Federal law protects you against harassment and unfair treatment by debt collectors. While they can call on Sundays, they can’t call outside normal hours or at inconvenient times. Read more to learn how you can take back your Sundays by learning about consumer protection laws and how collection agencies work.
Written by Attorney Eric Hansen.
Updated December 11, 2021
It’s a perfect Sunday morning. You and the family slept in, made blueberry pancakes, and are about to go to the park to let the kids run off the sugar rush when your phone rings. You let it go to voicemail as you’re basically out the door. While you’re at the park you get three more phone calls from numbers you don’t recognize. You decide to answer the third call while trying to corral the kids and head back home.
The person on the other end of the line is rude, talks very quickly, and accuses you of owing an outstanding debt. Is this legit? Unfortunately, debt collectors and collections agencies can call you on Sundays unless it is repetitive or you have requested them not to. But, you can take back your Sundays by learning about consumer protection laws and how collection agencies work. This way you can enjoy the day with peace of mind that your finances are where you want them to be.
How Debt Collection Agencies Work
You probably know that ignoring issues usually makes them worse and more frustrating. The same thing is usually true for dealing with debt collectors. To better understand the situation and to make it easier to deal with it, it is helpful to know who is involved in the collections process. In consumer finance settings, the borrower is the debtor. Consumer debt includes credit card debt, medical debt, auto loans, student loans, and more. The creditor is the company that loans you money to make your purchase. Your consumer debt starts with the original creditor.
Say, for example, you (the borrower) get a credit card from Citi (the creditor) and use it to purchase ordinary household items. You usually pay off your balance each month. But one month, because of circumstances beyond your control, you can’t even make the minimum payment. Then you stop making payments altogether.
The original creditor, Citi, may make several attempts to get in touch with you by phone, email, or mail. If their attempts are unsuccessful, they may decide to cut their losses and sell your debt to a debt collection agency. A debt collection agency is a company that specializes in collecting old debts that are hard to collect. These agencies are regulated by the state and federal governments.
Debt collectors usually buy debts in bulk from original creditors at a deep discount with the hope of collecting the face value of the debt. Say that you maxed out your Citi credit card at $5,000. You can’t make payments and you haven’t been responsive to any of Citi’s collection attempts. Citi may sell your credit card debt to ABC Collection Agency for $50. Then ABC Collection Agency will try to collect as much of the original $5000, plus fees and interest, as they can.
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The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) protects consumers from debt collector harassment. Debt collectors’ number one goal is to collect money on unpaid debts. They may be relentless in their communication with you and have been known to either skirt the law or outright break it while trying to collect debts. The FDCPA prohibits collection agencies and debt collectors from abusing, harassing, and misleading consumers in the debt-collection process.
What Types of Debt Are Covered Under the FDCPA?
Consumer debts are covered by the FDCPA. Common consumer debts are student loans, car loans, credit card debt, medical debt, payday loans, and other debts associated with purchasing household items. Original creditors—the initial lenders—are not covered by the FDCPA, but collection agencies are covered by the FDCPA.
What Does the FDCPA Prevent Debt Collectors From Doing?
The FDCPA is supposed to prevent debt collection agencies from harassing you or treating you unfairly. The FDCPA lays out the rules collectors must follow. For example, a debt collection agency cannot show up at your workplace or call you at work if you’ve told them you can’t receive calls there. They cannot arrest or harass you. They can’t verbally abuse, cuss out, or physically threaten you because you owe a debt to a creditor. Collection agencies aren’t supposed to contact your family or call at odd hours of the day. They can inquire about your contact information with a third party, but they can’t talk about the details of your debt with them.
Collection agencies can seek payment on an expired debt or sue you in civil court to collect on a debt that is not yet expired. In some situations, after they receive a judgment, they can garnish your wages or your bank account. Garnishment can be stressful, but thankfully there are some safeguards. State law may limit how much of your income creditors can garnish. Some types of income are also exempt from garnishment.
Can Debt Collectors Call on Sunday?
The short answer is, yes, it is permissible for debt collectors to contact you on Sunday. But you can request that they don’t. If you have contacted a debt collector and requested that they not contact you on Sundays, then they shouldn’t be calling you.
While the FDCPA does not prohibit phone calls on Sundays, it does prohibit abusive and deceptive conduct by debt collection agencies. That means that debt collectors aren’t supposed to call repeatedly, during inconvenient times, or outside of reasonable hours. Typically, calling before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. local time is considered unreasonable. They also can’t call you at work if you ask them not to, send you repeated text messages, or use profane language.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a consumer protection agency for the federal government, has stated in the past that telephone calls from bill collectors on Sundays are inconvenient. But, they are technically not a violation of the FDCPA.
What if Debt Collectors Don’t Stop Calling on Sundays?
If you have explicitly told a debt collection agency not to call you on Sundays, but they continue to call, this is a violation of the FDCPA. This sort of violation will not erase your debt or get you off the hook for paying what you owe, but it could be helpful in settling the debt.
FDCPA violations are a great bargaining chip for settling a debt for a fraction of what you owe. If you believe that a debt collection agency has violated the FDCPA or other consumer protection laws when trying to collect a debt from you, you can contact a consumer rights attorney to get legal advice and assert your rights. They may be able to settle the debt or help you sue the agency for compensation. They may also be able to recover attorney’s fees and court costs if the FDCPA violations are egregious enough.
Sending a Cease-and-Desist Letter
A simple cease-and-desist letter can be a helpful tool in stopping collection calls. You don’t have to be a lawyer or a collections expert to send one either. Many consumer finance websites and consumer protection organizations like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) have sample letters you can use in their resources section. Upsolve also has a cease-and-desist letter template you can use. If you don’t think you owe a debt, you can dispute the debt and request validation to make sure it is legitimate. The validation letter should include the original creditor’s name and evidence supporting the debt. Disputing a debt and having it removed from your credit report can improve your credit score.
Where To Report Violations of the FDCPA
You can and should take action if debt collectors are harassing you. Remember that the FDCPA gives you rights. To help assert those rights, document your interactions with debt collection agencies. Keep a written log of what has been said, when they’re calling, and what efforts you’ve made to negotiate. If you believe a collection agency has broken the law, you can file a complaint against them with the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau (BBB), your state attorney general’s office, and your state’s department of commerce.
Dealing with bill collectors is never pleasant. Though it can be stressful, remember that federal law protects you against harassment and unfair treatment by debt collectors. While they can call you, including on Sundays, they can’t call outside normal hours or use abusive language when speaking to you. If you tell them not to call you on Sundays, they must stop. Continuing to call is a violation of the FDCPA, and you can report the collector for this violation with several state and federal agencies. Hopefully, with a little bit more understanding of the protections available to you, your Sundays will be a little more pleasant.