What Debt Collectors Can Do Legally and What They Can’t

If you, like many Americans, have past due debts, your creditors may try to collect the money you owe on their own or hand the debt over to a debt collector or debt collection agency. While instances of collector harassment continue to take place even now, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) clearly states what a debt collector can and cannot do. If you’ve been at the receiving end of collections harassment, knowing your rights is ideal. You may even benefit by seeking advice from an attorney who specializes in this realm.

Bear in mind that the FDCPA governs various forms of consumer debt such as credit card debt, personal loans, auto loans, student loans, medical bills, and mortgages. However, it does not cover business debts.

What Debt Collectors Cannot Do

The FDCPA lays down clear guidelines surrounding what may constitute collections harassment. According to the law, here’s what debt collectors cannot do.

  • They cannot call you before 8:00 am and after 9:00, local time.
  • They cannot use profane, obscene, or abusive language.
  • They cannot contact you at your place of work if you’re not okay with their calls.
  • They cannot intimidate or threaten you in any manner.
  • They cannot misrepresent how much money you owe.
  • They cannot disclose details about your debt to anyone other than your spouse (or attorney).
  • They cannot submit inaccurate or false information to credit bureaus.
  • They cannot persist in calling you if you’ve asked them not to contact you over the phone.


What Debt Collectors Can Do

Given that the main aim of debt collectors is to collect the money you owe, they may follow various measures to recover what’s due. Here’s what the law says debt collectors can do.

  • They may proceed with collection activity on expired debts (ones that have the crossed statute of limitations).
  • They may sell your debt to other debt collectors or debt collection agencies.
  • They may pressurize you to pay what’s due by calling you frequently, sending letters, and talking about taking legal recourse.
  • They may negotiate settlements, allowing you to pay less than what you actually owe.
  • They may sue you in court to collect what you owe, which may lead to wage garnishment.

How Often Can a Debt Collector Call?

When it comes to how often debt collectors can call you, the FDCPA restricts them from calling repeatedly with the intention of abusing, oppressing, or harassing you. One may presume that debt collectors are in violation of the law if they call about the same debt over seven times in a seven-day period. If they’ve managed to discuss a debt with you, they cannot call you back within the following seven days.

Calls at Your Workplace

Debt collectors may call your workplace to ask for your phone number and address. However, they cannot disclose any debt-related information to others. If you ask debt collectors to stop calling you at work, they need to comply with immediate effect. While you don’t legally need to request this in writing, doing so helps in the event your case goes to court. If a debt collector continues calling your workplace despite being asked not to, you might be able to claim statutory damages.


The law is fairly clear regarding what a debt collector can and cannot do to recover unpaid debts. For instance, while debt collectors are within their rights to seek payments from erring borrowers, they cannot use threatening or abusive language. They also cannot call you at any time of the day or night. If you think you’re a victim of collections harassment, you have the right to pursue the matter legally. If you plan to move forward, getting in touch with an attorney who deals with collections harassment cases might be in your best interest.



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