New rules limit debt collection robocalls by Feds

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WASHINGTON, DC—Consumer advocates applauded the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for its rules and report placing limits on the the 2015 Budget Bill that allows robocalls and texts to be made to a cell phone without the consumer’s consent “to collect a debt owed to or guaranteed by the United States.” (These rules apply to calls made to wireless lines, not landlines.) The Budget Act provision permits these robocalls and texts by collectors of federal debt—primarily student loan borrowers who are delinquent on federal student loans, as well as taxpayers pursued by private collectors—subject to the regulations implemented by the FCC.

“With this rule, it appears that the FCC will continue to ensure that all consumers have the right to control the calls and texts they receive,” said Linda Sherry of Consumer Action. "Last year's budget provision was like a bad holiday gift for consumers, but the FCC rules go a long way to ensuring that people who owe debts to the federal government, such as student loans, delinquent taxes and Veterans Administration mortgages, don't get harassed and hounded with robocalls on their mobile phones."

Young Invincibles’ Deputy Director of Policy and Legislative Affairs Reid Setzer also noted, “This is a positive step for millions of student borrowers affected by excessive, unwanted calls from loan servicers.”

“The FCC’s final rule limiting the number of robocalls and texts to three a month by collectors of federal student loans and other federal debt is a very important victory for consumers,” said National Consumer Law Center attorney Margot Saunders. “We are also happy to see that the rule counts each initiated call as one call.”

Consumers Union policy analyst Maureen Mahoney noted, “One of the most important protections requires that callers obey a consumer’s request to stop calling. Indeed, the rule requires that debt collection callers notify consumers of this right to request that calls stop.”

More than 1.7 million complaints are made to the Federal Trade Commission every year regarding unwanted robocalls. “We commend the FCC for holding the line to keep the plague of unwanted robocalls from becoming even worse,” added Susan Grant, director of Consumer Protection and Privacy at Consumer Federation of America.

As requested by consumer groups, the FCC incorporated all of these important consumer protections into its formal Telephone Consumer Protection Act rule. The rule applies to debts that are either delinquent or are within 30 days of a deadline affecting the amount or timing of payments due, such as a deadline for maintaining a grace, deferment or forbearance period or an alternative payment arrangement.

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