- The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) requires debt collectors to stop calling if you write a cease-and-desist letter.
- You can control how and when debt collectors contact you at work, on your cell phone, and by email, voice mail, text, and social media.
- You can file a complaint if debt collectors do not stop calling when you tell them to.
If a creditor turns over or sells your debt to a collection agency, debt collection calls can come thick and fast. However, debt collectors cannot legally contact you any time they want. By sending a cease-and-desist letter, you can control how and when you receive contact from debt collectors.
What Is a Cease-and-Desist Letter?
Debt collectors may choose to contact you via many methods. They may send letters via the U.S. Postal Service, they might call you at home, work, or on your cell phone, or they can even use electronic methods like email and social media.
Fortunately, there are limitations to how and when a debt collector can talk to you. For example, per the latest updates to the Federal Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), they cannot call you more than seven times in a seven-day period. They also can't call before 8 a.m. or after 9p p.m., nor can they publicly communicate with you on social media (only via private messages on these platforms). Most importantly, they can't harass or threaten you either.
The FDCPA also allows you to control how debt collectors communicate with you and via which methods. So if you’re looking to get debt collectors to stop calling work, for example, or you simply want them to stop all communication entirely, you have options.
The best method is to send the collector a cease-and-desist letter. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has several examples of these letters, which you can use as guidance. You will need the debt collector’s name and address, the debt it says you owe (plus any added fees or interest you’re being charged), your account number, and when and how the debt accrued. You may also want to include the details of your last encounter with the collector (when they contacted you and by what method).
Here’s an example of what one of these cease-and-desist letters might look like:
From: Sarah Smith
123 First St.
February 2, 2022
To: Debt Collector ABC
456 Second St.
Re: Acct: 0987654
Dear Debt Collector ABC,
I am responding to you regarding a debt you are attempting to collect. You contacted me via phone on January 1, 2022 at 2 p.m. and identified the debt as $12,123 for Credit Card Company XYZ, reportedly originated in 2019.
Per my rights under the Federal Debt Collection Practices Act, I am requesting you stop all communication with me and with this address about this debt.
Thank you for your cooperation.
An important note here: Always send cease-and-desist letters by Certified Mail. This ensures you’re notified once the letter has been received.
When Does the FDCPA Not Apply?
If you want to get debt collectors to stop calling or contacting you, understanding what type of company is contacting you is a critical first step.
There are typically three types of companies who contact you about debts: The original creditor, a debt collector, and a debt buyer. Creditors — or the company that your debt originated with — are not subject to the FDCPA’s rules and can (within reason) collect on your overdue balance as they wish. Examples of creditors include credit card companies, lenders, and car dealerships.
Debt collectors are a little different. These are third parties hired by the original creditor to collect the debt on their behalf. They are not the company where your debt started, and their main line of business is securing the repayment of overdue debts. As such, they are subject to the FDCPA and must follow its rules when communicating with consumers. They also must cease communication if you request it.
Debt buyers, the third possible source of collection calls, are companies that purchase debts from original creditors. Once they purchase a debt, they own it and can then collect or negotiate on the balance as they see fit. Generally speaking, debt buyers are considered creditors and do not have to adhere to the FDCPA or cease-and-desist letters sent by consumers. The one exception would be if the debt buyer’s main line of business is debt collection (then it’s considered a debt collector, and the FDCPA applies.)
It’s important to note that just because creditors and most debt buyers are not subject to FDCPA, that doesn’t mean they can harass or threaten you. Additionally, there may be state laws regarding these entities or their telemarketing practices. These could uphold a cease-and-desist letter or provide other protections for consumers.
What if a Debt Collector Doesn’t Stop Calling?
You can also report the collector's activities to your state attorney general's office. If enough consumers have reported the collector's actions, the state may choose to investigate the company or possibly even pursue legal action against it.
Another option is to take legal action yourself and sue the debt collector for violations of the FDCPA. If you win, you may be able to collect all kinds of damages, including damages for physical and emotional distress, lost wages, and statutory damages.
You can sue creditors either in state court or in small claims court. In state court, you will need an attorney and can expect the process to take significant time and money (though your costs may be covered if you win the lawsuit). Suing in small claims court can speed up your case, but there are limitations to how much you can win.
If you think you may want to sue a debt collector for violating the FDCPA, you should consult an attorney before taking action. They can advise you on the best path forward, given your exact scenario.
Other ways to stop collection calls
If you’re being called or contacted by a creditor or debt buyer who is not subject to the FDCPA, a cease-and-desist letter won’t work, but you do still have options.
Here are just a few of the strategies you can pursue:
Work with the creditor or debt buyer to settle your debt.
This doesn’t necessarily mean paying your debt off in full. Sometimes, companies are willing to accept a lower payment in order to close out the account and be done with it. This is most common with debt buyers (they purchase debts for pennies on the dollar), though original creditors may be willing to negotiate a settlement in some cases, especially if the debt is particularly old.
If you’re not comfortable trying to negotiate a settlement, you might consider working with a debt relief company or credit counselor. These professionals can reach out to creditors on your behalf.
Enroll in a debt management plan (DMP)
Debt management plans are also an option. A DMP allows you to make one single monthly payment, which is then used to pay off your debts over a set period of time. Often, DMPs include settlements, so they can also help you get out of debt for less. They usually stop collections attempts too.
Consult an attorney
An attorney can advise you on any legal options you may have for stopping the collections attempts. They can also break down any laws that creditors have to adhere to you in your state, and they can even communicate with creditors and write letters on your behalf.
Your best bet is an attorney focusing on financial law or business. Make sure to choose one licensed in your exact state as well.
File for bankruptcy
Filing for bankruptcy is always a last resort, but it will discharge most of your debts and, therefore, stop collections attempts too.
Just remember: Bankruptcy comes with several long-term consequences. Your credit score will drop considerably, and the bankruptcy will become public record. It will also remain on your credit report for up to 10 years, which could impact your ability to get a loan, buy a house, take out a credit card, and more. Some employers and landlords look at credit reports as a part of their evaluations, so it could have other repercussions too.
Consolidating your debts may also be able to help. With debt consolidation, you use a loan to pay off your credit cards and other debts, which essentially rolls all your debts into a single one. This makes it easier to repay (there’s just one monthly payment) and, in some cases, could also mean a lower interest rate.
Keep in mind that this may not be an option if your credit score is particularly low. If this is the case, you may not qualify for a loan or, if you do, the loan may come with a very high interest rate.
Talk to a debt relief company
When in doubt, talk to a debt relief professional about your debt issues. They can help you come up with a plan to tackle your debts, minimize your costs, and avoid any further hits to your credit and finances. They can also provide credit counseling and other services that help you in the long run.
Did you know?
If you are struggling with debt, you are not alone. According to the NY Federal Reserve total household debt as of Quarter Q2 2022 was $16.15 trillion. Student loan debt was $1.59 trillion and credit card debt was $0.89 trillion.
According to data gathered by Urban.org from a sample of credit reports, about 26% of people in the US have some kind of debt in collections. The median debt in collections is $1,739. Student loans and auto loans are common types of debt. Of people holding student debt, approximately 8% had student loans in collections. The national Auto/Retail debt delinquency rate was 4%.
The amount of debt and debt in collections vary by state. For example, in Tennessee, 32% have any kind of debt in collections and the median debt in collections is $1892. Medical debt is common and 18% have that in collections. The median medical debt in collections is $888.
While many households can comfortably pay off their debt, it is clear that many people are struggling with debt. Make sure that you analyze your situation and find the best debt payoff solutions to match your situation.