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Repeated calls from debt collectors can quickly become annoying. In fact, tens of thousands of consumers every year are seemingly so annoyed that they lodge formal complaints. In 2022, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) fielded roughly 115,900 complaints about debt collection.
So, how can you keep a debt collector from reaching out to you? You can ask a debt collector to stop contacting you by sending a written request to them, but doing so won't eliminate your debt or cease other collection efforts. Read on to learn more.
When and How Often Can a Debt Collector Contact Me?
Here are the guidelines that debt collectors are supposed to follow regarding when and how often they can contact you:
- Debt collectors generally can't contact you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
- Debt collectors must obey instructions they get from you about when and where you do not want to be contacted. For instance, if they're told you can't accept calls at work, debt collectors aren't allowed to call you there.
- Debt collectors can't call you about a specific debt more than seven times within a seven-day period or can't call you again within seven days of speaking with you about a specific debt.
Other Rules About Contact by Debt Collectors
Debt collectors also are limited in terms of what they can say or do. Generally, they're not allowed to "annoy, abuse or harass you," according to the CFPB. Here are a few examples of what they're prohibited from saying or doing:
- Debt collectors can't harass you or anyone else over the phone or through any other type of contact, such as text or email.
- Debt collectors can't hurl profane or obscene language at you, whether it's on a phone call or voicemail message.
- Debt collectors can't accuse you of committing a crime and can't threaten to have you arrested over an unpaid debt.
- Debt collectors can't publish publicly available posts on social media about a debt that they claim they're owed.
- Debt collectors can't contact you by private message on social media if you ask that they not contact you that way.
- Debt collectors must give you a way to opt out of contacting you by email, text or another electronic method.
In addition, debt collectors generally must stop contacting you if they're aware that an attorney is handling your debt case. Instead, they're supposed to reach out to your attorney.
However, this takes effect only if a debt collector knows or can easily find your attorney's name and contact information. If an attorney is representing you and a debt collector contacts you, direct them to your attorney and provide their name and contact information.
How to Get a Debt Collector to Stop Contacting You
Regardless of how they're contacting you, you have the right to tell a debt collector to stop. This request must be made to the debt collector in writing. The CFPB offers sample letters for asking a debt collector to stop contacting you.
Under the CFPB debt collection rules, a debt collector must provide you with certain information when they initially reach out or shortly thereafter. This information, which often is part of a letter known as a validation notice, can help you write your request for the debt collector to halt contact.
The validation notice includes information about the debt and the debt collector, as well as a form with checkboxes you can fill out to dispute the debt or or ask for more information about it. If the debt collector offers a way to submit your letter electronically, you can send it that way rather than by mail.
After a debt collector gets your written request, they're not supposed to communicate with you again except to:
- Inform you that they won't contact you again.
- Tell you that they or a creditor might sue you or take other legally allowed action to collect a debt.
The CFPB notes that any follow-up response from you to the debt collector should be in writing.
How to Deal With Debt in Collections
If you've managed to stop a debt collector from contacting you, this unfortunately doesn't mean your debt will suddenly vanish. You should still deal with any debt that remains in collections. Here are seven steps to take if you owe debt that's in the hands of a debt collector.
1. Don't Avoid the Debt
Perhaps the worst thing you can do is pretend the debt doesn't exist. The debt will still be there, whether you acknowledge it or not. And the longer you allow the debt to linger, the more trouble it might cause. To steer clear of additional harm, it's best to confront the debt head-on.
2. Reach Out to the Creditor
Before your debt is handed over to a debt collection agency, an internal debt collector often is the one contacting you about the money you owe. For instance, this might be an employee in the collection department at a credit card company.
If the in-house debt collector doesn't succeed at getting a payment from you, the creditor might sell your debt to a debt collection agency or another company. In turn, that debt collector might sell your debt to yet another debt collector.
3. Explore Debt Negotiation
No matter who's handling your debt, their No. 1 goal is to get paid. So, you may be able to work out a lump-sum payment with a creditor or debt collection agency to wipe out the debt. Or you might be able to set up a longer-term payment plan.
Either way, you should do some homework before entering debt negotiations. Determine how much of the debt you can reasonably pay off all at once or through a payment plan. A debt collector might agree to take 75% of the $4,000 you owe on a credit card bill or might be willing to set up a 24-month payment payment plan for the $3,500 debt remaining on a personal loan.
4. Figure Out Who Gets the Money
After you've worked out a deal to wipe out the debt, you should verify who's supposed to receive the money.
Is the debt collector the original creditor, such as a lender or a credit card issuer? If so, the money should be paid to the original creditor. What if the debt collector is a debt collection agency? The payments should go directly to the agency, not the original creditor.
5. Look Into Disputing the Debt
People make mistakes, including debt collectors. They might believe you owe a debt that you actually don't owe. Perhaps you owe less than what you're being told. Or maybe you don't owe a penny. If you're in a situation like this, you can take action.
Once you've been contacted about a debt like this, mail a letter to the debt collector explaining the error. Be sure to request proof, such as a credit card statement, of the debt collector's claim that you owe money, such as a copy of a credit card bill. Hang on to a copy of the letter.
On its website, the CFPB provides a sample dispute letter.
So, let's say you and the debt collector aren't able to come to an agreement regarding what to do about the debt. In this case, you might need to enlist help from a third-party arbitrator. This person can examine the evidence, accept comments from both sides and then issue a ruling.
6. Think About Getting Legal Help
At some point, you might need to lean on the professional expertise of an attorney to resolve the issue. This is especially true if the debt collector has filed a lawsuit against you.
When hunting for an attorney, look for someone who's got experience with debt negotiations. If you decide to hire an attorney, they'll take over all communication with the debt collector. You won't need to be directly involved in any negotiations.
7. Inquire About Credit Counseling
If your debt dilemma is making your head spin, you might want to tap into the resources of a nonprofit credit counseling agency. A credit counselor can work out a debt payoff plan and create a household budget for you. Act quickly, though, before your debt winds up being the subject of a lawsuit against you.
The Bottom Line
It can be frustrating and scary to be contacted by a debt collector. But keep in mind that federal laws are on your side. You have the right to ask a debt collector to stop contacting you. Putting a halt to communication from a debt collector may help you think more clearly about coming up with solutions to erase the debt and get your finances back on track. To help verify the amount of debt you owe, check your Experian credit report for free.