Can a Debt Collector Call Me During the Holidays?

It's totally legal for a debt collector to try to recoup an outstanding bill, so you'll want to keep this in mind if they call on holidays.

Getting a call from a debt collector looking to recoup on an old debt you owe is never exactly pleasant, and it’s probably the last thing you want to deal with during the most wonderful time of the year. After all, who wants to excuse themselves from Christmas dinner just so they can sort out that cable bill they forgot to pay in college?

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), it’s totally legal for a debt collector to try to recoup an outstanding bill you actually owe, but there are restrictions about how and when they can go about doing so. For instance, debt collectors can’t call you at times they know are inconvenient, like too early in the morning (before 8 a.m.) or too late at night (after 9 p.m.). They can’t call you at work if you ask them to stop, and they can’t call repeatedly throughout the day. But are holidays like Chanukah, Christmas and New Year fair game?

The short answer: Maybe.

“There isn’t an actual holiday carve out,” Troy Doucet, a consumer attorney in Columbus, Ohio, said in an email. However, you could argue that a call on, say, Christmas Eve is, in fact, a violation of the FDCPA.

“It would probably fall under the prohibition against calling at times known to be inconvenient,” Doucet said.

How Can I Keep Debt Collectors From Ruining My Holiday?

Keep in mind, if you’re on a debt collector’s radar and you really don’t want to deal with the account during the holiday season, you can request that they stop calling you. Under the FDCPA, a debt collector must cease contact with you if you send a written request to do so. However, it’s important to note that this request doesn’t absolve you of the debt — or the ramifications of letting a long-overdue bill you legitimately owe go unpaid. That account could still wind up on your credit report and do big damage to your credit score. And the collector could elect to seek a judgment against you to recoup the debt, which could result in garnishment that further hurts your credit. (You can see how any collection accounts are affecting your credit by viewing your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)

That’s why you may want to try to negotiate a payment plan with a collector. Doing so could preclude them from taking further adverse action against you. If you do work something out, be sure to ask the collector to put your agreement in writing. That’ll help ensure they stick to what was agreed.

Something else to note: If you have an unpaid bill that hasn’t gone to collections yet, like an old medical debt, you may want to touch base and see if you could work something out with the creditor. They may be more willing to waive some fees, lower an interest rate or take a large lump sum payment that’s less than what you actually owe just to get back some of the money you owe back. Many creditors or service providers wait at least 90 days before turning a debt over to collections. (There are more tips for negotiating with creditors and/or debt collectors here.)

Finally, if you truly don’t owe the debt or you think a debt collector has crossed a line, you can also consult a consumer attorney about whether you have a FDCPA claim and what your next steps should be. Remember, when it comes to debt collectors, it helps to know your rights. You can go here for a debt collections crash course.

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My Old Roommate Didn’t Pay Rent & Now Debt Collectors Are After Me

roommate-didn't-pay-rent

You moved out, but your roommate didn’t pay the rent. Now debt collectors are calling, saying you owe them a few months of rent and fees. What do you do? What can you do?

The answer depends largely on what state you’re in and whether your name is on the lease.

Can a Debt Collector Come Knocking?

“A debt collector ‘can’ come after you for just about anything,” Alex Stern, an attorney with the Little Guy Law Firm, P.L.L.C. in Miami Beach, Florida, said in an email. “The question is will they be successful. If your name is in a lease agreement and rent is owed, you may still be liable for unpaid rent even if you paid your share.”

Now, if your name is not on the lease, the landlord or collection agency could have a tougher time getting you to pay back-rent. Still, “if the landlord can provide some evidence that you acknowledge responsibility for the rent, then you may be liable (e.g. a check from you every month for a certain period of time),” Stern said.

Stay Calm

The good news is, all hope is not lost for those who did sign on the dotted line or think they could otherwise be considered liable.

“Most states impose a ‘duty to mitigate’ on the landlord, so if someone abandons the lease, the landlord usually will have to make some sort of good faith effort to re-rent the property to someone else, and you wouldn’t be liable for the rent the new tenant starts paying (although you could be liable for the expense to re-rent the unit),” Stern said.

You also could benefit from your state’s statute of limitations on debt collection.

If your name isn’t on the lease, but you landlord still thinks you reasonably owe rent via an oral contract, “then generally speaking the landlord will have less time to bring a valid claim than if pursuing the case pursuant to a written contract,” Stern said. “If a debt collector tries to collect a debt from you after the statute of limitations has passed, then you could have a cause of action against the debt collector for violation of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) in addition to state law causes of action.”

You can go here to find out what your state’s statute of limitations on debt collection entails. Here are some other things you can do to make a situation like this end in your favor.

Talk to Your Landlord

Remember, a roommate can’t simply sign you off of a lease, since it’s legally a contract between landlord and tenant. This contract should outline what steps need to be taken should someone want out or be looking to sublet, but it’s also generally a good idea to try talking to your landlord before you simply move and hope your roommate makes good on the rent.

“Usually the landlord will work with you if you give them enough notice for them to re-rent the property,” Stern said. “Also becoming more common in lease agreements are ‘liquidated damages’ provisions, which specify a dollar amount that will be owed when someone breaches a lease or moves out early.”

If the situation has progressed beyond that point, you could trying arguing in court that your roommate agreed to cover your share.

“Even if the landlord does come after you, you can always claim that you had an agreement with the other roommate that the other roommate would be taking responsibility for the lease,” Stern said. “It may not stop the landlord from coming after you, but it may help you in holding the other person responsible for some if not all of the judgment.”

Know Your Laws

You may have additional rights under local tenant laws. And, when it comes to any debt in collection, it helps to know your rights. Under the FDCPA, debt collectors are prohibited from doing certain things as they work to recoup what you owe, including calling too early or too late at night, threatening you with actions (like a lawsuit) that they don’t actually intend to take, and using obscene language. (You can learn more about your debt collection rights here.)

If you’re unsure of whether you’re liable for any debt in collection or you think a collector is in violation of the FDCPA, you may want to consider consulting a consumer attorney.

And, as you try to work this out, you may want to keep an eye on how the collection account is affecting your credit. You can get your free annual credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies, and you can get more frequent updates by looking at a free credit report summary, updated every 30 days, on Credit.com.

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How to Get a Debt Collector to Stop Calling

get-a-debt-collector-to-stop-calling

If money is tight right now and you’ve fallen behind on your bills, you’re likely feeling a lot of stress. And if you’re getting frequent phone calls from a persistent debt collector on top of it all, your stress may be amplified.

There are a few things you can do to get the debt collector to stop calling you, however, just make sure you keep in mind that stopping a debt collector from contacting you doesn’t absolve you from your debt.

Attempt to Resolve the Problem

Attorney Colin Hector recommends trying to settle the matter the collector is calling you about.

“See if you can resolve it – even if you don’t think you owe the debt, can’t repay it immediately, or think that the collector is contacting you by mistake,” according to an article Hector wrote for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) earlier this year.

Request They Stop Calling

Once you’ve spoken with your collector and established what they are calling about, you may decide you don’t want them to contact you again. If this is the case, you need to let them know, which you should do in writing.

“The law requires a written letter asking for the communication to stop,” Troy Doucet, a consumer law attorney in Dublin, Ohio, said in an email. “A verbal request is not enough, unless it is to inform the debt collector that counsel has been retained. If a lawyer has been retained, then the debt collector must stop calling.”

You want to send the original letter to the collector, but it’s a good idea to make a copy for your files as well. You may also want to consider sending the letter by certified mail and get a return receipt so you can have documentation that they received your request.

It is illegal for a collector to contact you again after receiving your request, unless they are letting you know they won’t be contacting you again or that they are taking a different kind of action (like filing a lawsuit, for example).

Again, just because the calls stop, doesn’t mean you are cleared of your debts.

Understand Your Rights

As a consumer, you have rights that protect you from being hassled by a debt collector. Even if the calls are coming from a legitimate collection company, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is in place to protect you from letting these calls disrupt your life.

“A debt collector cannot lie, cheat or force a consumer to pay their debts,” Doucet said. “Doing any of those things, even if the violation is technical, can lead to a violation of federal law governing debt collectors.”

For example, the FDCPA bans repeated or continuous phone calls from debt collectors and they aren’t allowed to call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., which are seen as times that are typically inconvenient. If a collector is calling your friends, family, employers or any other third party to discuss your debt, they are also in violation of the FDCPA. And threats or verbal abuse are a definite no-no. (There are even times when you can sue a debt collector, which you can read about in this guide.)

How Debt Affects Your Credit

Collection accounts can have a major impact on your credit scores. If you’re concerned about how your debt could be affecting your credit, you can request a free copy of your credit reports once each year by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. (You can also see two of your credit scores for free, updated each month, on Credit.com if you want to monitor your credit more frequently.)

Even after your debts are paid back, it’s a good idea to review your reports for any problems or errors, as these could also be impacting your credit scores. If you do discover something that doesn’t look right, whether a misspelling or an account you don’t recognize, you can dispute these problems with the credit bureaus.

[Offer: If you need help fixing errors on your credit report, Lexington Law could help you meet your goals. Learn more about them here or call them at (844) 346-3296 for a free consultation.]

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3 Things to Do Before Calling Back a Debt Collector

Can I Bypass a Debt Collector?

You just listened to the voice mail, and your heart is in your throat. A debt collector called. What now?

Your next step could be the difference between a manageable bump in the road and a years-long nightmare. So here, we’re going to walk you through these critical first few moments.

When a debt collector calls, a million thoughts race through your mind — everything from “I thought I paid that” to “I thought they forgot.” (Rest assured, very few people forget about unpaid bills nowadays.)

Ultimately, your primary goal should be to pay off your debts as smoothly and quickly as possible — as long as you have the means to do so, and the debt really belongs to you. If not, we’ll deal with those possibilities, too.

First and foremost, don’t immediately return the phone call. You have a bunch of homework to do first. But do call. Ignoring a debt collector, even one who is calling in violation of the law, is probably the biggest mistake you can make. The problem, whatever it is, will only get bigger. (Learn more about your debt collection rights here.)

Before the Call 

First, take a deep breath. Next, grab a pen and notebook. Every interaction you have with a debt collector — and frankly, anyone calling about money — needs to be documented. Play the message again and transcribe it; you just never know what may be useful later. Carefully note the time, date, name of caller and any other specifics. You’ve just begun what some folks call a “collections log.”

When you are done, give it a home right near the phone so you can find it easily next time. Yes, you can do this on a digital file if you like, but only if you’re confident in your typing skills and religiously back up data. You don’t want to lose this.

Now it’s time to do some research. You want to be as prepared as you can before you talk to the debt collector. That might mean talking to family members about the debt; going to AnnualCreditReport.com to see if the debt is on your credit report; or digging through old mail. Get your ducks in a row, as you want as few surprises as possible. This will also help your brain and your heart slow down.

During the Call 

There are several specific things to do (and not do) during the initial debt collector call, but before we get to that, here are two critical things to keep in mind:

  1. Drive the call. Be active, not passive.
  2. Say as little as possible.

Don’t call only to let a collector bully you or make you uncomfortable. When you know your rights and the truth about the debt, you can do this. Ask the questions. Remember, you don’t have to answer any at this time, but by law the collector does.

From this advice comes the second tenet: Don’t volunteer anything about income, property, or bank accounts. You can agree on a payment plan later. During this first call, you need to get all the data you can about the collector’s claims. One-word answers are fine. Don’t tell sob stories, and definitely don’t make promises like, “I’ll pay,” which could be interpreted as a contract in some cases.

As for specifics, here’s what to ask: Get the name of the firm, the creditor and the amount. Ask for a breakdown, if possible. These questions are the beginning of a process called “validation.” Then, tell the collector you want the name and address of the original creditor, along with any account numbers tied to the debt. You can also ask for other evidence the collector may have, such as a judgment. You may have to send a written request to file a formal dispute in order to obtain that information, but debt collectors sometimes offer it straight away.

Do all the above firmly but politely. Remember, you might end up negotiating with the collector. There’s no reason to be rude or hostile — just be firm and say very little.

During this initial call, don’t keep your credit card or checkbook nearby. If the collector makes threats, even veiled ones, like ‘I’m sure you don’t want me to call your workplace about this,” that’s a sign something is wrong, and it’s critical for you to get off the phone as soon as possible.

The biggest don’t of all is not being talked into making some kind of small “good faith” payment towards the debt. That’s often a trick debt collectors use to get consumers to pay debts they don’t legally owe. Any payment can restart the statute of limitations clock, re-aging the debt.

After the Call

The statute of limitations issue is one reason to hang up, digest what you’ve collected and make a thoughtful payment plan. When you get all the information you are legally entitled to, you can then make a plan of action. Again, be active, not passive. If the debt isn’t yours, you can begin the formal debt dispute process. If you feel like the debt is accurate but the late/penalty fees are unfair, you can try to negotiate with the collector or dispute the overages.

If you are ready to start paying but want gentler terms, make a budget and call the collector to make an offer. Hold firm and don’t answer questions like, “How much money do you have in your 401(k)?” Just make your offer.

This is also the time to realistically look at your family budget and decide if you can or can’t pay your bills. If you can’t, consider talking to a bankruptcy attorney before you call the collector back.

The biggest mistake consumers filing for bankruptcy make is filing too late. Many raid retirement accounts or make other foolish last-ditch efforts to pay bills, so they lose assets that could have been preserved in the process.

That debt collector call, however scary, could be a sign it’s time to admit the depth of the problem and the need for dramatic steps to make it right.

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