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Ask Dr. Don

Bill-collector blues

Dr. Don,
What do you do when a bill collector calls you at work? They first tell you the amount of the debt, then tell you that on today it can be reduced to 80 percent of the bill, instead of $1,900 down to $1,500.

You tell them no, you can't pay that amount so then you tell them you can pay $100 a month. They say OK, but can you do a check by phone. You tell them no, so they say OK we know where you work and they then plan to garnish your wages. How do you handle this?
C.F. Collections

Dear C.F.,
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act places limitations on how debt collection agencies can communicate with you. They aren't allowed to call you at home before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., and they can't call you at work if they know that your employer bans this type of call. Obscene, profane, or abusive phone calls are also prohibited.

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You can notify a debt collector in writing that you want them to cease further communication with you concerning a debt, and upon receipt of that notice the debt collector can only contact you to:

  • Advise the consumer that the debt collector's further efforts are being terminated;
  • Notify the consumer that the debt collector or creditor may invoke specified remedies that are ordinarily invoked by such debt collector or creditor; or
  • Where applicable, to notify the consumer that the debt collector or creditor intends to invoke a specified remedy.

You can cease communication by this process regardless of whether you owe the debt. Make sure your letter includes your name and address, the date, the collection agency's account number (if available), a statement that you are exercising your rights under the FDCPA, and a statement that you want the collection agency to stop calling or writing you.

Send the letter certified mail, signature receipt requested, and keep a copy of the letter and the signature receipt for your files. You should note that the original creditor's rights in contacting you differ from the collection agency's rights.

Debt collectors aren't allowed to state that they will seize, garnish, attach or sell your property or wages unless the collection agency or creditor intends to do so, and it is legal for them to do so. Some states prohibit garnishment for the collection of most debts.

They also can't threaten you with legal action that they can't take or don't intend to take.

Alternately you could contact your state's consumer protection board.

-- Posted: Sept. 17, 2001

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