When collection agencies try to collect money from you, federal law plus the laws of some states protect you from harassment. Creditors can't threaten you with violence or publicise your debt to embarrass you, and if you tell them to stop calling, they must do so. If you receive a collection letter asking for money, you're better off responding than staying quiet. If the letter demands you pay a debt you don't owe, the law spells out the best way to respond.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Easy
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Review the information in the collection letter. If a debt collector doesn't explain her reasons for contacting you -- the amount she claims you owe, and to whom -- when she first calls or writes you, she must provide you with the information within five days of first contact. Go over the facts and make sure you don't owe the money.
Write a letter to the debt collector within 30 days of receiving the debt notification. Tell him in the letter that you don't owe the money. If it's a debt you did owe but paid off, attach copies of any paperwork you have that shows this. Once the debt collector receives the letter, he must stop contacting you or write back with proof of the debt, if he has any.
If the collector responds with proof that you owe the money, such as an unpaid bill or a record of a court judgment, she'll send you a copy. There's no time limit on when she has to respond, but if she has evidence, she isn't likely to wait. If you don't hear anything back, your creditor probably doesn't have the evidence to make his case.
Keep copies of all correspondence between you and the debt collector. If the collector tries suing you for the money, you might need the copies of your correspondence to make your case. If the collector continues to contact you without offering proof that you owe the debt, you can use the file to register a complaint with the government or to sue the collector for violating the law.
Tips and warnings
- Once you challenge the debt, the creditor has to list it with the credit bureaus as "in dispute." Check your credit report to make sure this was done; if you have evidence that you don't owe the money, try to get the debt removed from your report. You can order free reports from the three major bureaus once a year through the Annual Credit Report website.
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