If you’ve been contacted about an outstanding debt, it is not necessary that the debt collector represents the bank, credit card issuer, or financial organization that lent you the money. While some do represent the original issuer of credit, others work for companies that buy outstanding debts from original lenders with the aim of recovering what’s due. The latter, commonly referred to as third-party debt collectors, need to follow the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

What is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act came into effect in 1977. This federal law limits the actions of third-party collection agencies and companies that aim to collect outstanding debts on behalf of other entities. It was enacted with the aim of providing protection to borrowers against deceptive and unfair collection practices. Debtors can sue debt collection agencies and companies that violate the FDCPA for damages as well as legal fees.

Enforcement authority of the FDCPA rested with the Federal Trade Commission until 2010, after which it was transferred to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).

Types of Debt That the FDCPA Covers
The FDCPA applies to consumer debt that you’ve taken for personal, household, or family purposes. It does not apply on business-related debt. Common types of debt that fall under the purview of the FDCPA include:

  • Credit card debt
  • Student loans
  • Student loans
  • Personal loans
  • Lines of credit
  • Automobile loans
  • Home loans
  • Rental payments
  • Retail financing
  • Utility bill payments
  • Cash advance loans
  • Payday loans

What Rules Do Debt Collectors Need to Follow?

The FDCPA requires that third-party collectors follow these rules when they contact debtors to collect past due debts.

  • They may try to contact you only between 8 am and 9 pm, local time.
  • When asked to, they need to stop contacting you at your workplace.
  • They cannot disclose information about your debt to your family members, friends, and other people you know.
  • They cannot use abusive language, harass you, threaten you, or hurt you.
  • They cannot lie or provide misleading information about your debt.
  • They should validate your debt upon request.

Changes in Debt Collection Practices (Regulation F)

The CFPB made some amendments to the FDCPA in October 2020, and the new rules were to come into effect on November 30, 2021. However, a proposal to extend the date to of January 29, 2022 is currently under review. Once implemented, third-party collectors will have to follow new restrictions whereas debtors will have more control surrounding how and when third-party collectors contact them. The new rules have a bearing on different aspects.

Phone Calls
As of now, collectors may call debtors as often as they like, and the only way you can ask them to stop is by sending a letter. According to the new rule, collectors can try calling debtors over the phone no more than once per day. Once they get to speak with you, they cannot call you back for a minimum of seven days. After the amendments are put into effect, you can also ask collectors to stop calling you over the phone.

Emails and Text Messages
Going forward, collectors will be able to send electronic messages in the form of emails and texts when trying to contact you. However, every such message should give a debtor the option of choosing not to receive the same or similar messages in the future. The 8 am to 9 pm time stipulation apples on electronic communication too. In addition, debt collectors cannot send emails to email addresses that they know you use for work.

Social Media Messages
While collectors may choose to contact you via personal messages on social media platforms, they cannot post any content that might be visible to your friends, followers, or the general public. An option to opt-out must accompany every message.

Conclusion

Debtors who think they might be the victims of unfair and/or deceptive collection practices can seek relief by filing a complaint with the CFPB. You also have the option of suing the collection agency. To do so, contacting an attorney who specializes in handling debt defense cases might be in your best interest.