Did you know the FTC received 140,036 complaints about debt collectors in 2010? That number was up from a total of 119,609 in 2009 and when the numbers are released for 2011, it’s expected to be even higher. But you have rights. Those rights, of course, serve no good purpose unless you know you’re entitled to them. Here are a few of those rights that may provide a bit of peace of mind when it feels as though you’re being attacked from all sides.
No one wants to find themselves short on money to cover their expenses, but it’s a fact of life that most of us will experience difficulties along the way. It’s how we handle them that determines how quickly – and how well – we recover from a missed credit card payment or a bankruptcy.
Did You Know…
Debt collectors cannot call repeatedly to harass you. Here’s the problem though: it’s difficult to define “repeatedly” and often, if things get as far as court, it’s the judge who determines if a debt collector’s actions equate to “repeated calls”. This is where a consumer attorney might be able to provide a bit of insight. And it matters little whether it’s your mortgage company or your credit card company – a consumer attorney can help you regardless of the disputed amount.
Also, many people find themselves with additional charges tacked on to their overdue balances. Of course, late fees are one thing and even an increased APR on a credit card, but a debt collector can’t charge more than the amount described in the original contract or what is permitted by law. Again, legal assistance can help you discern what’s what.
Put it in Writing
So you got a call from a debt collector about that past due charge card. Did you know that within five days of contacting you, that collection company must provide written documentation that includes the amount of the debt it says you owe, the name of the original creditor as well as a disclosure that states your rights as a consumer? Many people don’t know this, but it’s important to understand the details.
If after you’ve received the written details and you dispute it, the collection agency must cease all efforts to collect the debt until it can verify the legitimacy of it.
No Violence, Please
Here’s another shocker: In 2010, the FTC received 4,185 complaints from consumers that a debt collector had threatened physical violence against them if they did not pay. That is absolutely illegal and if you’re threatened with violence of any type, you should report it immediately.
I’m Asleep, Call Later
Many consumers are unaware of time constraints debt collectors must abide by. It’s illegal to call before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. (in your time zone) to collect that past due credit card bill. The one exception: if you tell the collection agency it’s OK to do so.
This one is rather horrifying, but it’s legal for debt collectors to contact your neighbors, friends and even if your co-workers if they can’t locate you. This is one reason why you should take those phone calls, lest your business get out to the neighborhood committee. While a collector can’t provide any information as to why he’s searching for you, your neighbors and friends may be able to put two and two together.
I’m at Work
Simply stated, a debt collector cannot call you at work if you’ve told him it jeopardizes your job. No if’s, and’s or but’s about it.
Keep in mind, too, that these are just a few of your rights – knowing all of them keeps your sanity and ensures your lack of knowledge doesn’t cost you. If you feel as though your rights are being violated, it’s important to begin documenting everything. If things progress to the point of a legal scenario, your documentation can only help your attorney. Of course, ideally, you want to keep things from even getting to a debt collector. The way to do this is to be open and forthright with your creditors and then sticking to any payment arrangements you make. Your sanity and your wallet will be better for it.