Money and Debt

Dealing with debt collectors

You have rights when it comes to dealing with debt collectors. They have to follow federal law when they contact you. Sometimes, you may not agree with a debt collector that says you owe money. The debt collector could be wrong. It could even be a fake debt collector. Learn more about disputing debts and stopping debt harassment.

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Understanding the Basics

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Whether or not you owe a debt, there are steps you can take to resolve problems you're having with debt collectors.

Stop debt collector harassment

If debt collectors call often or harass you, you can take action to make them stop (even if you owe the debt).

A federal law called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) says what they can and cannot do. For instance, a debt collector can't: 

  • Call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. 
  • Call you at work, if you told them that you can't take their calls at work 
  • Threaten you with harm or jail 
  • Use obscene or abusive language  
  • Lie about who they are or what you owe

If you want to stop the contact:

  • Do not ignore the debt. The longer you take, the more difficult it will be to fix. If you owe them money, try to negotiate better terms.
  • Keep records of everything. Keep records of all contacts you receive and letters you send.
  • Ask the collector for their contact information. Get their name, address and phone number.
  • Write a letter to the collector. Tell the debt collector to stop contacting you. You must tell them in writing. Use this form for a “Cease Communication Letter.” Send the letter by certified mail or “return receipt,” so you know for sure when the collector has the letter.

After you send a cease communication letter, the debt collector must stop contacting you. The only reason a debt collector is allowed to contact you later is if they sue you.

What if you don't recognize the debt?

If a debt collector tries to collect money from you, and you think the debt collector is wrong, you should:

  • Tell the debt collector that you do not recognize the debt. Do not admit to owing a debt. Get proof of the debt from them.
  • Keep your personal or sensitive financial information safe. Do not give out your credit card numbers, bank information or Social Security number.
  • Get the debt collector’s contact information. Ask for their name, company name, street address and phone number. If the debt collector refuses to give you this information, hang up.
  • Ask for a “validation notice.” This letter is important for proving that you owe money. A fake debt collector will probably not respond.

Disputing a debt

Within 5 days after the debt collector first contacted you, they are required by law to send you a validation notice. Do not speak to the collector while you wait for the validation notice. If the debt collector's first contact with you was by letter, the debt validation notice might be included in that letter. 

The validation notice must include the following:

  • The amount owed 
  • The name of the business you owe money to
  • What you can do if you want to dispute the debt

Sometimes, you might not recognize the business name because debts are bought by another company. You have a right to request the name of the original creditor if you don't recognize the business name.  Knowing the name of the original creditor can be helpful. For instance, you might have already paid off the debt or you may want to reach out to the original creditor to help you figure out if the debt and the debt collector are legitimate. 

After you receive the validation notice, you have 30 days to dispute the debt.

To dispute a debt, send a “dispute letter” to the collector. This letter says that you do not believe you owe the money. Use this template to create the letter.

After the 30 days, if you want them to stop bothering you or contacting you, you can write another letter asking them to stop contact

If the creditor does decide to sue, take a look at what you can do if you go to court against a creditor.

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