Being in debt is no picnic—especially when the phone rings off the hook with aggravating calls from collectors. Many people are surprised to learn that collectors must stop contacting you if you ask them to, and if you’re judgment proof (you don’t own anything that a creditor can take from you), it makes sense to enforce this right. After following particular steps, you’ll be free to answer your telephone without the fear that it will be another harassing creditor.
(For more information, read What It Means to Be Judgment Proof: Your Creditors Can't Collect From You.)
How to Stop the Calls
Under the law, collectors are required to stop contacting you upon your request. If you want the calls to end, you can tell the creditor to stop calling you in one of two ways:
- over the phone, or
- by sending a “do not contact” letter with the account information and an instruction to stop contacting you.
Even though you can assert your no contact right over the phone—and probably should do so—it might be difficult to prove that you made the request later. Making your demand in writing is preferable because it will create documentation for your records. Overall, the best approach might be to do both: Ask for the calls to stop when the creditor calls on the phone and then follow up with a letter.
Sending a “Do Not Contact” Letter
After contacting you by phone, the collector is required to send you a collection letter no later than five days after the first call. Once you receive it, you’ll have the contact information you’ll need to send your letter—known as a “do not contact” letter—asking for the communication to stop.
It’s best to send a do not contact letter by certified mail with a return receipt requested. Also, you’ll want to keep a photocopy of your signed letter so that you have a reliable paper trail if it becomes necessary to prove that you made the request. Since debt collectors often sell their accounts to other agencies, you might have to send letters to several different collectors before creditors stop contacting you about an account.
Informing the Creditor About a Special Status
If you’re a senior or a person with a disability, you’ll want to include this information in your letter. Collectors who continue contacting you after being told that you fall into either category might be subject to special legal penalties.
You might want to include the fact that you are judgment proof, as well. Why? Because the creditor might stop contacting you after learning that there’s nothing to gain.
Creditors Cannot Harass You
Your rights extend beyond the ability to ask creditors to stop calling. Specifically, collectors are not allowed to:
- call you repeatedly
- use abusive language
- make false threats (such as saying the police will come and arrest you)
- use a computer to make repeated calls without connecting you to a person (“robocalling”)
- call at inconvenient places after you’ve asked the creditor to stop calling there (such as your workplace)
- call other people and tell them that you owe money, or
- call before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. in your time zone.
Some aggressive collectors, however, do not follow the law and will continue to call even after being asked to stop. If a creditor persists after sending a do not contact letter, or engages in harassing behavior, you might have a legal claim against the collector.
What to Do If the Creditor Continues Calling or Harassing You
If a debt collector is bothering you by phone, keep track of the calls and the offending activity. Documenting unlawful actions will help you prove that the inappropriate conduct took place. If you want to take further action, here are a few ways to handle unruly creditors:
- file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
- contact the Legal Services Corporation, or
- seek advice from an attorney who specializes in debt collection defense.
(If you’re considering bankruptcy, read Should I File for Bankruptcy If I’m Judgment Proof?)
Collectors Can Sue You
Some collectors stop collection activity once they know that you are judgment proof. But not always. Even with a do not call letter in place, the creditor can still sue you. If you’re truly judgment proof, however, it’s unlikely to happen, and, even if it does, a collector’s judgment is worthless if you don’t have any assets the creditor can recover.
(Learn more in Delinquent Debt Lawsuit: What to Expect When a Creditor Sues You.)
Questions for Your Attorney
- Am I judgment-proof?
- Is a creditor likely to sue me?
- Do I have a claim against a creditor for harassment?