contact your attorney.

Any debt collector who contacts you claiming you owe payment on a debt is required to tell you certain information about the debt such as the name of the creditor, the amount owed, and how you can dispute the debt or get more information about it. If the debt collector does not provide that information in the initial contact with you, the debt collector is required to send you a written notice including that information within five days of the initial contact.

Under the Act, a debt collector may contact other people but generally only to find out where you live, what your phone number is and where you work. Debt collectors generally cannot contact people you know more than once and they cannot say they are trying to collect a debt. Generally, a debt collector cannot discuss your debt with anyone other than you, your spouse, your parents (if you are a minor), your guardian and your attorney.

Ignoring or avoiding a debt collector is unlikely to make the debt collector stop contacting you. If you believe you do not owe the debt, you should tell the debt collector. If the debt is yours and you cannot afford to pay it, you should talk to an attorney about your options.

If you can prove that a debt collector has violated the Act, you can sue the debt collector in court. The Act provides a range of damages if you win, including monetary damages and attorneys’ fees. You can also file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Filing a complaint will not award you any money but may cause the debt collector to stop harassing you. If you want more information about your rights contact one of the attorneys in our debt management and bankruptcy team at 610-323-7464.