I also operate as a field services agent, often performing inspections in behalf of lenders — usually along the lines of a “door knock” to verify that a borrower in arrears still resides at their provided address, and to establish face-to-face contact with the debtor and update any outdated or incorrect contact information. I will also usually leave a sealed letter with the debtor, or in some cases offer to call the lender on their behalf and put the debtor on the phone with them.
Getting behind on an auto loan, home loan or credit card account is the worst feeling in the world. When I visit a debtor, it’s likely because the lender has tried and failed to reach them by phone or letter. As a rule of thumb I am the last person the debtor sees before the lender begins to take more aggressive steps to pursue the debt, including turning the account over to a debt collection agency.
It’s easy to become scared when you fall behind on loans or credit cards. You envision being harassed at your home or place of work, having your paycheck garnished and other horrible scenarios. However, no matter your situation, you do have certain rights and protections under the federal Fair Debt Collection and Practices Act, or FDCPA.
The FDCPA limits the behavior and actions of third-party debt collectors who are attempting to collect debts on behalf of another person or entity. The law restricts the means and methods by which collectors can contact debtors, as well as the time of day and number of times contact can be made.
Under the terms of the FDCPA, debt collectors cannot contact debtors at inconvenient times. That means they should not call before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless the debtor and the collector made an arrangement for a call to occur outside of those hours. For example, if a debtor tells a collector that he wants to talk after work at 10 p.m., the collector can call. Without invitation or agreement, however, the debtor cannot legally call at that time.
Debt collectors can attempt to reach debtors at their homes or offices, but if a debtor tells a bill collector, either verbally or in writing, to stop calling his place of employment, the collector must not call that number again. Debtors can also stop collectors from calling their home phones, but they must put the request in writing.
If a bill collector does not have contact information for a debtor, he can contact relatives, neighbors or associates of the debtor to try to find the debtor’s phone number, but he cannot reveal any information about the debt, including the fact that he is calling from a debt collection agency. Additionally, collectors can only call third parties one time each.
Debt collectors can only tell a debtor about the debt and request payment. In some cases, collectors can work out a payment plan or settlement to help the debtor pay the bill. However, the FDCPA is designed to protect debtors from harassment by bill collectors. As a result, it is illegal for debt collectors to harass debtors, and in particular, they cannot threaten bodily harm or arrest. Additionally, debt collectors cannot threaten to sue debtors unless they truly intend to take the debtors to court.
Please note the FDCPA does not protect debtors from those who are attempting to directly collect a personal debt. For example, if you owe money to the local hardware store and the owner of the store calls you to collect that debt, he is not a debt collector under the terms of this act. The act only applies to third-party debt collectors, such as those who work for a debt collection agency.