Read all our posts about debt collection in the archives.
Dealing with debt collection can be confusing and scary. Debt collectors are intimidating on purpose, and may harass and abuse you to try to get you to pay the debt—whether you owe it or not. The good news is that you are not powerless. Strong federal laws protect you from harassment and abuse, and you can fight the debt collectors and win!
In the end, my advice to anyone dealing with debt collection is usually the same: find a consumer rights lawyer in your state who can help you. While you can help yourself, you can often get better results with a lawyer’s help, whether that means getting you more money or saving you more money. Since most lawyers will help you understand your options without charging you, you have nothing to lose by trying.
Before you call a lawyer, here are some of our best posts that can help you understand your rights and your options when dealing with debt collection. But the most important thing is this: don’t post information about your debt collection matter online. For more on why, read Don’t Post Information About Legal Problems on Public Websites.
Debt collection in general
Whenever you are contacted by a debt collector, do three things: (1) take careful notes, (2) record if you can, and (3) request debt validation in writing. Then, call a consumer rights lawyer.
For more information, read What to Do When a Debt Collector Calls. Use my Collection Communications Log to help you take notes, and follow these instructions for recording phone calls. While you are on the phone with a debt collector, you may want to ask these five questions:
- Is this account being reported to the credit bureau?
- How will this affect my credit?
- How long will this be on my credit?
- When will this come off of my credit report?
- Will this come off of my credit report if I pay the debt?
If you aren’t the person the debt collector is trying to contact, you’ll want to read Debt Collectors and Wrong Numbers: How to Handle a Case of Mistaken Identity.
Debt collection abuse and harassment
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) regulates what debt collectors can and cannot do. It also gives consumers the right to sue debt collectors who violate the law for statutory damages of $1,000, plus actual damages, costs, and attorney fees. That means that if a debt collector violates the FDCPA, the debt collectors will have to pay you and your lawyer.
To find out what debt collectors can and cannot do, check out the Debt Collection Cheatsheet. Keep in mind, however, that the FDCPA is a fairly complex statute, and it can be difficult to understand just what debt collectors are required to do. You should definitely contact a lawyer for help, and most consumer rights lawyers will handle FDCPA cases on full contingency — meaning you will not pay the lawyer unless he or she recovers money for you.
Debt collection lawsuits
If dealing with a debt collector is confusing and scary, getting sued can be a nightmare. If you are sued, you need to talk to a lawyer. A lawsuit begins when you are served with a summons and complaint. If you do not respond to the complaint according to the court rules, you will lose the lawsuit. To understand this part of a lawsuit, read Served By a Debt Collector? What To Do Next.
Defending yourself is risky. Even though debt collectors may not be able to win, there are may pitfalls. Before you try to represent yourself, read How Not to Defend a Debt Collection Lawsuit, written by a former debt collection lawyer. A lawsuit is kind of like a game of ping-pong. Most things your opponent does require a response from you, and vice-versa. Procedure matters as much as substance — whether or not the debt collector can actually collect the debt from you.
Sometimes the best outcome is a negotiated settlement. Negotiating a settlement takes perseverance (especially when negotiating with debt collectors), and there are some important pitfalls to avoid. Read How to Negotiate for general tips on negotiation, and Deal With Your Debt: Negotiate a Settlement for tips specific to debt collection lawsuits.
If you insist on going it alone — and you are in Minnesota — we have some free forms that might help: