Your Rights Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

Debt Collection Harassment: How to Stop Phone Calls

What you should know about your rights to stop debt collection calls and be treated fairly.

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Editor’s Note: FairShake is not an attorney, law firm, or financial advisor. Our content team conducts research to the best of our ability to ensure this content is accurate, but it does not replace professional financial or legal advice.

In this article

What is the FDCPA?
Debts covered by the FDCPA
Collectors covered by the FDCPA
Your rights under the FDCPA
— Limits contacts
— Prohibits harassment
— Prohibits other aggressive tactics
— Requires collectors provide a validation letter
Recent updates to the FDCPA
— Collections attempts on social media
— Other disclosure requirements
Pursue your rights under the FDCPA
— How to file a complaint
— How to sue

What is the FDCPA?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a federal law that governs practices by third-party debt collectors — those who buy a delinquent debt from an original creditor, like a credit card company.

What kinds of debts does the FDCPA apply to?

The FDCPA applies to debts incurred by a person, family, or household. The act does not apply to debts incurred by businesses, or primarily for business purposes.

What debt collectors does the FDCPA apply to?

The FDCPA governs people and companies that collect debts on behalf of someone else. This means that employees of debt collection agencies and debt buyers must comply with the FDCPA. And this includes law firms that engage in third party debt collection as well.

However, the company to which you originally owe money (the creditor) does not have to comply with the FDCPA if they are trying to collect their own debts.

Also from FairShake: Learn about your rights with mortgage servicing companies

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How does the FDCPA help you?

Limits debt collector contacts

Consumers can limit when and how debt collectors contact them. Collectors are not allowed to call at any inconvenient time or place and can’t tell third parties about consumers debt.

Under the FDCPA, debt collectors:

  • Can’t contact consumers before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
  • Can’t contact consumers at work once asked by the consumer not to.
  • Can’t communicate about a consumers debt with third parties, such as their employer, neighbors and family.
  • Must communicate through the consumers attorney if they are represented by one.
  • Must cease contact entirely if a consumer requests it. (They can still engage the legal system in order to collect outstanding debts, and they may advise the debtor of the steps they intend to take.)

Prohibits debt collector harassment

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from engagement in specific forms of harassment or abusive practices in an attempt to collect the debt.

This means debt collectors cannot:

  • ​​Use profane language.
  • Call the consumer repeatedly to annoy or harass — defined as more than once a day about a specific debt, or within a week of having a conversation with you about a debt.
  • Call a consumer to collect payment without identifying themselves as debt collectors.
  • List a consumers debt for sale to the public.
  • Threaten or use violence.

Prohibits other aggressive and misleading tactics

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from using false, deceptive or misleading statements to collect on debts.

This means debt collectors cannot misrepresent:

  • The amount of the debt.
  • Whether it’s past the Statute of Limitations.
  • Legal repercussions for not paying the debt.
  • Their own identity by claiming to be a different company or an authority.

Other tactics prevented by the FDCPA:

  • The FDCPA specifies that debt collectors must add written disclaimers such as “This correspondence is an attempt to collect a debt.”
  • Collectors cannot solicit postdated checks for payment to use as a threat or for the purposes of instituting criminal prosecution.
  • Collectors cannot deposit or threaten to deposit a postdated check before your intended payment date.
  • Collectors cannot take or threaten to take property if it’s not allowed.
  • Collectors cannot collect more than a consumer owes on a debt (inclusive of fees and interest).


Also from FairShake:

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Requires the debt collector send a validation letter, and gives you the right to ask for a verification letter

Under the FDCPA, debt collectors must prove that a consumer owes the debt they’re attempting to collect with a validation letter (and verification letter if the consumer requests it).

Collectors must send this validation letter within five days of their first contact with the consumer. It should contain:

  • The amount that the consumer owes.
  • The name of the creditor seeking payment.
  • A statement that the collector will assume the debt is valid unless the consumer disputes it within 30 days.
  • A statement that if the consumer disputes the debt or requests more information on it in writing within 30 days, the debt collector will then verify the debt by mail and provide information, such as information about the original creditor.

Been treated unfairly by a debt collector? Tell us

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What to know about recent updates to the FDCPA?

The FDCPA and Social Media

Updates to the FDCPA went into effect in late 2021, which clarified the ability of debt collectors to use social media to contact you, with certain limitations.

Debt collectors are now able to contact consumers by email, text message and social media messages without prior consent from the consumer to use these channels. The messages must include a disclaimer that tells the consumer how to opt-out or limit future communications.

A debt collector cannot communicate with a consumer through social media if other consumers can see the message, such as a public comment on an Instagram post.

Collectors must disclose to a consumer that they are a debt collector before sending a friend request.

And existing FDCPA restrictions against communication with a consumer at inconvenient times or places now apply to electronic channels like social media.

The FDCPA and the Statute of Limitations

The CFPB clarified that collectors cannot sue or threaten to sue consumers over debts if those debts are past the statute of limitations for bringing a lawsuit.

However, debt collectors can still ask consumers for payment on the expired debt — this alone isn’t a violation. It’s threatening to sue the consumer that creates a problem.

The FDCPA Requires Disclosures Prior to Reporting to a Credit Agency

Another recent update around the FDCPA protects consumers from having a collector report debts to a credit agency without giving the consumer appropriate notice and warning.

Before a debt collector can report a debt to a credit reporting agency they must disclose details about the debt and the consumer’s rights to the consumer themselves. (Again, this applies to third party debt collectors. A creditor who you originally owe the debt to can still report it.)

How can you enforce your rights under the FDCPA?

Two ways to pursue enforcement of your rights under the FDCPA:

  • File a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau here
  • Sue the collection agency. Tell us your complaint below to share with attorneys.

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