Many Americans are looking forward to Election Day simply because the
political robocalls will stop. Finally. But the phone never stops
ringing for about 30 million Americans who owe money and are hearing,
perhaps a little too frequently, from debt collectors.
And what if you don't even really owe money?
one out of 10 Americans is dealing with debt collectors for an average
of about $1,500 apiece, according to the Consumer Financial Protection
Beginning in January, the new watchdog group will begin
more intense supervision of larger debt collectors - including
third-party collection firms with receipts of at least $10 million per
What could be helpful here is that this extra layer of regulation could weed out some bad practices.
talking about collection companies that might buy defaulted debt and
collect the proceeds for themselves; companies that collect defaulted
debt owned by another company in return for a fee; and debt collection
attorneys that collect through litigation.
Many types of debt would be covered, including third-party student loan collections involving both federal and private loans.
Here's a look at what the federal watchdog would do:
-- Watch and see if debt collectors are upfront, identifying themselves clearly.
Examine whether debt collectors are using accurate data. Did the
consumer already pay that bill? Is this a case where the collector
doesn't have the correct debt or the right consumer?
-- Make certain a consumer complaint and dispute-resolution process is in place.
Look into whether consumers are being harassed. Is the collector using
inappropriate language? Threatening to imprison the consumer?
Threatening to call the consumer's employer?
Under federal law, a
debt collector may call other people but only to find out where you
live, your phone number or where you work.
The CFPB notes that
debt collectors generally cannot contact those people more than once.
And they may not discuss your debt with anyone other than you, your
spouse, your parents (if you are a minor), your guardian or your
What should consumers do if they're getting calls?
always, always ask the collector to send something in writing, says
Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education for Credit.com.
"When the debt collector calls, say, 'Please send me written notice of the debt,'" Detweiler said.
then after you get something in writing, she says, make sure to request
that the collector send verification or validation of the debt. Further
information could be disclosed as to how far the bill goes back in time
or how much interest has built on the original bill.
"It gives you a little bit of time to research your options," Detweiler says.
advocates say the CFPB's new oversight could help because it would
apply to firms that handle about 63% of the annual debt-collection
About 175 debt collectors would be covered. Smaller
firms would not fall under the bureau's jurisdiction but are covered
under other regulations.
Jan Kruse, director of communications for
the National Consumer Law Center, noted that about a million consumers
in the U.S. are sued each year by debt collectors in state courts for
credit card, medical and other debt. Yet often, she says, the debt isn't
documented by a debt collector.
Anyone without a law degree can
find it impossible to navigate the state courts where debt collectors
file their suits, Kruse says.
The CFPB has said that a system-wide
problem appears to be the accuracy of the data that debt collectors are
using to pursue consumers.
A creditor may first try to collect
the money but then give up and outsource the collection. The debt could
change hands several times after being sold to various debt buyers. If
it drags on long enough, the consumer may end up being contacted
multiple times by different collectors over the life of the debt.
issue is whether a sufficient amount of information about the debt and
the consumer changes hands when the debt is first sent to a collector.
new role of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau adds another layer
of oversight, said Mark Schiffman, vice president of public affairs for
ACA International or Association of Credit and Collection
"It will reinforce the issue of documentation," he said.
Consumers who rightfully owe a debt would still have the responsibility, if able, to pay it.
the added oversight will help in cases where people feel they're being
harassed or end up being asked to pay a bill that they don't owe. The
CFPB will look closely at how debt collectors process consumer disputes.
political season may be coming to a close. But debt has a much longer
shelf life, so some extra oversight is a welcome sound for many
Tips for dealing with debt collection calls:
Consumers can get information about debt collection at www.askdoctordebt.org. The site was created by the ACA International Education Foundation. The Federal Trade Commission site also offers help with debt collection questions.
the FTC says you should talk to a collector at least once to see if you
can resolve the matter. But you do have right to ask the collector - in
writing - to stop contacting you. Make a copy of your letter. Send the
original by certified mail, and pay for a "return receipt" so you'll be
able to document what the collector received.
Sending a letter or
telling a debt collector to stop calling does not get rid of the debt. A
creditor can file a lawsuit and sue you to collect the debt.
You can report complaints with debt collectors to a state Attorney General's office via www.naag.org and to the Federal Trade Commission Complaint Assistant.
out for fake debt collectors. Fake debt collectors may call consumers
repeatedly at their home, work, or on their cellphones, refuse to
provide their real name - or use some fake name. Or they may ask for
your bank and Social Security number. They also may tell you someone
will come and arrest you if you don't pay now.
It's key that you
don't give out account information and request that any request
involving collecting a debt be sent in writing.