Washington state has two laws that protect you, the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) and the Collection Agency Act (CAA). The FDCPA is the minimum standard for states, but Washington’s laws increase the standards. It’s like having a low federal minimum wage and a higher state minimum wage. In this article, we’ll help you learn how Washington’s debt collection protection laws can help you stop debt collectors from calling.
In the United States, you have protections from debt collectors under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA). This federal law limits phone calls from debt collectors. Some states have laws that provide extra protections to their residents, and Washington is one of those states. Washington state has two laws that protect you, the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) and the Collection Agency Act (CAA). The FDCPA is the minimum standard for states, but Washington’s laws increase the standards. It’s like having a low federal minimum wage and a higher state minimum wage.
In this article, we’ll help you learn how Washington’s debt collection protection laws can help you stop debt collectors from calling.
The Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)
Back in the 1970s, government agencies investigated debt collection practices. Evidence showed debt collectors were using abuse, deception, harassment, and unfair practices. As a result, the federal Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA) was passed in 1977. This major law holds debt collectors to stricter standards and gives consumers more protections.
The FDCPA covers personal consumer debt, such as medical bills, auto loans, and credit card debt. It does not apply to business debt. The law tells collectors of personal debt what they can and cannot do to collect a debt. It doesn’t apply to original creditors, only collection agencies and third-party debt collectors.
The FDCPA helps regulate what methods debt collectors can use to contact you and how frequently they can contact you. It also regulates who debt collectors can talk to and what they can say. For instance, the law prohibits debt collectors from harassing you with phone calls. It also prohibits debt collectors from threatening to throw you in jail or deport you. Debt collectors can't threaten to collect debt from exempt funds, such as child support and unemployment benefits, and they can't tell others about your debt.
If you’re getting too many phone calls from a debt collector, you can send a cease and desist letter to the debt collector and tell them to stop calling you. They must stop calling you with two exceptions. They can still contact you to tell you they’re going to stop contacting you or to inform you that they plan to pursue legal action. They can still get a court judgment to garnish your bank account and wages. If you get served legal papers, you’ll want to talk to an attorney. You have rights under several consumer protection laws.
Your rights as a consumer are also listed in the FDCPA. For instance, you have the right to request certain methods of contact, certain times of contact, and the right to end certain contact attempts, such as harassing phone calls from debt collectors. You also have the right to sue a debt collector and collect damages if they violate the law. An award would include attorney’s fees and court costs, so don’t hesitate to talk to a lawyer.
Washington state’s Consumer Protection Act (CPA) and Collection Agency Act (CAA) provide additional protections.
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Washington State’s Debt Collection Protection Laws
Washington state was ahead of its time when it comes to consumer protection laws. The Consumer Protection Act (CPA) (19.86 RCW) was passed in 1961, more than a decade before the FDCPA. The CPA was passed to protect people from unfair business practices. It states that unfair or deceptive acts in trade and commerce are unlawful, and it gives people the right to sue a business that acts unfairly or deceptively.
The Collection Agency Act (CAA) (19.16 RCW) became effective in 1972, shortly before the FDCPA. The CAA covers the licensing and behavior of collection agencies, and it also lists what actions debt collectors are prohibited from doing and the penalties for violations. This law can help you get Washington state debt collectors to stop calling you and harassing you.
The Washington law requires collection agencies to send you a written notice before their first contact with you. Federal law gives collection agencies more time. Under federal law, a letter must be sent within five days of the first phone contact. But since federal law is the minimum requirement, debt collectors in Washington must follow state law.
Washington state law also has credit reporting requirements for medical debt and limits the time to sue for past-due debt. A collection agency in Washington is not allowed to report a medical debt to a credit bureau until 180 days have passed since it received the debt. So, if you have overdue medical debt from a Seattle hospital, you’ll have about six months before it will show up on your credit report.
If you have a written contract for your debt, such as an auto loan debt or credit card debt, the collection agency will have six years to sue you for the debt. The six-year time limit—also known as the statute of limitations—starts from the date you first defaulted on the debt, not the date your first incurred the debt. Usually, this means the statute of limitations starts running when you miss your first payment. If you have an oral contract for debt in Washington, the statute is three years. Statutes of limitations are state laws that cover time-barred debts.
Statutes of limitations (laws that give time limits to sue) are tricky because they can end and be restarted. In some other states, if you make a payment on your debt after the statute of limitations is up, it will restart the statute. Fortunately, this is not true in Washington state. But, if you make a payment on your debt before the statute of limitations time period is over, your statute of limitations time will restart. If you are concerned about a statute of limitations for a particular debt, be sure to talk to an attorney before taking any action.
Washington state law can also benefit you when it comes to property and income exemptions relating to collection actions and debt resolution. For instance, the homestead exemption in Washington state is $125,000, but the federal exemption is only $25,150 for individuals filing bankruptcy.
Typically, income from federal benefits like child support, pensions, and unemployment compensation payments is exempt from wage garnishment. When it comes to the wages you earn from regular employment, Washington state has more favorable exemption terms than the federal government. In Washington state, if a creditor wants to garnish your wages, they are limited in how much they can collect.
The wage exemption in Washington is 80% of your net wages or 35 times the Washington state minimum wage (currently $13.50/hour), whichever is greater. Federal exemptions only allow for the greater of 75% of your net wages or 30 times the federal minimum wage (currently $7.25 per hour).
There are also more requirements for collection agencies under Washington law that will protect you more than federal law.
Requirements for Collection Agencies under Washington law
Washington law requires debt collection agencies to be licensed and to provide mini-Miranda rights in every communication they have with you. If you have Washington debt, you’ve probably seen the following statement on debt collection letters: “This is an attempt to collect a debt and any information obtained will be used for that purpose.” That’s one of your mini-Miranda notices. It’s a civil spin-off of the “anything you say can and will be used against you” part of the Miranda notices given to people during an arrest.
As we mentioned above, the first notice a debt collector sends you in Washington is similar to the federal notice, but it must be sent before their first contact instead of within five days of the first contact. If a debt collector calls you, be sure to request written notice.
Washington also has additional requirements for medical-related debt collection. Medical bill notices must also inform you of your right to request the original account number for the debt, your right to request the date of your last payment, and your right to request an itemized statement that provides the following information:
The name and address of your medical creditor
The dates the medical services were provided
The services the medical provider claims it provided you
The total amount of principal owed on your medical debt
The adjustments that were made to the bill
The payments that were received
The interest and fees that were charged
Charity care eligibility and applied payments from charity care
If you don’t receive these notices, the collection agency has violated Washington law. Collection agencies and debt collectors can also violate laws by engaging in prohibited behavior.
Prohibited Conduct Under Washington Law
If you’re getting debt collection calls from a Washington state collection agency and want them to stop, you’ll want to be familiar with the actions that debt collectors cannot take and what you can do if collectors violate the law.
Debt collectors and collection agencies calling you cannot:
Call you between 9:00 p.m. and 8:00 a.m. unless you tell them otherwise: State law lists the morning limit at 7:30 a.m., but federal law is the boss since its minimum standard covers a wider time span. This is like a state not being able to have a minimum wage that’s lower than the federal minimum.
Communicate with you or your spouse more than three times in one week
Threaten to tell your family and friends about your debt.
Threaten you with legal action that they don’t have the right to pursue
Threaten you with criminal prosecution or arrest
Communicate with you or your family in a "harassing, intimidating, threatening, or embarrassing way" through phone calls, letters, or other methods
Threaten you through phone calls or letters
Collection agencies and debt collectors are also prohibited from using documents that look like official government documents or emergency messages to collect a debt. If you get to the point where you want to make a payment with a post-dated check, know that a debt collector can’t deposit that check before the date on the check. If they do, they’ve violated the law. They also can’t ask you for a post-dated check.
On November 30, 2021, new regulations from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will go into place that limit debt collection calls, texts, emails, and social media contact. Debt collectors will not be able to contact you through social media viewable to the public or viewable to your contacts. You’ll also have the option to tell a debt collector your preferred method of contact, and you’ll be able to tell them to stop calling you.
Have you had a debt collector violate any of the fair debt collection laws we’ve mentioned? You can do something about it.
What To Do if a Debt Collector Violates Your Rights in Washington
If a debt collector is violating your rights by harassing you with phone calls or other prohibited acts, chances are they’re using that same behavior to collect debt from others. You have the right to file a complaint. This can help government agencies document debt collector behavior and stop illegal behavior. Debt collectors violating the law can be fined, and you may be repaid money that was unfairly collected.
In June 2021, an out-of-state agency collecting debt in Washington had to return $475,000 to Washington consumers because of violations. They also had to pay $250,000 in fees and costs to the Washington State Office of the Attorney General. You can file a complaint online with the Washington State Office of the Attorney General. You can also send a written complaint by mail to:
Department of Licensing Collection Agency Board
PO Box 9034
Olympia, WA 98507-9034
You can also call the office at 800-451-7985, fax 360-750-6699, or email BLS@dol.wa.gov. You’ll need evidence, so be sure to keep all your collection agency letters and keep detailed records of phone calls. Even if your rights haven’t been violated yet, they could be in the future, so now is a good time to start keeping track of debt collector actions. Starting in November of 2021, debt collectors can’t send postcards, so be sure to keep that postcard if you get one in the mail!
You can also file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, although the FTC just brings you to the CFPB complaint site.
No matter where you live, debt collectors don’t have the right to harass you with phone calls because you are protected by the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. If you live in Washington state, you have additional protections from debt collection agencies under the long-standing Consumer Protection Act and Collection Agency Act. Keep track of your debt collection activity, and assert your rights to stop debt collection activity. You can put an end to those pestering debt collection phone calls once and for all!