Debt of all kinds is one of the most burdensome problems people in the U.S. face. By the end of summer 2020, personal debt held by Americans was pushing $56 trillion.
Much of that debt lies in three continually escalating sectors: credit card debt, medical debt and private student loan debt. As the debt ceiling continues to rise for most US citizens so do the chances that your debt could be thrown into collections.
Yes, it’s the phone call no one even wants to hear – a strange voice introducing him or herself as so-and-so from an unknown third-party collection service. It seems your personal debt has not been given the attention the credit card company thought it should and has turned the recouping of the outstanding debt to someone else.
Your heart and stomach simultaneously sink. You never thought you’d get here, but now you’re one step closer to even bigger trouble if this debt can’t be resolved: a debt lawsuit.
“No one wants to be hounded by debt collectors or face a potential debt lawsuit,” acknowledges GM Law Firm’s Senior Partner, Chantel Grant. “The fact is, there are several federal laws designed to protect consumers that can not only eliminate your existing debt, but perhaps pay you back some money as well.”
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act Is On Your Side
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was enacted in March, 1978 to help snuff out abusive and unfair collection practices by aggressive debt collectors.
Most kinds of debt are covered under the protective act including credit card debt, medical debt, private student loan debt and even mortgage debt.
Contacting a debt lawsuit specialist like the group of attorneys at the GM Law Firm, LLC in Boca Raton, Florida, can clearly outline the defenses inherent in the FDCPA and answer some questions you may not even think to ask about your rights when it comes to nefarious debt collection practices.
What time of day can a debt collector call?
Contrary to what many people think, there are stipulations as to when a collector can call. For example, they cannot call you before 8 am or after 9 pm local time. They also cannot call your place of employment at any time after they attempt to make contact with you at work and are told that you are not allowed to receive personal calls.
If they were to try again, that would be a violation of the FDCPA.
Are there other ways for a collector to try to contact me?
Yes. They can call you on the terms described above or send you a letter or email. There’s some grey area about them sending texts, which a lawyer can help you better understand.
How do I know if the debt is truly mine?
That’s a great question and will be one of the first a consumer advocate attorney would ask. You will want to get proof, in writing, that the debt is indeed yours and for exactly what amount.
How do I get a collector to stop trying to connect with me?
Get the collector’s mailing address then send him a certified letter (so you have proof he received it). In the letter, you stress that you want him to stop contacting you. By the law, he can then only contact you to confirm he received the letter or to assert that future lawsuits will be pending.
Once you have informed him of his rights and that you have retained counsel to fight the debt lawsuit, all future communications must go through your attorney. Any violation of that agreement could throw his case out.
What if a collector speaks with my family or boss?
Legally, he cannot do either. There is a veil of privacy in the FDCPA that stipulates that only you and your spouse may be contacted about your debt situation. If you have retained an attorney group, then all communication would go through them.
Speaking about your debt situation with an employer, co-worker, neighbor or extended part of your family is a violation of the federal law.
The things you have a right to know
Under the FDCPA the collector must prepare a written notice within five days of his initial interaction with you. In this notice he must make clear the following:
- The amount of money owed
- The official name of the creditor company that is owed
- How to proceed if you feel this debt is not yours
I don’t believe the debt is mine. Now what?
If you dispute the debt that is being called yours, you should send a letter to the collector disputing part or all of the amount. So long as your letter of dispute is sent to the collector within 30 days of your first notification, the collector is obliged to respond with debt verification.
You can review this verification on your own or with a debt legal specialist for authentication and assurance that what they’re claiming is true and verifiable.
What are examples of abusive debt collection practices?
First and foremost, a collector cannot harass any individual or family. Harassment can include
- Obscene or threatening language
- The threat of bodily harm or any act of violence
- Ignoring your please for the calls stop and incessant re-calling
They also cannot falsify the details of the claim against you. For instance, they cannot mislead the amount that you supposedly owe. They cannot pose as lawyers or government officials. They also cannot falsely claim that legal action or even incarceration might be your ultimate outcome, when it won’t be.
You should also be aware of other sorts of moderate extortion tactics that some third-party collectors have been known to be part of. If they attempt to tack on “additional fees” on top of the debt you do actually owe, that is illegal. It is also illegal to threaten putting a lien on your property which they have no right or authority to do.
Could my wages be garnished to pay a debt?
They may be, but only if the collector has received a legal court order allowing them to take money from your bank. An expert lawyer can help prevent that action from taking course and assure to negotiate a debt settlement that allows you to be in charge with how and how much of the debt needs to be paid and in what timeframe.
Is there a timeframe for a debt lawsuit to be filed?
Yes. The statute of limitations differs from state to state. It also differs on the exact type of debt you owe. Senior Partner Chantel Grant says in her GM Law Firm’s experience of successfully fighting cases, “People would be surprised how often the statute of limitations defense helps ending a client’s debt case.” That statute of limitations outlines the number of years that you could be sued for collection. If no lawsuit is filed during that time frame, then the debt is considered time-barred which still needs further attention.
How do I handle a debt that’s now time-barred?
There are really three options for dealing with a debt that has passed its statute of limitation, but still needs to be settled in some manner. The only difference now is that the threat of a debt lawsuit is far less likely.
So, you can:
- Pay nothing.
In this case, however, even though the collector can’t sue you, he can start contacting you again starting the whole harassment mess at the beginning.
- Make a partial payment.
This is a tricky response as paying any small amount may restart the statute of limitations. This, in turn, could reinstate the collector’s rights to sue if he sees fit.
- Pay off the debt.
Here’s where a skilled legal team on your side could really make a difference. To achieve finality and debt resolution, some collectors could take less than the full amount that is owed. You will want every action toward this goal in writing with proof of payments with receipts and other transaction documents.
Can I sue a collector if he has violated the FDCPA?
Yes. You can file a lawsuit against the collection company within one year after the violation occurred. In this scenario, you may not only get the debt resolved but could also be in line for damages such as lost wages due to the stress of harassment if work was missed or even medical bills if their anxiety became overwhelming.
You may also be awarded up to $1000 in remunerations plus potential reimbursement of attorney fees and other court costs.
Keep in mind, even if a court does determine that the debt collector violated the FDCPA, you will still owe the debt. If this all sounds confusing, seek representation or at least a free consultation with a consumer advocacy legal group. The best defense is always a good offense.