Frequently Asked Questions

What types of debts are covered?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act covers personal, family, and household debts, including money that you owe on a personal credit card account, an auto loan, a medical bill, and your mortgage. The FDCPA doesn’t cover debts that you incurred to run a business.

Can a debt collector contact me any time or any place?

No. A debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient times or places, such as before 8 in the morning or after 9 at night, unless you agree to it. And collectors may not contact you at work if they’re told (orally or in writing) that you’re not allowed to get calls there.

How can I stop a debt collector from contacting me?

If a collector contacts you about a debt, you may want to talk to him/her at least once to see if you can resolve the matter even if you don’t think you owe the debt, can’t repay it immediately, or think that the collector is contacting you by mistake. If you decide after contacting the debt collector that you don’t want the collector to contact you again, tell the collector in writing to stop contacting you. Here’s how to do that:

  • Make a copy of your letter.
  • Send the original by certified mail, and pay for a “return receipt” so that you’ll be able to document what the collector received.
  • Once the collector receives your letter, he/she may not contact you again, with two exceptions: a collector can contact you to tell you that there will be no further contact or to let you know that he/she or the creditor intends to take a specific action, like filing a lawsuit.
  • Sending such a letter to a debt collector to whom you owe money to does not get rid of the debt, but it should stop the contact. The creditor or the debt collector still can sue you to collect the debt.

Can a debt collector contact anyone else about my debt?

If an attorney represents you about the debt, the debt collector must contact the attorney rather than you. If you don’t have an attorney, a collector may contact other people but only to find out your address, your home phone number, and where you work. Collectors usually are prohibited from contacting third parties more than once. Other than to obtain this location information about you, a debt collector generally is not permitted to discuss your debt with anyone other than you, your spouse, or your attorney.

Can a debt collector contact me any time or any place?

No. A debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient times or places, such as before 8 in the morning or after 9 at night, unless you agree to it. And collectors may not contact you at work if they’re told (orally or in writing) that you’re not allowed to get calls there.

What does the debt collector have to tell me about the debt?

Every collector must send you a written “validation notice” telling you how much money you owe within five days after he/she first contacts you. This notice also must include the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money and how to proceed if you don’t think you owe the money.

Can a debt collector keep contacting me if I don’t think I owe any money?

If you send the debt collector a letter stating that you don’t owe any or all of the money or asking for verification of the debt, that collector must stop contacting you. You have to send that letter within 30 days after you receive the validation notice. But a collector can begin contacting you again if he/she sends you written verification of the debt, like a copy of a bill for the amount you owe.

What practices are off limits for debt collectors?

Harassment. Debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact. For example, they may not:

  • Use threats of violence or harm
  • Publish a list of names of people who refuse to pay their debts (but they can give this information to the credit reporting companies)
  • Use obscene or profane language
  • Repeatedly use the phone to annoy someone

False statements. Debt collectors may not lie when they are trying to collect a debt. For example, they may not:

  • Falsely claim that they are attorneys or government representatives
  • Falsely claim that you have committed a crime
  • Falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit reporting company
  • Misrepresent the amount that you owe
  • Indicate that papers they send to you are legal forms if they aren’t
  • Indicate that papers they send to you aren’t legal forms if they are

Debt collectors also are prohibited from saying that:

  • You will be arrested if you don’t pay your debt
  • They’ll seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages unless they are permitted by law to take the action and intend to do so
  • Legal action will be taken against you if doing so would be illegal or if they don’t intend to take the action

Debt collectors may not:

  • Give false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit reporting company
  • Send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency if it isn’t
  • Use a false company name

Unfair practices. Debt collectors may not engage in unfair practices when they try to collect a debt. For example, they may not:

  • Try to collect any interest, fee, or other charge on top of the amount that you owe unless the contract that created your debt or your state law allows the charge
  • Deposit a post-dated check early
  • Take or threaten to take your property unless it can be done legally
  • Contact you by postcard

Can I control which debts my payments apply to?

Yes. If a debt collector is trying to collect more than one debt from you, the collector must apply any payment you make to the debt that you select. Equally important, a debt collector may not apply a payment to a debt that you don’t think you owe.

Can a debt collector garnish my bank account or my wages?

If you don’t pay a debt, a creditor or its debt collector generally can sue you to collect. If the creditor wins, the court will enter a judgment against you. The judgment states the amount of money you owe and allows the creditor or collector to get a garnishment order against you, directing a third party, like your bank, to turn over funds from your account to pay the debt.

Wage garnishment happens when your employer withholds part of your compensation to pay your debts. Your wages usually can be garnished only as the result of a court order. Don’t ignore a lawsuit summons. If you do, you lose the opportunity to fight a wage garnishment.

Can federal benefits be garnished?

Many federal benefits are exempt from garnishment, including:

  • Social Security Benefits
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits
  • Veterans Benefits
  • Civil Service and Federal Retirement and Disability Benefits
  • Service Members’ Pay
  • Military Annuities and Survivors’ Benefits
  • Student Assistance
  • Railroad Retirement Benefits
  • Merchant Seamen Wages
  • Longshoremen’s and Harbor Workers’ Death and Disability Benefits
  • Foreign Service Retirement and Disability Benefits
  • Compensation for Injury, Death, or Detention of Employees of U.S. Contractors Outside the U.S.
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency Federal Disaster Assistance

But federal benefits may be garnished under certain circumstances, including to pay delinquent taxes, alimony, child support, or student loans.

What is the Exempt Income Protection Act?

A law called the Exempt Income Protection Act (EIPA) went into effect on January 1, 2009. EIPA protects bank accounts that contain protected funds such as government benefits, pensions, and some earned income. EIPA prevents creditors and debt collectors from freezing these accounts to pay private debts like credit cards. Under EIPA, your bank account cannot be frozen if the balance is less than:

  • $2,500 – if your account contains directly deposited exempt benefits, including Social Security, SSI, Veterans benefits disability, pensions, child support, spousal maintenance, workers compensation, unemployment insurance, Public Assistance, Railroad Retirement benefits, and Black Lung benefits
  • $1,740 – all other accounts

What Should I Do If I’ve Been Harassed By a Debt Collector?

Call Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys, PLLC today!  Jeffrey Freedman Attorneys has been fighting for the rights of consumers for over 30 years.  We have experienced consumer law attorneys that can put an end to the harassment, sue the debt collector, and make the debt collector pay you damages.  Initial consultations are always free, and we don’t collect a legal fee in your debt collection case until we win your case.

For More Information

To learn more about debt collection and other credit-related issues, visit and, the U.S. government’s portal to financial education.

The FTC works to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint or get free information on consumer issues, visit or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. Watch a video, How to File a Complaint, at to learn more. The FTC enters consumer complaints into the Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure online database and investigative tool used by hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.


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