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10 things your debt collector doesn't want you to know

, by Kelsey

Nobody likes to face a debt collector. A call from a debt collector could be a symptom of financial hardship, or it could simply be an irritating reminder that you forgot to pay your doctor bill. Either way, you're not happy.

Even so, you should definitely pick up the phone.  A bill going to collections can have a substantial impact on your FICO® Scores. It's possible for a debt collector to start calling you before the collections has hit your credit report. So if you pick up the phone and pay off the debt immediately, you may be able to avoid an impact on your FICO Scores.

If the collection has already been submitted to the credit bureaus, it's likely you'll see an impact on your FICO Scores. Collections stay on your credit report for about seven years — even if you pay off the debt. In general, the more recent the collections, the more impact it will have on your scores. The best thing you can do is pay your other bills on time and let the collection age. If you continue to make healthy credit decisions, your FICO Scores will heal over time.

Beyond having an impact on your FICO Scores, collections can be a burden for an already-financially-stressed household. So don't let the debt collectors get the best of you.

The Federal Trade Commission enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). This act protects consumers from dishonest, abusive or unfair debt collection practices. Read more about the FDCPA. If you do encounter a debt collector violating your rights under this act, take action by contacting your state attorney general and filing a complaint with the FTC.

Here are 5 things a debt collector can't do.

  1. They can't intentionally inconvenience you

A debt collector cannot call you at work if you tell him/ her not to or if it is clear that you cannot take calls there. So if a collector calls you at work, simply request that they do not call you there again.  They also can't call you at inconvenient hours unless you give them permission to do so.

Same thing goes for calling you period. If you ask a debt collector to stop calling you, the collector is required to stop calling you. Easy right? However that doesn't stop the collector from pursuing the collection in other ways — such as via legal action (a suit) or reporting the information to the credit bureaus.

  1. They can't lie to you

Debt collectors cannot falsify information about themselves or your debt — orally nor in writing. They can't say they are working with an attorney if they're not and they can't send you documents that look like they're coming from a government agency, if they are not.

  1. They can't intentionally annoy you

Debt collectors can't use the annoyance tactic either. That means they can't call you repeatedly in a short amount of time.

  1. They can't harass you

Any kind of threat or abusive language is also off the table. They can't threaten to have you arrested or use obscene language. Hopefully, they'll be both cordial and frank.

They also can't publish a list of names of people who owe debts as that would be a form of harassment. They can send this information to credit bureaus, but that's about it.

  1. They can't take advantage of you

Finally, they aren't allowed to unfairly take your money. They can't collect interest or fees on top of the amount you owe unless the contract that created your debt, or the state law, allows them to do so. They also can't cash a check before its post date.

There are many restrictions on debt collectors in order to protect consumers, however, that doesn't mean you can ignore them completely. Ultimately, you have an unpaid debt. So a debt collector is going to do his best to get you to pay it.

Here are 5 things a debt collector can do:

  1. They can contact you in almost any form necessary

A debt collector can contact you by showing up at your doorstep, phone, letter, email or text message. Yup, you could be receiving a text from your debt collector. Thankfully, we've yet to see a collection agency contact anyone via Snapchat.

  1. They can sue you

If you refuse to pay the debt in question, a debt collector can pursue the collection by taking you to court. This could result in your wages being garnished until the debt is paid off.

  1. They can imply that they'll garnish your wages

If a debt collector intends to follow through with a suit, they can imply that your wages may be garnished. This is not considered a threat if the statement is true and only an implication.

  1. They can sell your debt to a different collection agency

It's common practice for a debt collector to "sell" your debt to another agency. So don't be surprised if you get a call from a different agency that the one that originally held your debt.

  1. If the original contract allows, the collection agency can charge interest

It's true that a collection agency cannot charge their own interest. However, if your original contract states that interest can accrue after the debt has been charged off, then a debt collector can collect that interest.

If a debt collector contacts you, it's important to know your rights. Be sure not to give any personal information away and verify the identity of the agency before you make a payment. It may be a good idea to try to talk to the collector and agree to a payment plan.

To learn more about the FDCPA and other consumer protection acts, head to our education center.


"Debt Collection." Federal Trade Commission.


Equal parts project manager, content marketer, social strategist and writer, Kelsey is a marketing manager at FICO and financial health enthusiast. Focused on making meaningful connections with consumers on their way to financial fitness, Kelsey is always good for a creative tip on how to keep your budget in check.