Published in: Credit Cards | Dec. 12, 2019

How Much Can a Debt Collector Harass Me?

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Debt collectors are notorious for going overboard in an effort to recoup money. Here's what they can and cannot do.

If you're currently in debt, you're in good company, whether that debt relates to medical bills, an auto loan, or a credit card. And if you've been behind on that debt for quite some time, you may already be used to having your phone ring off the hook to the tune of debt collectors coming after their money. But at what point do those incessant phone calls cross the line from irritating to downright illegal? Here's what you need to know about debt collectors, and the limitations they must adhere to. 

An upset man with his hands on his head on the phone at his desk.

Image source: Getty Images

Debt collectors must follow the rules

To be clear, debt collectors are allowed to pursue the money you owe and to do that, they are allowed to contact you. But they must follow strict rules as to how that contact is made.

For one thing, debt collectors can't call you prior to 8a.m. or after 9p.m. Furthermore, when you request that a debt collector stop contacting you, that entity must comply. You are, however, obligated to put that request in writing. When your debt collector is notified not to contact you, that entity is allowed to reply by confirming receipt of your correspondence and advising you that a specific action -- like a lawsuit -- is forthcoming, but that's it. And, if you retain an attorney to represent you on all debt-related matters, you can direct your debt collectors to that person, at which point they must stop contacting you.

Another thing you should know is that debt collectors can't discuss your personal finances with members of your family outside of you or your spouse. Although it's common practice for debt collectors to call family members in an attempt to reach a person who owes money, they can't divulge any debt-related details when they do. 

Additionally, debt collectors can't use threatening language when attempting to recoup money from you. They also can't use profane language or claim they'll arrest you if you don't make good on your outstanding payments. And they can't lie about the amount of debt you owe, either. 

So what can debt collectors do?

Debt collectors are allowed to use reasonable means to recoup payments, which means they can reach out to you by mail, phone, or even text message seeking their money back. They can also attempt to apply reasonable pressure to get you to pay what you owe, provided they don't cross the line into threatening language or harassment as per the guidelines above. 

Furthermore, debt collectors are allowed to sue you to recoup the money they're owed. If a judgment is entered in court in favor of your debt collector, you might have your wages garnished as a result. Finally, debt collectors have the right to sell your debt to other companies, or negotiate your existing debt. For example, if you owe $2,000 to a certain medical provider, a debt collector can offer to settle that debt for $1,000, and once you sign a legal document agreeing to that, the collector can no longer pursue you. 

Know your rights

If you've been contacted frequently by debt collectors, read up on your rights and make sure that none of them are being violated. And if a debt collector does cross the line, don't hesitate to file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, either online or by calling 855-411-CFPB (2372). You can also reach out to your state's attorney general to explore what other solutions may be available to you.

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