If you are experiencing financial challenges and have fallen behind on bill payments, you already know how stressful it can be to receive calls from debt collectors. Even collectors who are not aggressive can trigger feelings of anxiety when their number comes across the caller ID. And when debt collectors cross the line, your situation can be downright frightening.
Did you know there are laws governing what a debt collector can and cannot do when attempting to collect a debt, even if you are behind on payments? Debt collection laws are so strict that debt collectors risk losing out on payments they are legitimately owed if they break the law.
Debt collection laws are designed to keep you safe and prevent harassment. However, the laws still take into account you owe money and protect a collector’s right to attempt to collect the debt. You can receive calls and letters about a debt, even if it seems as if the collector is “bugging” you or being impatient. The line they cannot cross is the one between persistent collection efforts and abuse.
What are some of the things a debt collector might do that is considered abusive?
• Threaten a lawsuit. You can be sued because of a debt, but the debt collection company won’t be filing the lawsuit. Legal action is a scare tactic, but it can be an indication your situation is serious.
• Threaten arrest. There’s really no such thing as being arrested for an unpaid debt. Debt collection is a civil matter, so the only way an arrest could occur is if the debt is in relation to another legal issue. Keep in mind this applies to consumer debt, so if you have child support debt, your situation is treated differently.
• Threaten to take your property if the debt is unsecured. It is possible for a lender to take property if it is secured by property, such as a home or vehicle. The collector has to have a legal right to take the property and have the intention to do so. Wild baseless threats intended to scare a debtor is exactly what debt collection laws are aimed to prevent.
• Threaten to immediately garnish your wages. Wage garnishment is possible with unpaid debts, but it’s a process. A debt collector needs court approval to garnish your wages, and you will be given fair warning of this occurrence. If there has been no judgment and the debt collector continues to threaten garnishment as a scare tactic, then these actions could be considered abusive. You can learn more about how wage garnishment works at https://www.dol.gov/general/topic/wages/garnishments.
When Collectors Call
So what should you do when the phone rings and it’s a debt collector?
If the debt is legitimate and you can afford to, contact the original lender and offer to pay the debt in full. If you do this, it’s important to follow-up and ensure it is marked as “paid in full” on your credit report. There are instances in which debt collectors attempt to collect on old or paid debts when they don’t necessarily have the authority to do so, which is why it’s important to have detailed records of what you’ve paid.
Debts you cannot afford to repay in full immediately are still your responsibility. You’ll need to pay the debt or settle the debt, unless you file for bankruptcy and the debt is discharged.
Despite a debt being your responsibility, debt collectors do not have the right to victimize you. If you are facing debt collector abuse, you can take legal action. To learn more or to discuss your situation with someone who understands debt collector limitations, contact the law office of Frank J. LaPerch, PC at 845.942.5500