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Consumer Advisory Bulletin- July 2010

Fair Debt Collection: Know Your Rights

Are you behind on your bills? While you have an obligation to pay your debts, debt collectors have an obligation to treat you fairly. Iowa and federal laws prohibit coercive, abusive, harassing, fraudulent or deceptive collection practices in consumer debts.

Things to know:

  • Always respond to a debt collection lawsuit even if you believe the debt is not yours or you feel you cannot pay the debt. Failure to respond can result in a default judgment which allows the debt collector to collect the money due and it may also result in a garnishment of your wages and bank accounts.

  • Collectors may call from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., 7 days a week at home, work, or other locations. You can stop collectors from calling you at inconvenient times or places by writing a letter to the collector clearly stating the inconvenience and noting the correct time and place to contact you, for example, at your home number between 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. excluding Sundays. You can also tell the collector to cease all calls and contact you only by mail. Send your letter by certified mail and keep a copy of it for your records.

  • Debt collectors may contact your employer, relatives, or friends about your debt ONLY in very limited circumstances. Collectors may confirm your employment or address, but they may not share information about your debts with anyone other than you or your attorney.

  • Collectors may call from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., 7 days a week, including Sundays. To stop Sunday calls, notify the collector in writing what days and times not to call.

  • Although debt collectors may threaten to garnish your wages, they must go through the courts to do it. Courts may allow collectors a garnishment from your wages or reimbursement benefits. Collectors cannot garnish Social Security and disability benefits, Family Investment Programs, and unemployment compensation. If a collector calls, you should try at least once to resolve the issue.

  • Debt collectors must send a written notice about the debt within five days after they first contact you. You have 30 days to file a written dispute, and then they must provide written verification. Be sure to dispute the debt in writing if it is not your debt, if you have paid it already, or if you feel the figures are inaccurate.

Deal with debt collectors in writing as much as possible to prove the communication took place. For more information regarding how to deal with debt collectors, visit the AG's web site: www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.gov (click on "protecting consumer"), or call 888-777-4590 (toll free), or 515-281-5926.

For more detailed information regarding how to deal with debt collectors, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) web site about debt and see the “Fair Debt Collection.” resource page.

For more information or to file a complaint, contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division, Des Moines, Iowa 50319. Call 515-281-5926.

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