Warybuyer Guide to Stopping Debt Collectors

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act gives you the power to force debt collectors to stop contacting you. This guide shows you how to use the Act to make debt collectors:

1. Stop all collection efforts until they verify your debt if you request verification or dispute your debt in the first 30 days after you receive notice from the debt collector.

2. Stop all collection efforts until they investigate your dispute regardless of when you dispute the debt. (Texas Residents Only)

3. Stop calling you at work.

4. Stop calling you altogether.

How to Stop a Debt Collector From Contacting You

Even if you legitimately owe the money a debt collector wants you to pay, you can make the debt collector stop contacting you. You invoke your rights simply by writing the debt collector a letter telling him what you want. If the debt collector does not comply, he will be liable to you for violation of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, or in the case of option 2, the Texas Debt Collection Act.

Important Note: The rules that allow you to stop contact with a debt collector do not apply to creditors. For information about the difference between a debt collector and a creditor read my Debt Collector or Creditor page. If you are being harassed by a creditor, read the Warybuyer Guide to Stopping Telephone Harassment for steps you can take to stop harassment.

Option 1: No Contact Without Verification of Debt Requested in First 30 Days

If you act within the first 30 days after receiving the first letter from the debt collector, you can invoke your verification right. All you have to do is write the debt collector a letter requesting verification of the debt. You can use my sample Letter Requesting Verification of Debt as a guide for writing this letter. I recommend that you always request verification from any debt collector that contacts you. Read my Warybuyer Guide to Disputing a Debt for more information about why that’s important.

If you have a legitimate reason to believe that you do not owe the debt, either because you don’t owe it at all or the debt collector is asking for more than you owe, don’t just ask for verification of the debt. Instead, dispute the debt and explain in detail why the debt collector is wrong about the debt. My Warybuyer Guide to Disputing a Debt has more information about how to do this and why it’s important.

Once he receives your request for verification or dispute, the debt collector must stop all collection activities until he provides you with information verifying your debt or responding to your dispute. This means he cannot contact you by phone or by mail, except to gather more information about the dispute. He cannot make any report to a credit reporting agency and he cannot initiate any of his possible legal remedies, such as filing a lawsuit against you.

If the debt collector properly responds to your verification request or dispute, he can resume collection activity. However, many debt collectors do not bother to respond. They just move on to another debtor who is not as savvy as you. Some debt collectors cannot respond. This is particularly true for old debts. The only information the debt collector may have is a line on a computer tape that contains your name, address, account number and the amount owed. The original papers showing that you agreed to pay the debt may no longer exist or may be difficult to retrieve. If this is the case, the debt collector has no choice but to cease collecting from you.

A verification request or a dispute is one of your most powerful weapons against a debt collector. It is the only weapon that requires the debt collector to completely stop all collection activity. However, it is only available to you if you act within the first 30 days after your receive the debt collector’s first letter to you, so you have to act fast to use this tool.

Option 2: No Contact Without Investigation of Dispute Sent Anytime (Texas Residents Only)

Texas has special rules for dispute resolution by debt collectors that are more generous than the federal debt verification procedure described above. If you live in Texas, you may dispute a debt at any time by giving the debt collector written notice of your dispute. Upon receipt of the notice, the debt collector must stop all collection efforts until it investigates to determine the actual amount of the debt, if any.

No later than 30 days after the debt collector receives your dispute, it must respond in writing either denying the inaccuracy, admitting the inaccuracy, or requesting more time for the investigation. If it admits the inaccuracy, it must update its records and send a notice of inaccuracy and a copy of the corrected information to each person to whom it gave a report of the inaccurate information. If it requests more time, it must correct its records in accordance with your request and give notice of the correction to each person to whom it reported the disputed information. The debt collector may resume collection efforts only after its investigation is completed and it has determined the information to be accurate.

Note: Although the Texas law allows you to stop collection efforts with a dispute at any time, it does require you to actually dispute the debt. You cannot simply request verification of the debt as you can under federal law. Be careful to make only good faith disputes, otherwise you will lose credibility and have a very difficult time enforcing your rights in court if you have to later.

Option 3: No Contact At Work

If your employer does not allow you to take personal calls at work, you can force a debt collector to stop contacting you at work. All you have to do is write the debt collector and inform him that you cannot take calls at work. If the debt collector continues to contact you at work after receiving this letter, he will be liable to you for violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Option 4: No Contact At All

You can stop all contacts from a debt collector if you choose. All you have to do is write the debt collector a letter telling him that you either do not want him to contact you any more or that you refuse to pay the debt. This letter is often called a “cease and desist” letter and you can use my sample Stop All Contact Letter for this purpose.

Once a debt collector receives this letter, he may send you one final communication advising you of the action he intends to take with respect to your debt and then he must cease contacting you. The debt collector can continue to try to collect the debt, for example by listing it on your credit report, and does not lose any of his legal remedies, such as filing suit on the debt, on account of the cease and desist letter.

As a practical matter, the cease and desist letter is likely to end all active collection efforts. The vast majority of debts collected by debt collectors are too small to be collected by filing a lawsuit. This is especially true in Texas, where we have generous homestead protections that render most middle class households essentially judgment proof. For more information about your protection from creditors under Texas law, read my Warybuyer Guide to Texas Homestead and Asset Protection Laws.

A debt collector who continues to contact you in violation of one of the three types of no contact requests listed above is violating federal law and may be liable to you for those violations. Contact me and we can discuss whether you should file a lawsuit against the debt collector.

A debt collector who is harassing you or making false, misleading or deceptive claims in his collection calls is also violating the law, even if you haven’t asked him to stop contacting you. The Warybuyer Guide to Stopping Phone Harassment will explain how to deal with this kind of situation and how to document the abuse so that you can make it stop.