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Federal Law: What a Debt Collector Cannot Do to Collect Money From You

Know Your Rights and Obligations


The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires debt collectors to follow certain laws about how they treat you, and how the attempt to collect debts. But, this does not release you from your obligation to repay your debt.

Restrictions on Method of Contact

A debt collector may not contact you:

  • At inconvenient times or places, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you agree;
  • At work, unless your employer approves, and you agree; and
  • If you have an attorney, the debt collector must contact your attorney.

A collector may contact third parties to try and locate you. But they can only ask for your phone number and where you work. They cannot tell others that you owe money, and in most cases, can only contact a third party one time.

A Debt Collector May Not Harass You

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act states that a debt collector “may not harass, oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact.” This means a collector cannot publish your name (except to a credit bureau), repeatedly call you, use obscene or profane language, or threaten you with acts of violence or other form of harm.

Debt Collectors Must Tell the Truth

Debt collectors may not lie, or use any false or misleading statements when collecting a debt. Examples of what they cannot lie or mislead you about include: who they are, work for, or their position; misrepresent in any way, forms or letters sent to you; how much you owe; or that you have broken the law.

Debt Collectors Cannot Make False or Empty Threats

Debt collectors cannot make threats or use intimidation tactics to get you to pay a debt. This area gets a little tricky because it can be hard to really know if a threat of further action or litigation is a tactic, or really something the debt collector intends to do.

The best thing to do if you are threatened is to tell the collector that you understand the law prohibits them from making threats, and write down everything that was said to you, including the date, time, and person who called.

A collector may not tell you that they will have you arrested if you do not pay your debt.

They also cannot threaten to take certain actions against, such as to taking your property, garnishing your wages, or filing a lawsuit. The key words are “threaten to” because a collector may actually be able to do these things if it is legal in your state. They just cannot be deceitful about their intentions.

Debt Collectors May Not Use Unfair Practices

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act also restricts collectors from asking for amounts you do not owe, this includes adding extra fees, unless your state law permits them to do so. And, they cannot make you accept collect calls, or pay for telegrams or mailings in an attempt to contact you or collect debts.

”Unfair Practices” also restricts debt collects from using a postcard to contact you. They must enclose all correspondence in an envelope so that no one else can read your mail.

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