This article provides general information about creditor harassment and dealing with debt collectors. If you have questions about your situation, you should talk to a lawyer.
I'm getting phone calls from someone who says I owe money. Are they allowed to call me?
If you owe money to a person or business, they are called a "creditor." A creditor can hire someone to collect the money you owe. This person is called a "debt collector."
Do I have to talk to the debt collector when he calls?
No. You can hang up the phone if you don’t want to talk to a debt collector. If the debt collector calls back, you may keep hanging up.
Is the debt collector allowed to swear or make threats when he calls me?
No, debt collectors are not allowed to use bad language or make threats to you. They are also not allowed to call you constantly or call you early in the morning or the middle of the night.
What can I do to stop a debt collector from contacting me?
You may stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a letter to him telling him to stop. Once the debt collector gets your letter, he can’t contact you again, except to say there will be no further contact or that he intends to take certain action. It is important that you go to the post office and send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested. Save the certified mail receipt and the green return receipt to prove that the debt collector received your letter.
I don't owe the money the debt collector is trying to get me to pay. What can I do?
If you don't owe the amount that the debt collector says you do, you should send the collector a letter within 30 days of the first time you were contacted. Your letter should say that you don't owe the money. It is important that you go to the post office and send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested. Save the certified mail receipt and the green return receipt to prove that the debt collector received your letter. However, if the debt collector sends you proof of the debt, such as a copy of a bill, he may contact you again.
The debt collector keeps calling me even though I asked him to stop. What should I do?
If you have asked the debt collector to stop calling you and he keeps calling, it is very important for you to start writing down the date and time of every call you get. Keep all of your notes in one place. A debt collector who calls you when he is not allowed to is violating the law every time he calls. You may be able to get your debt reduced or even cancelled if the debt collector keeps violating the law.
I think the debt collector violated the law. Should I call a lawyer?
If you think the debt collector is violating the law, you should talk to a lawyer. You may be able to get some or all of your debt cancelled, and the lawyer should not charge you for representing you.
I have a lawyer who is handling my case, but the debt collector keeps calling me. What should I do?
If you have a lawyer and the debt collector is still calling you, you should say “please direct all further questions and communications regarding this debt to my attorney," and give them your attorney's name and phone number. Don't answer any other questions the debt collector asks you. It is also important that you write down the day and time of every call the debt collector makes to you after you tell him about your lawyer.
Is any of my property or income protected from debt collectors?
Some of your income and property cannot be taken to pay your consumer debt. They are:
- Social Security,
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI),
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF),
- All pensions: private, federal and civil service, once deposited into your bank account or cashed,
- Labor & Industries disability payments, and
- Unemployment Compensation.
Some of your wages are also exempt. For more information about protecting wages, read this article.
Also, certain property cannot be taken to collect a debt:
- $125,000 equity in your home,
- Your car, if it is of limited value, and
- Your personal belongings, up to a certain amount.
For more information about protecting your personal property, read this article.