Collection Agency - Consumers in Debt Series

A fact sheet that explains what your rights are when dealing with a collection agency. It describes collection abuse, and answers such questions as whether you can be jailed for not paying a debt and what to do if you are being harassed by a collection agency.

Collection Agency - Consumers in Debt Series

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Note: Last revision 1996. Use this information as a general guide only; consult with a local consumer group for laws specific to your state.

What Is Collection Abuse?

Collection abuse is the improper collection of a debt by any person from an alleged debtor. The collector can be anyone not just a collection agency. Some examples of collection abuse are found later in this handout.

What If I Owe Debt And Cannot Pay?

Your creditor can request payment from you and eventually sue you if you are unable to comply with your contract. Though they can request you to honor the debt, they cannot illegally harass you for payment. It is against the law for a creditor or collection agency to contact your employer before getting a court judgment, to contact people outside your family about the debts, to threaten you with going to jail, to unnecessarily harass or abuse you or your family about the debts. If this law is violated, you may sue them for collection abuse.

Can I Go To Jail For Not Paying A Debt?

No! The only debts that you can normally be jailed for are failure to pay taxes and, in some cases, child support and alimony. You cannot be jailed for not paying a consumer debt, and it is illegal for a creditor or collection agency to threaten to have you jailed.

What Other Collection Activities Are Illegal?

Though there are many types of improper collection activity, the most common are:

  • collection calls early in the morning or late at night
  • unreasonable numbers of calls
  • harassing, abusive, or obscene language
  • calling you at work when you have a home phone and have told them to call you at home
  • repeated calls after you have told them you are not paying
  • impersonating a police officer
  • threatening to call the police or put you in jail if you don't pay

There are other illegal activities as well. If you are in doubt, go see an attorney!

What Should I Do If I Am Being Harassed?

  1. Keep a record of all collection calls: the time of day, what was said, the way you were treated.

  2. If you are being called at work, call or write the collector (keep a copy of the letter) and tell them to stop calling you at work. If you have a home number, you can give that to them. If they still call at work even after you have given your home number, their actions may be considered illegal.

  3. If you cannot pay, tell them. If they continue to call after you tell them you will not pay, their actions may be illegal.

  4. Hang up the phone! You are under no obligation to talk to them. Collectors rely on you getting upset. Don't let them bother you.

  5. Know your rights! Be familiar with the information in this handout and the handout on Debtors' Rights which is also available through Legal Aid.

  6. If you are in doubt, see a lawyer. If you are low income, you may qualify for free legal services with your local area Legal Aid Office.

Copyright, Credits & Usage

© Copyright 1996 Consumer Credit Counseling Service, Family Counseling Services

Funded by National Coalition for Consumer Education and AT&T Consumer Credit Education Fund

Electronic publication produced by Consumer Action

Electronic publication funded by AT&T Universal Card

Published / Reviewed Date

Published: April 01, 1996

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Money Management   ♦  


© 1996 –2024 Consumer Action. Rights Reserved.




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