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.

Image: asiseeit

The post Can a Debt Collector Call Me During the Holidays? appeared first on Credit.com.

Help! Someone Keeps Giving My Phone Number to Debt Collectors

debt-collector-harassment

Sometimes, your phone number gets associated with a loan you’ve never applied for. We can never be sure why it happens: Perhaps it was the debtor’s phone number before it was yours, or they invented what they thought was a fake number because they don’t own a phone, or maybe they’re just trying to hide their debts from the rest of their family because they’ve lost all of their money at a balloon-racing tournament.

So, they pluck any phone number for the application, or pen in the digits of their worst enemy, knowing that person will likely get harassed in the future. (We can all make up some pretty interesting fiction.) But what do you do if it’s your phone number that they’ve chosen, and your phone starts ringing for debts you don’t owe? (“No, really, it’s not my debt” might get a little redundant.)

We asked consumer attorney Troy Doucet of Doucet & Associates Co. in Columbus, Ohio, to weigh in on this one.

First, tell the debt collector that they’re calling the wrong number.

“If debt collectors are calling the wrong number, then they should stop upon notification,” said Doucet. But what if your phone doesn’t stop ringing and the same debt collector keeps calling you?

“If they do not stop calling, there is good argument under most state consumer protection laws that a violation has occurred,” said Doucet.

If you’re feeling so harassed that you want to contact a consumer lawyer, you might have a case, since continuing to dial your number could be a violation of The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, said Doucet. However, it could be tricky to argue that claim in court.

“If the person being called was totally innocent and the debt collector was not trying to collect from the person on the other end of the phone (e.g., the collector was looking for Jane and it was Bob’s phone), then it may be difficult to classify the person being called as a ‘consumer’ or the call being classified as collecting a ‘debt’ under the technical definitions of the FDCPA,” Doucet said.

But that doesn’t mean you’re without recourse.

“There may also be common law claim for ‘invasion of privacy’ if the calls don’t stop in some states,” said Doucet.

If the problem persists, you may want to consult a consumer attorney about your best recourse.

In the interim, it would be prudent to check your credit report to see if the debts they’re calling about actually do exist in your name. This could happen if someone has stolen your identity — or because you had a bill go to collections that you weren’t aware of. You can view your free credit report once a year from AnnualCreditReport.com or see a free snapshot of your credit report, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.

Image: ChrisMajors

The post Help! Someone Keeps Giving My Phone Number to Debt Collectors appeared first on Credit.com.