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What are my options for dealing with debt collection agents?

If you buy something with a credit card it's fair to expect that a company that has a stake in the bill will want to be paid according to the terms of the contract you signed. It is also fair to expect that some companies might show a certain level of persistence in trying to collect the debt.

However, many in California will appreciate that there can be circumstances under which a normally conscientious person might be unable to meet his or her obligations. That doesn't mean the person is a laggard. But considering that some creditors choose to use tactics to bully money out of their customers, it can be easy for a person to begin feeling the pressure.

Anyone in that situation should be aware that there are laws on the books at both the state and federal levels that spell out the limits of what debt collectors can and cannot do in their efforts to close the books on past-due accounts. And, as information available through FindLaw explains, there are rights consumers need to know.

For example, the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act makes it illegal for collection agents from trying to reach a debtor at unreasonable hours of the day without the debtor's permission. The FDCPA sets the timeframe for what's unreasonable as being before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. It should also be noted that this law applies only to third-party collectors, not representatives of a creditor's own debt collection department.

Other actions outlawed by the FDCPA include:

  • The use of profane language or threats of violence
  • Use misleading or false statements about affiliations, such as claiming to be an attorney
  • Making threats of arrest or wage garnishment, unless state law allows for such

It's also important for consumers to know that it is possible to halt harassment by engaging the help of an experienced attorney. The FDCPA says that once informed that a debtor has representation, a collection agency must cease all direct contact unless specifically told otherwise.

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