Authored By: Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc.
What is "fair debt collection"?
"Fair debt collection" means that a debt collector can not harass,oppress or abuse any person while collecting a debt. Congress passed a law called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which makes it illegal for a debt collector to do certain things when collecting a debt. For example, a debt collector cannot call you at all hours to collect a debt. A debt collector also cannot threaten or abuse you, mislead you, talk to third parties about your debt or call you every hour on the hour. A debt collector must also stop contacting you about the debt if you ask them in writing to "cease communications" with you. However, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ONLY applies to collection agencies or debt collectors who are collecting for another creditor. It DOES NOT apply to creditors who are collecting their own debts. Creditors who are collecting their own debts still cannot harass you, but the restrictions on their actions are governed by state law, not federal.
Oklahoma laws provide limited protection for debtors against original creditors calling to collect a debt.
What can debt collectors do?
In most cases, debt collectors are collecting "unsecured debts." That means that you have not put up any collateral, such as your home, car or household items, to secure the debt. Almost all credit card debts, medical bills, and small loans are unsecured debts. As a result, there is not much a debt collector can legally do to you for not paying the debt. They legally do the following:
Stop doing business with you
Report the default to a credit reporting agency - Usually the creditor has already done this even before they threaten to do it.
Begin a lawsuit to collect the debt - This threat may scare you the most, however few creditors actually follow through because it is expensive to go to court and they may be unable to collect even if they do get a judgment against you.
Threats to do anything else on an unsecured debt violate federal law!!!
Stopping Debt Harassment
Do not let debt collectors push you around. Unless you have a secured debt, debt collectors cannot do much to you, even if you do not pay. This is why they often scream the loudest and the longest to get their money. Below are some steps you can take to keep debt collectors from making your life miserable.
Stop It Before It Starts - call the creditor and inform them of your situation. This may prevent a creditor from sending your debt to a collection agency.
SendA Cease Communication Letter-a sample of such a letter is below.
PaymentPlan - Stick to your guns and only agree to pay what you can, even if the collector tries to talk you into higher payments.
ComplainTo A Government Agency - write the Federal Trade Commission, Bureau of Consumer Protection, Washington, DC 20580 and inform them of abusive collection tactics.
You can also file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau on the internet at www.bbb.org.
Sample Cease Communications Letter
July 6, 2011
NBC Collection Agency
222 Main St.
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am writing to request that you stop communications to me about my account #405 with Moe's Clothing Store as required by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C.A. 1692(c). I am currently unemployed but will be starting a new job in August at which time I will resume payments. You should be aware that your employees have engaged in illegal debt collection practices by calling me at 6:30 a.m. last week. I will take care of the debt when I can. Your cooperation is appreciated.