What is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is federal law that regulates the activities of those who collect debts from others. Many states have adopted similar laws regulating the practices of debt collectors.

A debt collector:

  • May contact you by mail, in person, by telephone or by telegram during "convenient hours" (commonly between 8 AM and 9 PM);
  • May not contact you at work if the collector knows or has reason to know that the employer forbids employees from being contacted by debt collectors at the workplace;
  • May not contact you if you are represented by a lawyer (the debt collector must then contact your attorney);
  • May not continue to contact you after you have sent him/her a letter telling him/her not to contact you (however, s/he may contact you to tell you that some specific action is going to be taken);
  • May not contact you after you send him/her a letter by mail within 30 days of the first contact that you dispute all or part of the debt (however, s/he may begin collection activities again if s/he sends you proof of the debt);
  • Must within five days of the first contact send you a written notice stating the name of the creditor you owe money to, the amount of money you owe, what to do if you believe you do not owe the money, and the name of the original creditor if different from the current creditor (because the debt was sold or assigned to someone other than the original creditor);
  • May not threaten violence against you or your property, use obscene or profane language, repeatedly telephone you to annoy or harass you, make you accept collect telephone calls or pay for telegrams, or use false or misleading information in an effort to collect the "debt."

If a debt collector violates the law, you can write a letter concerning the activity to the nearest office of the Federal Trade Commission. You can file a federal or state lawsuit against the debt collector for violation of the law, although there is usually a 1-year "statute of limitations." That means you have to file the lawsuit within 1 year of the violation to recover the actual damages that you've suffered. You can also recover up to a $1,000 in an individual lawsuit or $5,000 in a class-action lawsuit for each violation, plus attorney fees and costs.

For more information on the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act visit the Federal Trade Commission's website.