A Consumer’s Guide to FDCPA

We’re big movie fans here at Gunderson Law Firm. And one of the most exciting and important film genres in history? Well, that’s got to be film noir.

If you’ve never seen a noir film, then you’ve got to try it out. If you have seen a noir, then you know exactly what makes this genre so pulpy, fun, and thrilling. You’ve got black and white pictures! Mysterious phone calls in the middle of the night! Letters dropped anonymously into mailboxes! A heroic final chase to clear the protagonist’s good name! There’s a lot going on, and it can be thrilling, dark, and fun, depending on the movie.

Of course, life isn’t a movie – and so, many of the things that are exciting to watch on screen are actually frustrating and frightening when you experience them in real life. Case in point? Things like getting strange and intimidating phone calls at all hours, or having mysterious men pounding on your door in the middle of the night.

Unfortunately, these and other unpleasant scenarios have historically been all too real, and all too common, for many American consumers struggling with personal debt.

That’s where the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, commonly shortened to FDCPA, comes in. Like the hero in a 1950s matinee, this important piece of legislation is designed to protect consumers from some of the most aggressive forms of third party debt collection. Let’s dive into FDCPA, and provide an overview of what it is, why we have it, and what it may mean for you.

“What Is FDCPA?”

Passed in 1977 and primarily enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), FDCPA is the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. It was designed to help eliminate some of the “abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection practices” that plagued consumers facing debt, as the Federal Reserve’s Consumer Compliance Handbook explains.

At the same time, in addition to protecting consumers from abusive and unfair practices, the law is also designed to  protect “reputable debt collectors” from unfair competition. The law levels the playing field and mandates that everyone play fair, so to speak, which in turn protects ethical debt collectors from having to compete with those who may otherwise prefer less ethical or reasonable tactics.

Today,  FDCPA is the main federal law governing debt collection practices, as the CFPB explains.

Want to get a better feel for the contents of the act? You can read the full text of FDCPA here, via the FTC.

“What Does FDCPA Do? Who, or What, Does It Regulate?”

As the CFPB notes, FDCPA covers consumers dealing with debts related to mortgages, credit cards, medical bills, and other personal and household expenses. It does not usually pertain to business-related debts.

FDCPA is designed to rein in debt collectors, which are defined as “any person who regularly collects, or attempts to collect, consumer debts for another person or institution or uses some name other than its own when collecting its own consumer debts,” as the Federal Reserve’s documents explain. In other words, these are typically private or third party debt buyers, debt collectors, and lawyers, who are pursuing consumers for one or more debts.

There are different circumstances where the protections of FDCPA may not apply. One of the most common? FDCPA generally does not apply if the debt collection measures are being taken by your original creditor (e.g., the person or organization to whom you first became indebted). Some states have individual laws that do extend the consumer protections offered by FDCPA in the case of collection efforts by original creditors. A guide to those states, and a great look at how individual states enforce debt collection efforts, is available here, via the Better Business Bureau (BBB).  

“As a Consumer With Debts, What Does FDCPA Mean for Me?”

FDCPA offers consumers a number of protections from debt collection practices that could be considered abusive, unfair, or deceptive. Those protections fall into a few broad categories:

1.) When a debt collector may make contact with you

Broadly speaking, FDCPA places limits on when and where a debt collector can make contact with you. For instance, the law stipulates that debt collectors cannot contact you in an unusual time or place, or in a situation that will obviously be inconvenient for you. Generally, it restricts debt collectors’ ability to contact you to the hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

2.) How a debt collector may make contact with you

FDCPA limits the methods that a debt collector can use to communicate with you. For instance, it generally mandates that the form of communication should be reasonably private, and so common methods of contact include phone calls, letters, and emails. Under FDCPA, debt collectors are prohibited from harassing consumers, through any form of contact. This includes using obscene, violent, or threatening language. Debt collectors are also forbidden from lying or misrepresenting information.

There are also other, more specific, restrictions and stipulations in place. For example, if a consumer has retained the representation of an attorney, then a debt collector must stop contacting you, and instead refer all of their communications to your attorney instead.

Under FDCPA, you may also require debt collectors to stop contacting you, by sending a written letter via mail. If this works, the debt collector may only contact you in limited circumstances – such as to notify you that they will no longer be contacting you, or to inform you of a specific action being taken against you, such as a lawsuit.

3.) What information a debt collector must provide to you

When a debt collector makes contact with you, they are required to disclose certain relevant information, including the name of the creditor, the amount you owe, and the steps you can take to dispute the debt if you don’t believe it is yours. The debt collector must furnish this information within five days of initial contact.

There are many other facets and features of FDCPA that go beyond the scope of this blog. For more insight, you can review the full text of the act with the FTC, or peruse this handy “FAQ” feature.

“Where Can I Turn If I’m Struggling With Debt?”

If you’re facing uncertainty due to debts – including the potential for a lawsuit by one or more debt collectors or creditors – then it may be time to seek additional help. An attorney experienced in matters of debt and bankruptcy law can be an important partner as you take steps to get out from the burden of debt.

If you have any questions about FDCPA, bankruptcy, debt collection, and other pressing issues, don’t hesitate to get in touch with the Gunderson Law Firm today. Know your rights as a consumer, and don’t be afraid to reach out for help. It could be the most important step you take on your way to a fresh financial start.

Our experienced attorneys and staff work to protect our clients’ assets to the full extent allowed by today’s laws, helping them get the debt relief they not only need, but genuinely deserve. Drop us a line to set up your free initial consultation and keep the conversation going.

2019-01-11T16:13:47+00:00 January 22nd, 2019|Community|