Your Rights Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and Washington Debt Law

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) protects consumers (not businesses) from the abusive collection practices of debt collectors. Your original creditor is NOT a debt collector: under the FDCPA, a debt collector is someone who regularly collects debts owed to others. This includes collection agencies, lawyers who collect debts on a regular basis, and companies that buy delinquent debts and then try to collect them. Credit card debts, to take one example, are charged off of a credit card issuer’s balance sheet 180 days after the last day of payment. It is only after those 180 days are up that the debt is either assigned to a collection agency for collection, or sold to a debt buyer.

In Washington debt law, debt collectors have up to 6 years from the date of last payment to collect on a debt. Your contract with the original credit card issuer or other type of creditor may specify a different state as having jurisdiction over the contract, in which case the length of collection will be set according to the laws of the state detailed in the contract, which may be more or less than 6 years. There are also relevant consumer protection laws in Washington to assist consumers who are being harassed by debt collectors and other abusive creditor actions. (See RCW 19.86.)

[one_half]The Federal Trade Commission has published Debt Collection FAQs: A Guide for Consumers, a list of questions and answers about your rights under the FDCPA. In general, debt collectors cannot do the following:

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 hey can give this information to the credit reporting companies);
  • – use obscene or profane language; or
  • – 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 you owe;
  • – indicate that papers they send you are legal forms if they aren’t; or
  • – indicate that papers they send to you aren’t legal forms if they are.

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; or
  • – use a false company name.

Unfair debt collection 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 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; or
  • – contact you by postcard.

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 hey are permitted by law to take the action and intend to do so; or
  • – legal action will be taken against you, if doing so would be illegal or if they don’t intend to take the action.