Know your rights when debt collectors call you

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act provides individuals rights and protections from harassment, unfair practices.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) protects consumers from unfair practices by debt collectors. The Act gives rules for how and when a debt collector can contact individuals.

A debt collector obtains debts on behalf of other people or businesses. For example, XYZ Collection Agency may collect payments for hospitals, department stores and car dealers. An employee, who works for a company with a collection department, and whose job it is to collect debts, is NOT a debt collector. For example, an employee who works for ABC Department Store and who collects credit card payments is not a debt collector.

The Act requires debt collectors to:

Keep your debt private. This means not telling anyone but you anything about your debt.

Send you written notice of the debt. The note must include how much you owe, to whom it is owed, and what you should do if you do not believe you owe the debt. This notice cannot be a postcard. The envelope must not show that the letter is from a debt collection company. The envelope cannot show that the letter is about the collection of a debt.

Verify the debt. The collector must provide proof if you write them within 30 days stating you do not believe you owe the debt.

Not harass you. The collector cannot:

  • Call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
  • Call you at work if your employer forbids personal calls
  • Use abusive or obscene language
  • Call you repeatedly
  • Threaten to use violence or criminal means against you, your family or property

Not engage in unfair practices. The debt collector cannot:

  • Collect more than the actual debt
  • Require you to send, deposit or cash a postdated check
  • Order you to accept a collect call

Not use false or deceptive means to collect a debt. That includes:

  • Threatening you with arrest if you do not pay
  • Threatening to take actions they cannot legally take or do not intend to take
  • Using a false name or failing to identify themselves when they call
  • Falsely accusing you of committing a crime

You can stop debt collectors from contacting you by writing and telling them not to contact you. Then, the debt collector cannot contact you except to tell you they will not call or write again, or they are taking legal action against you. If a debt collector breaks the law, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or your State Attorney General’s office. For more information on fair debt collection, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s Facts for Consumers section.

To contact an expert in your area, visit people.msue.msu.edu, or call 888-MSUE4MI (888-678-3464).