Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
(FDCPA) Protecting The Disabled
Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is the name of the federal law regulating how bill collectors may go about recovering money from debtors. Discover exactly how well you're protected.
If you're disabled and have limited income, calls or letters from debt collectors can add to your stress, and sometimes worsen your disability. Fortunately, there are limits on what debt collectors can say and do.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a federal law, offers you reassuring protection from bill collectors. Laws in your state may help as well. Let us help you discover your "Bill of Rights" under the FDCPA.
This page covers the high points of the law and it links to many free or nearly free resources that actually help you, especially if you're disabled. The law is there to protect you. Read on and find out how.
Harassment By Debt Collectors Is Illegal
Even if you can't pay your debt, collectors are not allowed to harass you. Among other things, that means:
- they can't threaten violence
- they can't use racial or ethnic slurs or profanity when talking to you
- they can't call you over and over again to annoy or intimidate you
- they can't disparage you because you are disabled and unable to pay your debts
Take notes every single time you talk with a debt collector. Start a file where you can keep copies of your notes on how you're dealing with debt collectors, along with any letters they send you, or that you send to them.
If you write down your conversations with debt collectors immediately, you're more likely to accurately recall what was discussed or agreed. Even if you don't come to an agreement with the collector, you'll have a record of your attempts to work something out.
Dealing with debt collectors can be very emotional. It's easy to lose track of what was said unless you take notes right away. Download and use this free debt collection contact worksheet to help you keep accurate records. Make the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act work for you!
They Can't Tell Others About Your Debts
There are only a few other people that debt collectors are allowed to discuss your debt with: someone who has co-signed a debt for you, your spouse, or your attorney. They can't tell your neighbors about your debt, for example.
Bill collectors ARE allowed to contact other people to try to find you (without disclosing information about your debt). BUT once they have located you, they are no longer allowed to contact others.
You Can't Be Jailed For Owing Money!
You can't be thrown in jail simply because you can't pay your debts. We do not have debtor's prison in America.
If a debt collector threatens to send you to jail, or to send law enforcement agents to arrest you simply because you are unable to pay, that collector is very likely breaking the law and you should talk to an attorney right away.
At the same time, if you have failed to show up in court when you were ordered to do so, you could be arrested in some states. Do not ignore legal notices.
Collectors Must Use Legal Channels
Debt collectors must go through legal channels to get your money or property. Some debt collectors will try to scare consumers into making payments right away by threatening to seize their bank accounts, automobiles etc.
Generally, if you fall behind on an unsecured debt (a debt where there is no collateral, such as a credit card debt), the creditor or collector must first take you to court and obtain a judgment against you before trying to go after your property (bank accounts, cars, home, etc.)
Even then, certain property – including disability income in many cases – is protected from creditors. Go to our "dealing with debt collectors" page for detailed free help.
If a debt collector breaks the law, talk with a consumer law attorney right away. Don't assume that you can't afford an attorney. You can! Make the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act work for you!
You May Be Entitled To Damages
Under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, if you successfully sue a collection agency, you may be entitled to damages and the collection agency may have to pay your legal fees as well.
For that reason, some attorneys will take your case on a contingent fee basis, which means they will get paid only if you win your case. And you want a lawyer who really knows the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act!
Need help right away dealing with a debt collector? Call the Collection Complaint Hotline. It's FREE and confidential! Call 888-694-5077. Or find out more about debt collection laws before you pick up the phone.
For more information on how to handle debt collectors, get Debt Collection Answers: How to Use Debt Collection Laws to Protect Your Rights by Gerri Detweiler and Mary Reed.
Accessible.org readers can pay whatever they can afford to purchase the e-book – as little as $1.99.
The Letter Of The Law... Almost
If you want to know what the law actually says... as a public service, the staff of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has prepared a consumer document with the complete text of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), 15 U.S.C. 1692-1692p.
The format of the text differs in minor ways from the U.S. Code and West's U.S. Code Annotated. For example, this version uses FDCPA section numbers in the headings. In addition, the relevant U.S. Code citation is included with each section heading.
Although the FTC staff has made every effort to transcribe the statutory material accurately, this compendium is intended as a convenience for the public and not a substitute for the text in the U.S. Code.
So although the compendium has the wording of the law, it's not the actual law. Nevertheless, it's fine for folks who want to dig into the details without having to refer to the actual code.
Click on the image to download the document. It's a PDF file so you'll need the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to read it.
Reading the law is one thing. Taking real legal action is another. If you feel you need an attorney working your case, just call the FREE and confidential Collection Complaint Hotline!
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