The Law About Debt Collections Harassment

Know your rights and how to put a debt collections company in its place.
Laura Adams, MBA
5-minute read
Episode #314

What Are Your Debt Collections Rights?

Here are 5 additional debt collections rights that everyone should know about:

Right #1: You Can Tell a Collector Not to Contact You

If you request in writing that a debt collector stop contacting you, then they must heed your request. However, simply telling a collector to back off doesn’t prevent them from reporting a delinquency to the credit bureaus or filing a lawsuit against you.

No matter what, a collector is allowed to contact you to send verification of your debt or to inform you about any specific legal action that they intend to take against you.

Right #2: You Can Dispute a Debt

If you don’t believe that you owe all or part of a debt, you can dispute it. However, you’ve got to put a dispute in writing within 30 days of receiving a collections notice.

Send a certified letter to the collector requesting more information and a formal verification of the debt. When you do this, the collector can’t contact you until they provide this information in writing.

Right #3: Collectors Can’t Tell Others About Your Debt

A debt collector generally isn’t allowed to discuss your debt with anyone else, except your spouse or attorney. And if you have an attorney, a collector must contact him or her about your debt, not you.

A collector can only contact other people to find out general information about you, like your phone number or address.

Right #4: You Control Which Debt a Collector Pays

If you owe more than one debt, a collector must apply your payments to the debt you choose. In other words, a collector can’t use your money to pay a debt that you don’t believe you owe.

Right #5: A Collector Can’t Inflate What You Owe

Debt collectors are prohibited from piling on additional interest, fees, or other charges to the amount you owe. However, if you signed a contract that permits additional charges, then they’re allowed. So be sure to do the math and verify amounts that a collector is trying to get from you, before you send any payments.

Debt Collection and Identity Theft

But what if you’re like Janice and don’t owe money that a collector is pestering you for? It could simply be an accounting error on your account. Or it could be a sign that you’ve become the victim of identity theft. A criminal may have used your personal information to open up a new account or to rack up credit card charges that you don’t know about.

Visit annualcreditreport.com where you can view or download your credit report for free every 12 months. Go over your report carefully to make sure that the balance shown on each account is correct, and look for unfamiliar accounts that you didn’t open.

Quick and dirty tip: Download the Credit Score Survival Kit for a free step-by-step video tutorial on how to check your credit report, correct errors, and raise your credit scores.

If you have been the victim of fraud, immediately place a security freeze on your credit file. Thi


About the Author

Laura Adams, MBA

Laura Adams received an MBA from the University of Florida. She's an award-winning personal finance author, speaker, and consumer advocate who is a frequent, trusted source for the national media. Money-Smart Solopreneur: A Personal Finance System for Freelancers, Entrepreneurs, and Side-Hustlers is her newest title. Laura's previous book, Debt-Free Blueprint: How to Get Out of Debt and Build a Financial Life You Love, was an Amazon #1 New Release. Do you have a money question? Call the Money Girl listener line at 302-364-0308. Your question could be featured on the show.