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Knowing when a debt collector goes too far

If you woke up this morning with a tension headache or a knot in your stomach because of your financial situation, it is probably not the first time. In fact, you know things have gotten bad if you start your day by planning how to avoid your creditors. Knowing that at a certain time of day the phone calls will start certainly doesn't make it easy to greet the day with any positivity.

While it may seem like those debt collectors are calling constantly, it is likely that they are acting within the limits of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, which permits and prohibits certain behaviors of creditors trying to get you to pay what they say you owe. It is important that you have a good understanding of those limits because some unscrupulous collectors may rely on the fact that not many borrowers know their rights.

Know your rights

Creditors have the right to reclaim debts, even debts that have passed the statute of limitations for your creditor to sue you for payment. They can put pressure on you to pay as long as they don't violate the rules of FDCPA. Legal pressure may include calling you every day, filing a lawsuit against you or selling your debt to another collector. However, a debt collector steps over the line by doing any of the following:

  • Calling you multiple times a day
  • Calling you outside the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m.
  • Threatening to harm you with violence if you don't pay
  • Using obscene or bullying language
  • Publishing details about you or your debt
  • Coming to your workplace or telling your co-workers they are calling to collect a debt

In addition, a debt collector who threatens to have you arrested for the debt is lying to you and violating the FDCPA rules. People in California or any other state don't go to jail for not paying a debt, although the creditor may have you arrested if you don't show up for court if the creditor sues you.

Know your options

Remember that debts and information about debts often pass back and forth between different agencies and departments, and there is every possibility that a debt a collector claims you owe is in error. You may have already paid the balance, or you may never have owed the debt. It is always best to check your credit report if you have doubts about a debt someone is trying to collect.

Finally, you also have the option of seeking legal assistance to explore ways to stop the harassment of aggressive creditors. For example, filing for bankruptcy automatically protects you from collection activities of most creditors, potentially including foreclosure, repossession and wage garnishment.

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