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Fair Debt Collection Practices Act: Understanding Your Rights

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Falling behind on debt payments can be stressful, and the last thing anyone wants is a barrage of calls or letters from a debt collector threatening repercussions if you don’t pay up now. While companies do have the right to ask consumers to pay their bills, there are government rules in place to keep debt collectors from unduly harassing you.

Calls from unscrupulous debt collectors can be frightening and unsettling. Before engaging with anyone who contacts you claiming that you owe money, it’s important to know your rights. Often, debt collectors may be lying or breaking federal law.

What is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a federal law that was passed in 1978, provides guidelines on the actions that debt collectors can take when they try to get consumers to make payments on their debts. It prohibits abusive, deceptive or unfair practices and puts limits on when and how third-party debt collectors can contact people who owe money.

The FDCPA covers the collection of credit card, mortgage and medical debt, as well as debts from household, personal or family purposes, including student loans and auto loans. The FDCPA does not cover business debt or debts for agricultural purposes.

In-house collection versus third-party collection

One important aspect of the FDCPA is that it only applies to third-party collections. That means that the company where the debt originated, such as a bank or credit card company, does not have to abide by FDCPA rules when collecting debt.

But original creditors typically don’t collect their own debt or sue people who owe them money because it would make them look bad, said Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates. Instead, these companies hire someone else — a third-party collection agency — to do it for them.

“It’s reputational,” Rheingold said. “If you are a credit card company, do you really want your name on all these lawsuits?”

If a debt collector contacts you, they likely are working for a third party such as a debt buyer or a debt collection agency. Some of these companies buy past-due debts, often at pennies on the dollar, and then use abusive means to try to collect the debt.

5 illegal debt collector practices

What debt collectors CAN do

What debt collectors CAN’T do

Call, email or send letters and texts

Harass you or anyone else with obscene language, lies or threats of violence

Contact you and your spouse

Contact you at work or call your employer

Contact other people once to get your address, home phone number and employer name

Claim to be attorneys, federal officials or government agents

Threaten to take your property if the process would be legal

Threaten consumers with postdated checks

Call you during the day at a convenient time

Contact you at an inconvenient time or between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m.

The bottom line is that third-party collectors are allowed to contact you within the FDCPA’s guidelines if you owe money. But if their behavior breaks the law, which includes threatening to call your grandma or your neighbor about your debts, you have recourse.

How to stop debt collector calls and letters

If you get a call from a debt collector, do not engage with them. That means do not give them personal or financial information, no matter how forcefully they ask. Instead, here’s how to handle unwanted calls and letters.

1. Be brief

It’s important to make calls short, but make sure you get some important information before you hang up. Tell the debt collector you want verification of your debt in writing. “Say to them, ‘I don’t believe I owe this debt. What proof do you have?’” Rheingold said. By law, the debt collector is required to tell you:

  • The creditor’s name
  • The amount you owe
  • That you can dispute the debt
  • That you can ask for the original creditor’s name and address

The debt collector is required to send you the information within five days of the initial contact.

While it can be tempting to try to negotiate over the phone with a debt collector, Rheingold recommended proceeding with caution, and don’t fall for a debt collector’s argument that you have a moral obligation to pay your debt.

Often, debt collectors pile exorbitant fees on top of the amount you owe. “Be very careful,” Rheingold said. “Oftentimes, it’s just throwing good money after bad.”

2. Get their information

Ask the caller for their company’s name and mailing address. If you receive a letter, save the return address.

3. Send a letter

Send the debt collector a letter by certified mail telling them to stop contacting you, and keep a copy for your records. This letter will trigger FDCPA rules that require the debt collector to leave you alone.

Keep in mind, however, that a letter will not magically banish a third-party debt collector. They are still legally allowed to contact you to confirm there will be no further contact or to notify you of any actions it can legally take, including a lawsuit or reporting negative information to a credit reporting company.

— Get more information on how to handle debt collection calls here

What to do if a debt collector does something illegal

If a collector contacts you, they could be breaking the law as they try to get you to repay debts. Rheingold said one common fraud is debt collection companies buying past-due debt for extremely low prices at “debt auctions” and then trying to collect it. Often, the debt collection company only has a little information about the debtor and no information about the actual debt. If you don’t pay, however, they may try to take you to court.

“They use our court system to collect debts when the debt is not provable,” Rheingold said. “They don’t have the original contract or accounting of how much money is owed. They will say you owe money, and if you don’t pay it, they sometimes will sue you.” If you don’t show up in court, the debt collector may get an easy win.

If you think a debt collector is doing something illegal, here are some options:

  1. Call your state attorney general’s office. Many states have additional laws about debt collection practices that may apply to original creditors and fraudulent lawsuits, and the office can give you details about your state’s laws.
  2. File a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) online or by calling 855-411-2372.
  3. Talk to an attorney who specializes in debt collection. Attorneys can investigate whether a debt collector is breaking state or federal law and whether the claim is valid, defend you in court against a fraudulent lawsuit and respond to legal summons for you. You can get representation through a nonprofit legal aid clinic (where legal services are free), pro bono clinics at courthouses or private attorneys.

Debt collection: FAQs

Personal debts typically are considered delinquent after you miss the first payment, and if you don’t make any payments for six months or respond to the original lender’s collection efforts, the lender may turn the debt over to a third-party debt collection company.

At this point, you may start receiving letters, emails and phone calls to get you to make payments on the debt. Third-party debt collectors typically will try these tactics for about 90 days, and then they may sue you or sell your debt to another collection company.

Yes. The law requires a debt collector to send you a “validation notice” within five days of making contact with you. The notice must include the name of the creditor you owe money, how much money you owe and information about steps you can take if you don’t think the debt is yours.

First, never agree that the debt is yours. The FDCPA requires debt collectors to provide validation, such as a copy of a bill showing how much you owe on the debt, when you ask.

After you get the debt collector’s mailing address, send the company a letter within 30 days stating that you don’t owe the money and asking for verification of the debt. The debt collector also is required to stop contacting you if you ask in writing.

It’s likely that the debt collector has the incorrect amount for your debt or has tacked on high fees — Rheingold said you may owe $500, but a third-party debt collector may inflate that number to $2,500 with fees. Both of these practices are illegal. Third-party debt collectors cannot misrepresent the amount you owe or collect fees or interest above what’s stated in your original contract.

After sending a letter requesting that the debt collector verify the loan amount, file a complaint with the CFBP. If the debt collector sues you, seek legal assistance and respond to all court summons.

There’s a possibility that a third-party debt collector will sue you if you don’t agree to make payments on your debt, regardless of whether you actually owe the money. If you do receive a court summons, do not ignore it, Rheingold said. Be sure to show up on your appointed date, with an attorney if you can, to make sure that the court doesn’t rubber-stamp a judgment against you.

If a debt collector is contacting you about more than one debt and you do want to make payments, you can dictate where the payment goes. It’s illegal for a third-party debt collector to apply your payment to a debt that you have said you don’t owe.

You also may want to consider a serious assessment of your financial situation, Rheingold said. “You need to have a real understanding of what you can afford and what you can’t,” he said. “Maybe that’s the time to sit down with a financial counselor.”

You’ll also want to figure out which debts to prioritize. If you need your car for work, for example, you’ll want to pay your auto loan.

Any payments you can make need to be substantial, Rheingold said. “Paying a little money here and a little there isn’t going to do you any good,” he said. Making minimum payments while accumulating more debt will not lead to financial health, and, in extreme situations, consumers may want to look at bankruptcy options.

It depends. Debt collectors can have money taken from your paycheck and your bank account with a court order. But the debt collector first must sue you. That’s why it’s vital that you respond to any legal notices from debt collectors, preferable with legal counsel.

Federal benefits such as Social Security typically cannot be garnished for repayment of debts.

A statute of limitations, which begins when you miss your first debt payment, limits the window of time that debt collectors have to sue you and win payment. When that time frame passes, an unpaid debt is considered “time-barred.”

The length of the statute of limitations is determined by the type of debt and the laws in the state where your contract originated. Be careful: If you make a payment or acknowledge your debt in writing during the statute of limitations, the time will reset.

Conclusion

While debt collectors may be annoying or bordering on abusive, at times they are trying to collect a legitimate debt. In most cases, you can legally make debt collectors leave you alone, but your inability to pay outstanding debt remains.

“If you owe the debt, you can’t get blood from a rock,” Rheingold said. “But you can still say, ‘I don’t want you to call me anymore.’”

When you get the debt collectors off your back, take a hard look at your options. Making minimum payments typically isn’t enough to reduce debt, and it could prove difficult to rein in spending while you make debt payments.

Rheingold said nonprofit credit counselors will provide free guidance for people struggling to get out of debt, including information about bankruptcy. “Sometimes you’re better off getting a fresh start so that you can renew your credit (history),” he said. “If you find yourself in that position, think about how you got there and maybe seek help.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Marty Minchin
Marty Minchin |

Marty Minchin is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Marty here

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The Fastest Way to Pay Off $10,000 in Credit Card Debt

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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Before you read on, click here to download our FREE guide to become debt free forever!

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Updated – January 10, 2019

Digging out of credit card debt can feel frustrating, intimidating and ultimately impossible. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be any of those things if you learn how to take control.

Paying down debt is not only about finding the right financial tools, but also the right psychological ones. You need to understand why you racked up credit card debt in the first place. Perhaps it was a medical emergency or a home repair that needed to be taken care of immediately. Maybe you’d already drained your emergency fund on one piece of bad luck when misfortune struck again. Or maybe you’re struggling with a compulsive shopping problem, so paying down debt will likely result in you accumulating more until the addiction is addressed.

You also need to understand what motivates you to succeed. Do you want to pay down your credit card debt in the absolute fastest amount of time possible that will save more money or do you want to take some little wins along the way to keep yourself motivated?

Here’s a couple strategies consider as you learn the best way to handle credit card debt — and pay it off quickly.

2 common credit card debt repayment strategies

These repayment strategies can help you pay off credit card debt quickly. Keep in mind, you can use these strategies even for non-credit-card debt:

  • Debt avalanche: Focus on paying off the credit card with the highest interest rate first. Then, work your way down. This strategy can save you money on interest and get you out of debt sooner.
  • Debt snowball: Pay off your smallest debts first. Doing so can motivate you to continue making payments as you climb out of debt.

You don’t necessarily need to pick the repayment strategy that gets you out of debt the fastest. After all, if your repayment strategy doesn’t keep you motivated, you may not stick to it.

Using a personal loan or balance transfer credit card

As you seek to repay your debt, you could consider a personal loan or balance transfer credit card with a lower interest rate than on your existing debt. Transferring your debt to one of these financial products could help you reduce long-term interest costs.

But you’ll first need to learn whether or not you’re eligible. Your credit score will play a big role in determining your eligibility for a personal loan or balance transfer card. Use our widget below to figure out if a personal loan or a balance transfer is the best option for you!

What’s the best option for me?

Please enter information below and we’ll provide the best option to consolidate your credit card debt!

If you have a credit score above 640, you have a good chance of qualifying for a personal loan at a much lower interest rate than your credit card debt. With new internet-only personal loan companies, you can shop for loans without hurting your score. In just a few minutes, with a simple online form, you can get matched with multiple lenders. People with excellent credit can see APRs below 10%. But even if your credit isn’t perfect, you might be able to find a good loan to fit your needs.

Not sure what your credit score is? Click here to learn how and where to find out. If you know your credit score needs some work but not sure of what can be done, click here.

If you have a score above 700, you could also qualify for 0% balance transfer offers. We will talk more about balance transfers below but this option is the best way to pay off credit card debt if you’re able to qualify for a 0% APR balance transfer credit card.

A credit score of less than 600 will make it difficult for you to qualify for either option. If you have a credit score less than 640, struggling to make monthly debt payments and would like to explore your options to reduce your debt by up to 50%, then please click our option below to customize a personal debt relief plan.

Custom Debt Relief Plan

Now let’s talk about the financial tools to add to your debt repayment strategy in order to dig out of the hole.

Let’s say you have $10,000 in credit card debt, and are stuck paying 18% interest on it.

You already know that putting as much spare cash as you can toward paying down your debt is the most important thing to do. But once you’ve done that, so what’s next?

Use your good credit to make banks compete and cut your rates

You could save $1,800 a year in interest and lower your monthly payments based on several of the rates available today. That means you could pay it off almost 20% faster.

Here’s how it works.

Option One: Use a Balance Transfer (or Multiple Balance Transfers)


If you trust yourself to open a new credit card but not spend on it, consider a balance transfer. You may be able to cut your rate with a long 0% intro APR. You need to have a good credit score, and you might not get approved for the full amount that you want to transfer.

Your own bank might not give you a lower rate (or only drop it by a few percent), but there are lots of competing banks that may want to steal the business and give you a better rate.

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MagnifyMoney regularly surveys the market to find the best balance transfer credit cards. If you would like to see what other options exist, beyond Chase and Discover, you can start there.

promo-balancetransfer-halfIt also has tips to make sure you do a balance transfer safely. If you follow them you’ll save thousands on your debt by remaining disciplined.

You might be scared of a balance transfer, but there is no faster way to cut your interest payments than taking advantage of the best 0% or low interest deals banks are offering.

Thanks to recent laws, balance transfers aren’t as sneaky as they used to be, and friendlier for helping you cut your debt.

Sometimes the first bank you deal with won’t give you a big enough credit line to handle all your credit card debt. Maybe you’ll get a $5,000 credit line for a 0% deal, but have $10,000 in debt. That’s okay. In that case, apply for the next best balance transfer deal you see. MagnifyMoney’s list of deals makes it easy to sort them.

Banks are okay with you shopping around for more than one deal.

Option Two: Personal Loan

If you never want to see another credit card again, you should consider a personal loan. You can get prequalified at multiple lenders without hurting your credit score, and find the best deal to pay off your debt faster.

Personal loan interest rates are often about 10-20%, but can sometimes be as low as 5-6% if you have very good credit.

Moving from 18% interest on a credit card to 10% on a personal loan is a good deal for you. You’ll also get one set monthly payment, and pay off the whole thing in 3 to 5 years.

Sometimes this may mean a higher monthly payment than you’re used to, but you’re better off putting your cash toward a higher payment with a lower rate.

And you’ll get out of debt months or years faster by leaving more money to pay down the debt itself. If you want to shop for a personal loan, we recommend starting at LendingTree. With a single online form, dozens of lenders will compete for your business. Only a soft credit pull is completed, so your credit score will not be harmed. People with excellent scores can see low APRs (sometimes below 6%). And people with less than perfect scores still have a good chance of finding a lender to approve them.

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If you don’t want to shop at LendingTree, you can see our list of the best personal loans here.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Brian Karimzad
Brian Karimzad |

Brian Karimzad is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brian at brian@magnifymoney.com

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How to Manage Debt as a Single Parent in 2019

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

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When student loan deferment ended for Samantha Gregory, a single mom and founder of site Rich Single Momma, she had one reaction to her payments: sticker shock. “The amount they were asking for was so astronomical, it was bananas,” she said.

As a single mom in debt, these high payments were added to the already steep financial demands of covering household expenses and supporting her children, including one with special needs — all on one income.

Adding debt to the significant challenges of single parenting “puts a strain on not just your finances, but your emotions, your mental health,” she said. “It’s like, ‘I have this burden over my head so how am I going to take care of it and take care of my family?’”

It’s a question any single parent in debt may find themselves asking. There’s no one right answer, but the good news is that there are smart steps a single mom or dad can use to tackle debt. Here are some tested and certified strategies for how to manage debt as a single parent.

8 strategies for a single parent in debt

1. Keep debt on your radar

A key to managing money as a single parent in debt is to keep an eye on what you owe. Gregory warned against letting debt slip in your money management juggling act. “I know for me in the past, I’ve tried to ignore it and hope it would go away,” she said. “But it doesn’t go away. It’s still there, lingering.”

Keep your debts on your radar, so you’re not losing track of them, falling behind on payments or damaging your credit. If you don’t know what you owe, pull your free credit report and look up each outstanding debt you have and record the balance, interest rate, monthly payment and due date. Start a habit of reviewing these accounts regularly.

2. Work with your lender

Once you know what you owe, see if your lender offers any help or accommodations that can make this debt easier to manage.

You’ll have the most options for dealing with federal student loans, as servicers must provide you with options to forbear or defer payments, or switch to a different repayment plan.

Even for other types of debt, it can’t hurt to ask your lender if they’re willing to work with you. They might be open to giving you an extension on your payment, and some lenders will let you skip a payment now and tack it onto the end of your repayment period instead.

3. Claim benefits and support

Help isn’t always easy to come by as a single parent, so make sure you’re claiming the benefits and child support to which you’re entitled.

Federal assistance programs such as Women, Infants and Children (WIC), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and school lunch programs can ease pressure on your budget while keeping everyone fed, for example. Other programs can assist with fixed monthly costs such as housing, child care or health insurance. Many state and local programs can offer additional help.

Single parents should also consider filing for child support. If you’re already entitled to such payments but the other parent isn’t paying, or you feel it’s not enough, consider pursuing legal steps to get adequate support for your family.

4. Revisit your budget

As a single parent with debt, living within your means is the foundation of your financial security. Review your budget to see if there are areas you’re wasting money on things you don’t need or use, whether it’s a neglected gym membership or a house you’re realizing is roomier than necessary. Consider lifestyle changes and sacrifices — big or small — that you could make to lower your monthly costs.

Look for ways to free up some of the mental space you’re using for your money, too, Gregory suggested. She likes to automate payments, for example, to ensure they’re going out on time with less effort on her part.

5. Sell your extra time and stuff

To the single mom in debt, Gregory suggested looking for ways to generate some extra cash. “I’m a firm believer in side hustles,” she said. “There are so many options out there available to create a side hustle, start a business or just get another part-time job or work-from-home job.”

Then, “look around your house and if you have something valuable you can sell, sell it,” she said. Doing so can bring a fast cash infusion that can help you stay current on debt payments, or even make an extra payment.

It can be a tough and even emotional to sell some belongings, Gregory acknowledged. But, “It’s just things and they’re replaceable, whereas your peace of mind, your family and kids, and your health are not replaceable,” she said.

6. Make extra debt payments

If you can carve out extra savings, that’s money you can use to pay off your debts faster. One method to do so is the debt snowball:

  • Figure out how much more of your monthly income you can afford to devote to making extra debt payments. Include this as a line item in your budget.
  • Put that extra cash toward your debt with the lowest balance, and make the minimum payment on all of your other debts.
  • Watch the balance on your high-priority debt decrease faster.
  • Once your first debt is gone, “roll over” the funds budgeted for your monthly payment and the extra payment and apply them to the next low-balance debt.

Making extra debt payments will lower your principal faster which will, in turn, lower your interest costs. As a result, this strategy could avoid hundreds of dollars in interest and shave months or even years off your debt repayment.

7. Consider debt consolidation

For a single parent, debt consolidation can be another way to get ahead. Consolidating debt makes the most sense when doing so will lower the interest rates you’re paying.

A credit card balance transfer is one way to accomplish this. You can open a credit card with a 0% introductory rate. Then, transfer existing balances to this new credit card (note that this will often incur a balance transfer fee) and you can repay this debt interest-free.

If you have higher debt balances or prefer a fixed repayment plan, a personal loan could be the way to consolidate debt. To do so, you can take out a new personal loan with the rates, term or payments you would prefer and use the loan funds to pay off and replace existing debts. You can compare various lenders with our debt consolidation comparison page to get an idea of the terms and rates for which you could qualify.

8. Tap your community for support

Managing debt as a single parent can be hard on you because, at the end of the day, paying them comes down to you alone. “In the back of your mind, you’re thinking ‘There’s no one who can help me with this,’” Gregory said.

However, you don’t have to go it alone — there are often people who are ready and willing to help as close as your own backyard. So let them! Family and friends can help you out in a variety of ways, from spotting you cash in a tight month to helping with child care. You can also get assistance from your church, community and local nonprofits or programs.

Even if you don’t always find the help you need right away, asking around can start you on the track to getting the recommendation or referral that leads you there. Gregory also suggested online communities, such as local or single-parent Facebook groups, as a way to crowdsource solutions and get connected with helpful resources.

Pass your debt and money lessons on to your kids

Debt can be a big regret for many single parents. “If I had more information when I was going to college, I wouldn’t have taken out so many loans,” Gregory said.

But these ideas for how to manage debt as a single parent can help you push past regret into action. In doing so, you’ll be creating the financial security that your kids need, all while modeling what good money and debt management look like in action.

Gregory, for example, used her experience with student debt to warn her daughter away from borrowing to pay for college. As a result, “She’s really blessed that she doesn’t have to take out student loans, so she won’t be saddled with that big debt when she graduates from college,” she said.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Elyssa Kirkham
Elyssa Kirkham |

Elyssa Kirkham is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Elyssa here

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