If you are past due on your bills, you may already know the frustration and exhaustion that can come with collector harassment. Maybe the same person keeps calling you over and over again. Maybe they are rude and disrespectful to you and your family. (Pro tip: You don’t have to talk to them.)

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) provides protection to consumers by limiting what collection agents can say and do. While that’s good news, collectors don’t always follow the rules. Here is some essential information about boundaries you can (and should) have with collection agents. 

“This is an attempt to collect a debt”

Collectors are expected to do their jobs, which involve contacting debtors and, as they recite in some scripts, “attempt to collect a debt.” You should know that many debt collectors are financially rewarded for getting creditors to pay; some receive bonuses based on how much they collect. Many collection agencies purchase books of debt, at a discount, and aggressively run through those rolls to make as much money as possible.

Legal means of collection are annoying, but they are allowed. If bill collectors are truthful about the debt and the debtor, and they use acceptable methods of communication at permitted times, collectors can call and write those who owe money to their overlords.

What collectors can’t do

There are rules to the collection game. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a U.S. government agency, the FDCPA generally prevents debt collectors from:

  • Not identifying themselves
  • Using foul or abusive language
  • Calling late at night
  • Calling you at work if you don’t want them to
  • Make violent or false threats such as the threat of imprisonment
  • Misrepresent the amount owed
  • Falsely say they are a lawyer
  • Contact you about a debt that’s been discharged or included in a current bankruptcy filing

And that’s just a partial list. If a collector breaks federal rules set forth in the FDCPA, consumers can report them to the CFPB and the Tennessee attorney general. Consumers can also sue collectors who violate the law. Simply knowing your rights can help a lot.

What will a bankruptcy do about the harassment?

A bankruptcy can stop collectors from contacting you. When you file for bankruptcy, an automatic stay disallows creditors from taking further collection action against you.

Bankruptcy protection is powerful, but it’s not appropriate or necessary for everyone who has debt. Be sure to get your legal questions answered if you think Chapter 7, Chapter 13, or another form of bankruptcy could be useful to you.