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What Are Your Rights in Debt Collection?

If debt collectors are calling or sending you letters demanding payment, you may be worried—and for good reason.

Not only can having a debt in collections stay on your credit report for up to seven years, but it can seem like you’re being barraged by debt collection notices from a different company than the original creditor you owed. It can be confusing.

If you’re more than 30 days late on a debt payment, it may be reported as delinquent. Hit 180 days, and the credit card company, bank or other creditor may stop trying to collect and sell your debt to a third-party debt collector.

Even if they’re only seeking pennies on the dollar to settle your debt, you still have rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Here are some to be aware of:

You Can Limit Communications
Consumers can tell a debt collector to stop contacting them, and they can’t contact you at work if you ask them not to. Make the request in writing. The debt still exists, but the collector will have to stop contacting you and can seek payment through a lawsuit. The law also prevents debt collectors from contacting you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., and from talking to your neighbors, employer or family about your debt.

They Can’t Harass You
Debt collectors also can’t harass or use abusive practices to try to collect. This is more than just repeated phone calls. They can’t mislead, coerce or make you fear for retribution. They can’t swear at you, threaten violence, call repeatedly, not identify themselves as debt collectors or list your debt for sale to the public. Keep a log of any abuses and file a with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

They Can’t Lie to You
Debt collectors also can’t lie. This includes using false, deceptive or misleading statements to collect the debt. For example, they can’t misrepresent the amount of the debt or what the legal repercussions are for not paying. Also, they can’t pass themselves off as another company or authority figure, such as a police officer.

They also can’t say your debt is past the statute of limitations—the legal limit to how many years creditors have to sue for payment. Once that time limit has passes, you can no longer be sued for the debt. The statute of limitations varies by state and type of debt. For credit card debt, it’s three years in most states, though some states allow up to 10 years. The debt is still on the books, meaning that future creditors will see it and you’ll likely have a harder time getting credit at good rates.

These are some of the rights consumers have in debt collection. If you think you’re being asked to pay a debt that isn’t yours, or are hassled about a debt, contact a lawyer or the CFPB for help.