Serving You and The State of Florida
Virtually every American has some form of debt. Most people, at some point in their life, have likely experienced some form of harassment by creditors. Debt collectors are skilled in the arts of constant annoyance, bullying, misleading you about your options, and making threats with little weight behind them.
An unforeseen life event may have caused you to fall behind on credit cards or other debt payments. First, know that you are not alone. Thirty-three percent of Americans state that they have missed a credit card payment because they do not have the money. In 2020, more than $23 billion in credit card debt is currently delinquent.
When creditors start harassing you for payments, you have probably wondered if their extent of harassment is legal. It depends. There are specific guidelines that these companies must follow, and if they do not abide by these rules, they may be held responsible.
How Common is Credit Card Debt in the United States
Revolving debt, which is debt carried over from one month to the next, is a common practice in America. According to Value Penguin, the average credit card debt per American household is $5,700. The average is even higher in Florida. Florida ranks 12th in the United States for the amount of revolving debt carried per household, with an average of $8,444 per household.
Those who have medical issues and those with children have even higher amounts of debts. The practice of Americans being forced to pay for necessary healthcare with credit cards is just one of the practices that lawmakers should address in consumer protection reform.
So, you or a child is sick, and you are forced to put a percentage of the costs for healthcare on a credit card. Then, because you cannot work while you, or your child, are sick, you fall behind on payments. Given that credit card companies then raise the interest rates to the maximum allowed by law. Increased interest rates make it harder to make minimum payments, and it becomes a vicious cycle from which it seems impossible to escape.
Are There Laws That Protect Consumers From Unfair Collection Practices
Yes, there are. The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) is a federal law that was put into place to prevent creditors from abusing debtors. It is important to note that protection under FDCPA only applies if a debt collection company is contacting you. If the credit card company, or other debtors, are contacting you directly, there is little recourse other than attempting to work out a payment plan, or asking for a forbearance, until you can resume regular payments.
Typically, credit card companies will not expend the time or resources needed to attempt to collect debts for every long. Turning the debt over to a debt collection company typically allows them to write the debt off as a loss while still recovering a percentage of the debt.
How is Creditor Harassment Defined
Creditor harassment is the continued and repeated contact by a credit agency regarding a debt you owe. Creditor harassment, prohibited by the Fair Debt Collections Practices Acts, includes:
- Repeated phone calls numerous times every day
- Calls that come early in the morning or late in the evening
- Calls where the creditor threatens to do more than they can legally do by law
- The use of abusive or profane language
Any non-professional behavior on the part of the debt collection company constitutes harassment. Never take a debt collector’s word for what they can and cannot do, nor what your options are as a consumer. Instead, ask them to send you documentation of the debt, and do your research about the options you have for taking care of the debt.
False or Misleading Practices Prohibited by the FDCPA
Debt collectors cannot use false, misleading, or deceptive practices. These practices include giving false information to the consumer about:
- The amount of money owed to clear the debt
- False threats to have you arrested
- Debt collectors who claim to be an attorney when they are not
- Threats of doing things they cannot legally do
- Threats to do things that the collector has no intention of doing (an example of this type of threat is threatening to file a lawsuit to collect the money owed when the amount owed is less than the costs of filing fees for a lawsuit)
According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, you can sue the debt collector for violations of the FDCPA. If you sue and win, the debt collector will generally be made to pay your attorney’s fees. You could also be awarded damages for illegal harassment.
What Should I Do If I am Experiencing Creditor Harassment
When experiencing financial hardships, the last thing you need is the harassment of creditors, adding to your stress level. However, creditors are allowed to make reasonable attempts to collect debts owed to them. You should know that creditors are not allowed to contact you before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. in your time zone, and they cannot contact you at work if you expressly tell them not to contact you at work.
There are steps you can take to stop the harassment, and if you are being harassed in violation of the FDCPA, you should contact an experienced consumer attorney.
You should also know that the FDCPA protects you for credit card debt, medical bills, student loans, auto loans, mortgages, and other household debts. Business debts are not covered un the FDCPA.
Can I stop a creditor from contacting me?
Yes, you can. The first step should be sending a letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, asking the debtor to stop contacting you. Once the collector gets your letter, they can only contact you once to confirm that they will stop contacting you. They can also contact you to inform you of a specific action, such as filing a lawsuit. If an attorney represents you, you should inform the collector. The collector can then only contact your attorney unless your attorney fails to respond within a certain period of time.
The Federal Trade Commission suggests that you talk to a debtor at least once to confirm that the debt belongs to you. Be careful in sharing personal or financial information, especially if you are unfamiliar with the debt collector or their company. There are plenty of scams out there involving those who pose as debt collectors.
Can a Debt Collector Contact Anyone Else About my Debt?
A debt collector generally cannot discuss your debt with anyone other than your spouse, or an attorney who is representing you. Collectors can contact other people in an attempt to find out your address, phone number, or where you work, but typically, they can only contact a person once.
Can an Attorney Help if I Experience Harassment
If you have experienced harassment outlined in the FDCPA or sent a certified letter asking a creditor to cease communications, and the harassment continues, you may have a case against the collection company. Contact an attorney who knows the law and the protections and remedies you have under the law.
The attorneys at The Lopez Law Group are familiar with the tactics that creditors may use. We will listen to you and devise the best plan to stop the harassment so that you can focus on getting your finances back in order.
Remember that legal remedies against the collection agency do not extinguish the debt you owe, and they retain the right to file a lawsuit in court to obtain a judgment against you for the amount of the debt.
Preserving Evidence of Harassment
- Keep meticulous records of how often the creditor calls, when they call and write down the name of the company and the person that you talk to within the organization. Your phone records will generally suffice as proof of excessive harassment.
- Keep a copy of the certified letter asking them to stop contacting you, and bring that to your attorney when you have a consultation.
- If they continue to call after receipt of the letter, they are in violation of the FDCPA, and you should note each attempt at contact other than their contact to tell you they will not be contacting you.
- Preserve all correspondence from the collection company, save text messages, emails, and voicemails when they attempt to contact you.
If the company continues to harass you after you have sent a certified letter asking them to stop, you may have a strong case for harassment. Many collection companies of ill-repute count on consumers not knowing their rights under the law. These creditors will continue to call and harass the person owing the debt because they know that most individuals will either:
- a) not know that they have protection against this type of ongoing harassment under the law, or b) they count on an individual not bothering to involve an attorney and file suit to make them comply with the law.
In other words, they know they can usually get away with it, so they continue. The attorneys at The Lopez Law Group know your rights, and we are prepared to help you put an end to creditor harassment. We understand that creditor harassment is a real problem that the only way to stop abusive behavior or harassment is to hit them where it hurts, which is on their bottom line.
Reach out for a free case review at (727) 933-0015. We will review your case, any records you have kept, and decide on the best path forward to end the harassment for you. If you are owed damages because a creditor has violated the FDCPA, we will help you fight for those damages. Call us today and put an end to creditor harassment for good.
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