Behind on Debts? Know Your Rights
Kiplinger's Personal Finance|May 2021
There are limits on what debt collectors can do to recoup what you owe. If you have medical debts, you have even more rights.
By Rivan Stinson

The average Fico Credit Score hit an all-time high last summer, but that doesn’t mean debts aren’t a problem. Nearly 30% of consumers with a credit report had some type of debt in collection last October, according to data from the Urban Institute, a policy think tank. And when debts go into collection, they end up in the hands of debt collectors—a common source of angst for consumers.

According to the Consumer Federation of America, a consumer advocacy group, credit and debit issues, including those related to debt collection, are among the top 10 complaints that consumers file with state and local consumer agencies. And thanks to a new debt-collection rule issued last year by the government’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, complaints aren’t likely to decline anytime soon.

The CFPB’s two-part rule, set to take effect in November, will allow debt collectors to contact consumers via e-mail, text and direct messages on Facebook and other social media sites—and there’s no limit on how many times the collectors can reach out to you using these methods. On the plus side, you may not receive as many phone calls during dinner because collectors will be limited to seven calls a week for each debt. If you pick up the phone during one of these attempts, the collector can’t call you again that week to discuss that particular debt.

That’s still a lot of calls, and consumer advocates are concerned about the lack of a cap on electronic communications, says Linda Sherry, director of national priorities at Consumer Action, a consumer advocacy group. If you have, say, three debts in collection, you could receive up to 21 calls a week and mountains of social media messages. Consumer groups hope that the Biden administration’s nominee to head the CFPB, Rohit Chopra, will support tweaking the rule to limit digital communications.

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