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Your Rights Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

 

What is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)?

The FDCPA is a federal law that protects consumers from unfair or abusive debt collection practices.  It gives you the right to dispute the debt.  It controls how and when a debt collector may contact you and what the debt collector can say to you.  And it gives you the right to force debt collectors to leave you alone.  These issues are explored in more detail on the pages that follow.

What kinds of debts are covered by the FDCPA?

The FDCPA applies to debts that were obtained primarily for personal, family, or household purposes.  Most consumer debts -- such as personal credit cards, student loans, and medical debts -- are covered by the FDCPA. 

What kinds of debts are NOT covered?

Business debts are not covered.

Which debt collectors must comply with the FDCPA?

The FDCPA applies to any person or company that regularly collects the debts of another.  Employees of debt collection and debt buyer agencies must comply with the FDCPA.  Law firms and lawyers also must comply with the FDCPA, if they regularly engage in debt collection activities.  Practically speaking, most debt collectors are covered by the FDCPA.

Which debt collectors need NOT comply with the FDCPA?

Creditors do not have to comply with the FDCPA if they are trying to collect their own debts.  For example, an in-house collections department at a credit card company or hospital would not be covered by the FDCPA.  Also, third party debt collectors who do not regularly collect debts owed to another do not have to comply with the FDCPA. 

Is there a way to protect myself from debt collection harassment, if the FDCPA does not apply?

Yes.  Various state laws protect consumers from debt collection harassment.  These laws may apply even if the FDCPA does not.  You should not have to suffer from debt collection harassment!  Call the NYC Financial Justice Hotline at 212-925-4929 for advice about your specific situation.

If I am contacted by a debt collector, can I dispute the debt?

Yes.  For more information, see Your Rights Under the FDCPA:  Disputing the Debt.

How can I recognize when a debt collector violates the FDCPA?

Debt collectors violate the FDCPA when they make harassing, threatening, or misleading statements in order to coerce or trick you into making payments on a debt.  For more information, and specific examples, see Your Rights Under the FDCPA:  Recognizing Debt Collection Abuse.  

Can I file a complaint against a debt collector?

Yes.  You can file a complaint online with the Federal Trade Commission, which is the federal agency charged with enforcing the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.  The FTC doesn't handle individual cases, but it is a good idea to file a complaint anyway.  If the FTC gets a lot of complaints about a particular company, it can take action against that company on behalf of the public.  You can also file a complaint with the FTC by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261.  Or you can write a letter to:

 
Consumer Response Center

Federal Trade Commission

CRC-240

Washington, D.C. 20580

You can also file a complaint with the New York State Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection.  The Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection can give you general advice about your situation, and might be able to intervene on your behalf with the debt collection agency.  Like the FTC, the Attorney General's office cannot represent you individually in a lawsuit, but if it gets enough complaints about a particular company, it can file a lawsuit on behalf of the people of New York.   You can also file a complaint with this office by calling 1-800-771-7755; TTY:  1-800-788-9898.  Or you can write a letter to:

New York State Attorney General's Office

Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau

120 Broadway

New York, NY 10271

Finally, New York City residents can file a complaint online with the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs.  You can also file a complaint with this office by calling 311, or by writing a letter to:

NYC Department of Consumer Affairs

Complaints

42 Broadway, 8th Floor

New York, NY 10004

Can I sue a debt collector who violates the FDCPA?

Yes.  You can sue a debt collector in federal court within one year from the date the harassment occurred.  If you win, you can recover for all the damages you suffered plus an additional amount up to $1000, and your attorney's fees and court costs.  You can also obtain a court order directing the debt collector to change its behavior in the future, which helps many other people in addition to yourself.

What steps should I take to fight back against debt collection harassment?

Step One:  Keep a log of the debt collectors' phone calls.  Place pen and paper by the phone, and each time a debt collector calls, get their name, telephone number, employer, and take some brief notes on what they said.  Write down the date and time also.   Keeping a log helps you keep track of how many people are calling you, and how often.  A log provides a good record of collection abuse.

Step Two:  Record the calls.  Debt collectors might lie about what they said to you during a telephone call, or you might not remember it well after some time has passed.  With a recording, you have proof of exactly what was said.   In New York, it is legal to record your own telephone calls; you do not need to advise the debt collector that you are recording the call.  Make sure to record EVERY call and to turn on the recorder at the BEGINNING of the conversation.  You never know when the debt collector will say something improper, so you need to be ready at all times! 

Important warning: This advice applies ONLY to residents of New York State.  If you do not live in New York, you must check the rules for your state.  For example, New Jersey residents need to check the New Jersey rules.   In some states, recording your own telephone conversations could subject you to criminal penalties.  For a practical guide to taping calls in other states, you can look here, but we cannot guarantee the accuracy of the information provided at this site.

Step Three:  File a complaint with the agencies listed above.

Step Four:  Talk to an attorney who regularly handles debt collection issues for consumers.  For a referral, call the NYC Financial Justice Hotline at 212-925-4929, or try the National Association of Consumer Advocates.

 

More Information

Debt Collection Basics

Disputing the Debt

Recognizing Debt Collection Abuse

Negotiating with Debt Collectors

What is Exempt from Debt Collection?

 

Useful Links and Resources

Federal Trade Commission:  Fact sheet on FDCPA

The Legal Aid Society, Too Many Debts?  How To Deal With Your Debts And Stop Debt Collectors From Harassing You (PDF)

National Consumer Law Center, Unhealthy Pursuits:  How the Sick and Vulnerable are Harmed by Abusive Medical Debt Collection Tactics

Complete text of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

National Association of Consumer Advocates:  Referrals to consumer advocates

New York State Bar Association:  Referrals to attorneys in New York

LawHelp/NY:  Referrals to legal services for low-income New Yorkers

BudHibbs.com: Bud Hibbs, a consumer advocate, maintains a helpful database of debt collection agencies and their unlawful practices.

 

Sources:  Federal Trade Commission; Legal Aid Society, Too Many Debts?; New Economy Project.

 

Disclaimer:  This site provides general information for consumers and links to other sources of information.  This site does not provide legal advice, which you can only get from an attorney.  New Economy Project has no control over the information on linked sites.

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