How To Stop Debt Collector Harassment

Having debt you struggle to pay is overwhelming. When you fall too far behind, student loans, medical debt, and credit cards can quickly get sold to debt collection agencies. Harassing phone calls from debt collectors can do more than add to your stress level. Debt collector harassment has led to personal bankruptcies, marital instability, job losses, and invasions of privacy.

Attempts to collect or verify debt are legal, even if debt collectors are persistent. However, debt collector harassment is illegal and is not tolerated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) protects debtors.

What Is Debt Collector Harassment?

Most debt collectors realize this and obey federal law. Some debt collectors cross the line and engage in debt collector harassment. Debt collectors cannot:

  • Lie about your debt
  • Pretend to be attorneys when they are not
  • Threaten you with arrest
  • Call before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m
  • Publicly shame you

Steps To Stop Debt Collector Harassment

You might have a creditor who calls too often, uses obscene or profane language, threatens violence, sends harassing text messages, or more. Some creditors or debt collection agencies can try to force payment after the statute of limitations has expired.

Fortunately, there are legal actions you can take to stop this harassment:

1. Write a Letter Requesting To Stop Communications

The first thing to do is to write the debt collector a letter telling them to stop their collection calls. You can use the sample letter language here.

Under the FDCPA, they must follow your written notice to cease communications. If they do not, you can report them to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The debt won't go away because of a letter. You must:

  • Make payments on the debt
  • Plan to dispute the debt
  • Negotiate a debt settlement agreement or payment plan
  • File bankruptcy and get a debt discharge or repayment plan
  • Deal with the debt collectors as they come

Remember: The longer you wait, the worse your debt situation may become. Debt collectors must stop contacting you, but they can file a lawsuit against you or keep reporting the debt on your credit report.

2. Document All Contact and Creditor Harassment

Be sure to document all illegal behavior. Document immediately any conduct prohibited by the FDCPA.

Keep a log of all debt collector's harassment. You may even consider having another person present during debt collector phone calls or communications.

Some people even record their conversations with the debt collector without telling the debt collector. This is illegal in some states, so check your state law.

The debt collection agency is likely recording you, so be careful what you say if you speak with them.

3. File a Complaint With the FTC and the CFPB

If the debt collector continues to harass you, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by reporting the company online. You should also file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

In your complaint, be sure to include:

  • Collection agency's name and address
  • Name of the original creditor
  • Dates and times of all communications
  • Names of any witnesses
  • Copies of any other material, like written communications, tapes of conversations, your creditor harassment log

4. File a Complaint With Your State Attorney General

It is a good idea to send a complaint to the consumer protection division of your state attorney general. You should also send copies to the collection agency and the original creditor.

In some cases, concerned about their liability, the debt collector may offer to cancel the debt if you withdraw the complaint. This would be an excellent outcome for you because you could avoid the debt, the harassing communication would stop, and you could avoid potentially lengthy proceedings by the Federal Trade Commission.

5. Consider Suing the Debt Collection Agency for Harassment

Another option is to sue the debt collector. Only consider this option if you have an extreme debt collector harassment case, not just because the debt collector is annoying. If you lose your case, the court could make you pay the debt collector's court costs and attorney's fees.

The FDCPA is a "strict liability" law. This means that you do not have to prove any actual damages.

You have one year from when the debt collector violated the law to sue for damages in state or federal court. You can be awarded up to $1,000 plus attorney fees because the debt collector violated the law. Furthermore, if you can show actual damages, such as the cost of switching a phone number, you can recover those damages.

Remember, your debt will remain valid even though the collector violated the law.

If the debt collector proves the violation was unintentional and resulted from a "bona fide error," they could escape liability despite the company's procedure to avoid such errors.

6. File for Bankruptcy

Consider talking to a bankruptcy attorney if you cannot pay your debts. Filing for bankruptcy triggers an automatic stay, which stops all collection activity. This automatic stay also generally stops debt collection, lawsuits, wage garnishment, and foreclosure proceedings.

While Chapter 7 bankruptcy discharges your medical and credit card debt, Chapter 13 bankruptcy puts you on a repayment plan. If you follow this plan for three to five years, the court will discharge your remaining debt.

Bargaining With Creditors Informally

Stop debt collection harassment with the steps above or by filing for bankruptcy.

Eventually, you must address your debt or it will ruin your credit score for many years.

Creditors would rather keep you as a paying customer so that they might offer you a loan "workout" or other alternatives. You can negotiate mutually beneficial terms with creditors informally.

Your options include:

  • Disputing billing charges

Be careful with credit repair and debt relief agencies. If you decide to use one, research the company to ensure it has accreditation and can help with your specific situation.

Have an Attorney Help With Debt Collection Harassment

While collection agencies often use tactics to force you to pay your bills through harassment, they're also bound by specific laws and regulations. If you aren't sure what actions are illegal or are currently facing harassment from collectors, you may want to speak with a local debt and bankruptcy law attorney. A debt and bankruptcy lawyer can review your case and provide valuable legal advice.

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