Few things in life cause more stress than paying a debt. If you fall behind on payments, debt collectors may start to contact you, which leads to its own set of headaches.
Although debt collectors do have the right to contact you about your debt, these efforts are subject to certain rules. Many consumers don't realize that it is illegal for debt collectors to practice harassment and intimidation. Some debt collection agencies may capitalize on this unawareness to try to bully you into paying them massive amounts of money.
Unscrupulous debt collectors are counting on you not knowing your rights. If you are experiencing debt collection harassment, a qualified attorney can explain how legislation such as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) can provide relief. In the meantime, here are some of the biggest closely guarded secrets of debt collection:
1. They Are Working Against the Clock
In West Virginia, creditors have between 5 and 10 years to take legal action to compel payment on a debt. After this time (known as the statute of limitations) expires, they can no longer take you to court.
The debt itself does not go away just because the statute of limitations has passed. However, if the statute of limitations has passed and debt collectors continue to threaten you with legal action, you may be able to pursue a claim for harassment.
2. The More You Pay, the More They Make
Debt collectors are encouraged and incentivized to get the most money possible from the people who owe. Agencies pay thousands of dollars in bonuses to the people who collect the most. This in itself is not illegal.
However, some debt collectors get greedy and try to convince you that you owe more than your actual debt. Lying about the amount you owe is not legal.
On large debts, it can be difficult to keep track of the money you owe versus what you've paid. The best defense against such false statements by a debt collector is to keep all of the bills you receive. Even if you are struggling to pay, knowing how much you are obligated to pay can save you from getting swindled if a debt collector exaggerates the amount to try to line their own pockets.
3. They Can't Call You Whenever or Wherever They Please
If you fall behind on a debt, you will likely be contacted by a debt collection agency by phone. Sometimes there is a debt collector on the other end of the phone, other times it's a robo-call.
Signing up for the Do Not Call List won't protect you from debt collector calls; these agencies are excepted from the rules governing spam calls. However, debt collectors are still required to abide by certain rules:
- Debt collectors are not allowed to call you between the hours of 9 p.m. and 8 a.m.
- Debt collectors cannot call you at work, unless you give them permission to do so
- Debt collectors cannot call you on a home or cell phone number if you did not provide consent to be contacted by phone, or you have requested not to receive further phone calls
Initially, you may have provided consent to receive debt collection calls without even realizing. The fine print in a loan application, credit card application, or other form likely included some language stating that you agree to receive telephone correspondence by providing your information and signing on the dotted line. However, just because you completed the form does not give debt collectors the right to terrorize you with repeated phone calls, wake you up in the middle of the night, or bother you at work.
4. Debt Collectors Don't Have the Right to Publicize Your Debt
Many people who find themselves in debt feel ashamed if they fall behind on payments. Unscrupulous debt collectors may capitalize on this shame by "exposing" the amount you owe to people such as:
- Family members
- Your employer
- The general public, by way of social media and other avenues
This type of intimidation is illegal. If debt collectors have tried to shame you publicly as a means of getting you to pay, you may be eligible for compensation.
5. You Have Options for Resolving Your Debt
Considering their financial interest in getting you to pay the maximum, debt collectors don't want you to know that you may have options when it comes to:
- Paying off the debt in installments over time
- Settling on an amount that satisfies the debt which is usually lower than what you owe
- Working directly with the creditor to resolve your debt
Debt collectors are trained and paid to make it as difficult as possible for you to resolve your debt on your terms. It may be in your best interest to hire an experience attorney to act on your behalf.
Attorney Jeff Mehalic has over 30 years of experience representing consumers and protecting their rights in cases involving debt collection violations. Call Mehalic Law PLLC at (304) 346-3462 today for a free consultation to discuss your options. Our attorney serves clients in Morgantown, Wheeling, Martinsburg, and throughout West Virginia.