Debt Collectors: What They Can and Can’t Do


Debt Collectors: What They Can and Can’t Do

When it comes to third-party debt collectors, there seems to be a lot of confusion floating around. Some people panic and don’t know what to expect and what to do, but it’s important to know that thanks to the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act, those who owe money are protected from certain practices. 

If you’ve been contacted or suspect that you’re going to be contacted soon, here are 10 things to look out for in terms of what’s acceptable behavior in terms of the law and what isn’t. 

5 Things Debt Collectors Can’t Do

1. Harass You

A lot of people cite harassment when debt collectors are after them, but some distinctions have to be made. After all, what you count as harassment might not be seen as such by law. 

It’s illegal for them to call you repeatedly, publish any information about you, use obscene or abusive language. They also can’t use threats of violence, so if any of these things happen to you (and we’re sorry to hear that!), calmly let them know that you’re well aware of the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act and inform them that what they are doing is illegal. That should get them off your back for a time. 

2. Arrest You for Debt

Young man handcuffed, closeup.
Photo by Olena Yakobchuk –

Debt collectors do not have the power to arrest you even if they claim they can. The most they can do it pursue an arrest warrant, but in order to get to that point, a lot of steps have to be taken. 

If you’re being sued and don’t show up to court, you’ll most likely lose by default, meaning that you’ll get court-ordered to pay up. If you still refuse to pay, that’s when you might be surprised with an arrest warrant. 

Our best advice is to not let it get to that point. Losing in court by default will only net you more headaches. Gather all your documentation if you don’t have any legal help and ask the judge for more time, then take it from there. Every case is different, so we can’t say for certain what steps you should follow, but we can remind you not to let it go too far.

3. Call You Whenever They Want

Calling you before 8AM and after 9PM is also illegal. We’ve heard of plenty of people who get phoned at the strangest hours, sometimes multiple times a day. 

Debt collectors will also be forced to stop contacting you over the phone or in writing if you request this, but just because they’ve stopped doesn’t mean you can avoid paying your debt. That obligation stays with you. 

4. Come to Your Workplace

Gossiping at work, sad businesswoman.
Photo by lightwavemedia –

More specifically, they can’t publicize whether you’re in debt or not to your colleagues or employees. That’s why they can’t come to your workplace to collect, so you might get some respite while you’re clocked in.

That doesn’t mean they can’t call you at work, but the same principles apply. If someone else answers the phone, they can’t introduce themselves as debt collectors and ask for you. You’ll be well within your right to ask them not to contact you at your job, though, and once more the law will be on your side.

5. Pursue You for Debt You Don’t Owe

While it’s illegal for them to pursue you for debt you don’t owe, it doesn’t mean it can’t happen. The issue stems from incomplete and inaccurate information and the best way to avoid trouble down the line is to gather all relevant documents and proof you’re in the clear. A good first step is also checking your credit report.  

5 Things Debt Collectors Can Do

1. Pressure You

Final notice bills to pay.
Photo by Pixsooz –

Putting pressure on you will be a given to the majority of debt collectors. Careful, this is not the same as harassing. They can still call, send you letters or inform you of legal actions they’ll attempt to take. As mentioned earlier, the line will be drawn when they use strong language or if they try to threaten you. 

It’s good to keep in mind that they also can’t mislead you, so while listening to what they have to say might be annoying, you should pay attention. 

2. Seek Payment on an Expired Debt

Unsecured debts have a statute of limitations. That includes credit cards or medical bills. That means you can’t be sued over them, but that won’t take the pressure of paying off your shoulders. As such, debt collectors will still seek payments and they’re well within their right to do so. 

3. Sell Your Debt

Selling debts is a well-used practice among debt collectors. If they’re unable to collect they could pass your case on to someone else. This is also the case for partial payments. 

If you haven’t taken any steps to resolve your debt but the collectors haven’t contacted you in a while, this could be the reason behind their sudden silence. Another one might pop up at any minute. 

As mentioned earlier, information passed along might not always be up to date or accurate. So if you finish making a payment make sure to get it in writing. If a new debt collector contacts you, show them proof! 

4. Sue You for Payment on a Debt

Getting sued over money.
Photo by simon jhuan –

Want to avoid wage garnishment or bank levies (even both at the same time, in some cases?). The best thing you can do is avoid getting sued. Because debt collectors can do this, and that’s how most cases get resolved. This is also, typically, a last resort.

Careful, now showing up to court means you’ll lose by default!

5. Negotiate Your Debt

Debt collectors aren’t all bad, though. If you truly owe money and are unable to pay, negotiating with a debt collector might save you in the long run. Since they have big profit margins, it’s not unheard of for some to accept 30% or even as low as 25% of what you originally owed. 

As always, getting this in writing is an important step, so don’t forget to do so with the newly agreed-upon sum. 

We hope this article helped clear some air about debt collectors. Have you ever experienced some of the items on the list and if so, how did you handle them?


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