Your Rights When You’re In Debt

| Updated on July 7, 2023

It’s easy to feel ill at ease when you’re in debt. After all, we’re taught — and rightfully so — obligations are to be taken seriously, and we should only give our word when we know we can keep it. Still, though, unforeseen circumstances can arise, creating situations in which we can’t pay our debts. 

With that said, finding yourself in that situation does not mean others have the right to treat you disrespectfully or harangue you endlessly in an effort to coerce you into giving what you don’t have. 

Let’s take a look at your rights when you’re in debt.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

Also known as the FDCPA, the regulations it contains, make it illegal for debt collectors to address you in an abusive manner. It also prohibits them from using unfair and/or deceptive practices in an effort to collect debts.  Approved in September of 1977, this Act of Congress goes even further in terms of assuring indebted individuals are treated fairly and respectfully. 

For example, the Act also establishes how a collector can contact you — and when. It outlines the procedure for stopping them from contacting you altogether, and it governs the nature of the conversations they can have with others about your debt. 

Debt Collector Prohibitions

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the entity charged with enforcing the provisions of the FDCPA, debt collectors are not allowed to:

  • Threaten you with violence or harm
  • Tell others about your debt
  • Use mailings that indicate you owe a debt on the envelope
  • Post information about your debt in newspapers or in public forums on the internet — including social media.
  • Force you to accept collect calls or telegrams
  • Threaten your Social Security, disability, pension, child support, alimony or other types of payments.
  • Use obscene or profane language in conversation with you
  • Phone repeatedly to annoy you
  • Misrepresent the balance owed
  • Lie about their status as attorneys or government representatives
  • Claim you’ll be arrested, or legal action will be taken against you — if it’s not true.
  • Deposit a post-dated check before you authorize them to do so
  • Confiscate your property, or threaten to do so, unless it can be done legally 

Thus, Your Rights Include

You can request them not to call you at all, or designate times at which calls can be received conveniently. You can insist they verify the debt and you have the right to dispute debts you do not owe. You can prohibit collectors from calling you at work. Moreover, they are not allowed to discuss your debt with your employer, nor any other person who isn’t a signatory party to the debt itself. 

While they can call people listed as references on your credit application, they can only ask for help getting in touch with you. They are not permitted to go into any detail about the nature of the obligation whatsoever. 

You cannot be compelled to pay more than you owe and you can choose which debts to pay and how to settle them — whether by paying outright, through some form of debt relief, or by filing for bankruptcy protection.  You can also avoid paying expired debt and most of all; you have the right to sue collectors who violate any of your rights as listed under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Knowing your rights when you’re in debt enables you to approach the problem on solid footing. While you might feel as if you’re at a disadvantage when communicating with debt collectors, there is indeed a solid set of regulations by which they must abide.

Joseph Williams


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