If you have fallen behind on your debt payments, there are ways to get back on track. But if you don’t, you could be confronted by a collection agency that seeks to collect on the debt. There are more than 7,000 third-party debt collectors operating in the United States, and they’re not afraid to sue you over what you owe. Debt collection lawsuits account for 25% of civil cases filed in state courts. If you find yourself in the midst of a debt collection lawsuit, make sure that you answer all the summons and complaint correctly so that the court does not award the defendant with a default judgment against you.
In most instances, it’s better to work with a debt collector rather than ignore them. That’s because the law protects you from certain types of aggressive or deceptive debt collection practices if you dispute the debt. You can also get help from an attorney or a credit counseling organization. Depending on your circumstances, you may be able to work up a payment plan or wipe the debt off altogether.
Debt collectors have specific rules about the times and manner in which they can contact you, as well as how they can collect on a debt. For example, they are not allowed to contact you at unreasonable times, such as between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. or at work, unless your employer approves such contacts. They are also not permitted to call your personal or workplace phone if your employer disapproves. They can contact you by mail, but they are not allowed to write letters that appear to be creditor notices unless you agreed in writing to such communication with the original creditor. They can also not disclose that they are trying to collect on a debt to anyone other than you, except your spouse or a close relative.
The first thing to do when you’re contacted by a debt collector is request a validation letter. That will verify who they are and the debt amount that they claim you owe. It is important to keep a copy of this document, as you may need it in the future if you decide to take legal action against the debt collector.
You have 30 days from the date of your debt validation letter to dispute the debt or ask for additional information. Be sure to respond in writing and keep a copy for yourself. Some examples of a dispute would be if you believe that the debt is not yours, or that it has expired under the statute of limitations.
Other types of prohibited behaviors by debt collectors include publishing the names of debtors in newspapers or other public places, attempting to embarrass or humiliate debtors through public exposure, and threatening to seize assets, such as your paycheck or car, without a court order. Debtors are also not supposed to be harassed, and debt collectors cannot use harsh or abusive language when they speak with you. If they do, you can report them to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or your state’s attorney general.