What to Do About Debt Collectors and Collection Calls

There are rules in place about debt collectors and how they can contact you. Learn how to deal with calls and pay off or consolidate your debt.
A woman with a worried expression talks to a debt collector on the phone
Edited by:
Kristin Marino verified

Owing a debt can feel stressful, especially when you’re behind on your payments.

Once you’re late with even one payment, debt collectors constantly call, making you dread the very sound of your ringtone.

You don’t have to put up with calls at all hours of the day and night. You don’t even need to take calls at all. There are laws designed to protect you from unfair debt collection practices and help you restore your peace.

Debt collection calls and financial worries can affect your mental health. Here’s what you need to know about when debt collectors can contact you, how to get them to stop, and what you can do if you’re struggling with debt.

What Are Debt Collectors Allowed to Do?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was passed to protect consumers from unethical collection practices. While a debt collector can contact you in an effort to collect a debt, there are certain parameters they must follow, or they can face consequences.

Here are a few of the rules debt collectors must follow when contacting you:

  • They must be able to prove that you owe the debt.
  • They can’t call you before 8:00 am or after 9:00 pm.
  • They’re not allowed to contact you at work if they know you can’t receive calls there.
  • They can’t harass you or anyone else in an attempt to collect the debt.
  • If you have an attorney handling the situation, the collector must contact them instead of you.
  • They aren’t allowed to make false threats, such as saying they will issue an arrest warrant if you don’t pay the debt.

Keep track of each call infraction. If you’ve told a debt collector to stop contacting you and give them the name of your attorney, they shouldn’t be contacting you. If you tell them you can’t accept their calls at work, they shouldn’t be calling you during working hours. Good records can help you in a claim against the collector if they repeatedly violate the FDCPA.

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How to Stop Calls If You Owe the Debt

Even if you owe the debt, you can stop the calls for collection. However, it’s important to keep good records and follow certain steps.

First of all, ask, in writing, for proof that the debt is truly yours and the debt collector has a right to ask you to pay. This will require the debt collector to show the paper trail that indicates they have a right to the debt — and that you actually owe the debt.

Once the debt is established as yours, you can still ask the debt collector to stop calling. The key, however, is to conduct as much of the business as possible in writing and keep copies of everything.

If a debt collector calls you, and you don’t want them to continue to do so, let the person on the phone know that you don’t want them to contact you by phone about the debt. Get the address where you should send a formal request. Write your request, and include the following information:

  • The date(s) you were contacted about the debt.
  • The account number of the debt.
  • Your name and address.
  • A request to stop contacting you about the debt, or a request to only contact you in writing about the debt.

Keep a copy and send the letter certified mail so you can track when it’s received. Keep the receipt for your certified mailing with the copy of your request. If you’re referring them to only contact your attorney, include the same information, but also direct them to the name and address of your attorney.

Once you ask the debt collector to stop contacting you about the debt, they can only reach out to you in the following cases:

  1. To let you know that your communication was received and they will stop contacting you about the debt.
  2. To let you know about legal proceedings if they decide to sue you over the debt.

In both of these cases, however, communication will be in writing, rather than by phone.

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What Else Should You Do If You Owe the Debt?

If you owe the debt, even if you get the debt collection calls to stop, you could end up being the subject of legal action if you don’t pay off the debt. Once you have some space, here are some ways you can reduce your debt and get the collection attempts to stop.

Debt consolidation

One way to manage debt and debt collectors, especially if you have several debts, is to use debt consolidation. With debt consolidation, you group all of your debts together, usually by paying them off with one larger personal loan.

Using debt consolidation can be a way to get rid of those collection accounts, potentially save money in interest, and simplify your payments. When you only need to make one payment each month, you’re more likely to keep up with everything. Plus, using a debt consolidation personal loan for bad credit to pay off your collections accounts can also potentially help your credit score improve as the debt is considered properly paid off.

Some of the best debt consolidation loans include:

Pay it off

If the debt is relatively small and can be paid off with personal savings or some other way, you might be able to just take care of it. In some cases, if you can make a lump-sum payment, the debt collector will accept less than you owe. Figure out if you have enough coming from an unexpected windfall or another source to make one payment to pay the full bill or a reduced amount.

Make sure that you get the terms of the agreement in writing if it’s for a reduced amount. That way, they can’t come back and claim you still owe money.

Set up a payment plan

If you just have one debt in collections, you might be able to get on a debt management plan and arrange to make payments. That can be a good way to appease the debt collector while getting rid of your debt. Once again, in some cases, you might be able to negotiate to pay a portion of the debt through payment plans, instead of having to pay the entire debt. Get all the terms in writing and keep good records.

What If You Don’t Owe the Debt?

In some cases, you might end up getting debt collection calls even if you don’t owe the money. This could be due to a mistake, or for some other reason.

You will need to dispute the debt. Let the debt collector know you don’t owe the debt and will dispute the information. You will need documentation showing that you paid off the debt already, or you will need to prove that the debt is fraudulent or that there is some other issue.

Additionally, if the debt collector can’t prove that they have the right to the debt, they must stop trying to collect money from you.

In some cases, the debt collector might be contacting you for information about someone else’s debt. You might be listed as a reference, or you might have been publicly connected to the person who owes the debt. However, there are rules in this case as well:

  • The debt collector can only contact you once and must not keep contacting you after you provide contact information or tell them that you don’t have information on the person they are asking about.
  • If you are the spouse of the person who owes the debt, they can still contact you.
  • If you are the parent or guardian of a minor who owes the debt, they can still contact you.

It’s possible to get them to stop, however, even in the case of a spouse or guardian, by sending a written request for them to stop contacting you about the debt.

In most cases, when you ask in writing for a debt collector to stop calling you, they are required to do so. Keep good records of all interactions, and keep copies of correspondence. That way, if you need to bring a complaint, you’re able to.

From the Experts

AmONE asked two esteemed experts about consumer rights when it comes to fair debt collection practices.

Meet the experts

William T. Chittenden, Ph.D., chief academic officer

Southwestern Graduate School of Banking at SMU Cox School of Business

Neil L. Sobol, professor of law; director of legal analysis, Research & Writing Program

Texas A&M University School of Law

How does the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) protect consumers?

William T. Chittenden: The FDCPA protects consumers by preventing debt collectors from using deceptive practices to collect the debt. For example, calls from debt collectors are restricted to after 8:30 a.m. and before 9:00 p.m. This prevents collectors from calling in the middle of the night. If a consumer notifies a debt collector to not contact them at work, then the debt collector must stop contacting the consumer at their work. The debt collector may not discuss the debt with anyone other than the person(s) signed on the debt. Debt collectors cannot say they are filing suit against a debtor unless they are actually doing so.

Neil L. Sobol: According to congressional reports, the federal FDCPA initially became effective in 1978 and was designed “to protect consumers from a host of unfair, harassing, and deceptive debt collection practices without imposing unnecessary restrictions on ethical debt collectors.” The FDCPA identifies both prohibited practices and required actions for debt collectors.

Many of the prohibited practices are designed to prevent harassment or abuse. They include restrictions on using or threatening violence, profane or obscene language, and calling repeatedly or continuously with intent to abuse or harass consumers. The FDCPA establishes time and places restrictions to generally prevent calls after 9 p.m. and before 8 a.m., and calls made to places of employment. The FDCPA also limits the information that collectors can reveal to third parties that would identify the consumer as a debtor.

Other prohibited practices are designed to prevent false or misleading representations by collectors. Such practices include false statements about having a judgment or the consequences of failure to pay a debt. The FDCPA also prohibits unfair or unconscionable means to collect a debt.

In addition to prohibited practices, the FDCPA also establishes certain required practices for debt collectors. For example, the FDCPA sets forth a process for validating and verifying debtors purportedly designed to help the consumers obtain information to determine whether they actually owe the debt and if so, the amount of the debt.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has recently issued regulations regarding the FDCPA that address, in part, email and text communications and the collection of time-barred debt.

The FDCPA’s coverage is generally limited to debt collectors and does not extend to original creditors. Many states have enacted state-law provisions similar to the FDCPA, and some states expand coverage under state law to include original creditors.

What can consumers do if a debt collector violates the FDCPA?

William T. Chittenden: If a debt collector violates the FDCPA, the consumer should file a complaint with the Consumer Finance Protection Board (CFPB). Consumers can also contact the attorney general’s office in their state to file a complaint. Consumers can also sue the debt collector in state court, although this option generally requires hiring an attorney.

What can consumers do if they are being called about a debt they don’t owe?

William T. Chittenden: If a consumer is contacted about a debt that they do not owe, they should request that the debt collector send proof that the consumer actually owes the debt and that the debt collector has the right to collect that debt. If the debt collector cannot provide this information, the consumer should request that the creditor no longer contact them. If the consumer does not owe the debt, but the debt collector continues to contact the consumer, they should file a complaint with the CFBP.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can I verbally ask a debt collector to stop calling?

You can verbally ask them to stop calling, but a written request works better. Make sure you keep a copy and send the letter via certified mail. A verbal ask, followed up with a written request can help you build a case if you need to file a complaint.

When is a debt collector not allowed to call me?

The FDCPA restricts debt collectors from calling before 8 am or after 9 pm. Additionally, they aren’t allowed to call you at work if you’re not allowed to receive these calls at work. While there’s not a limit on how often they can call, they’re also not allowed to harass you.

Does asking the debt collector to stop contacting you end the debt?

No. If you owe the money, the debt still exists. They must stop contacting you about the debt unless they move forward with legal action. If you don’t pay a debt you owe, the collector might decide to take you to court. In that case, they are allowed to send you information related to the legal action.