When managed correctly, loans can be a powerful tool to achieve your financial goals, afford a family car, buy your dream home, finance your kids’ education, boost your FICO score, and much more. And yes, establishing a stellar reputation as a borrower can open up a world of opportunities for your personal finances and beyond!
But, no matter how much of a responsible borrower you are, it is not always possible to foresee the challenges that life will throw at you. From unexpected medical emergencies to financial setbacks or a job loss, even the most sensible debtors can find themselves dealing with overwhelming debt, foreclosures, or bankruptcy.
And, while you are fighting to rebuild your finances, something can make things even worse: creditor harassment. Of course, it is in the interest of your creditors to obtain their money back - but the law specifies how and when payment requests are legitimate.
If you have been dealing with harassing behavior from one or more of your creditors, rest assured that there are several laws protecting you from unlawful threats, deception, and acts of intimidation. Discover what your rights are, how to protect yourself, and how to receive the compensation you deserve by partnering with an experienced attorney at Starks Law.
Creditor Harassment By The Numbers: You Are Not Alone
According to 2021 reports, Americans carry an average personal debt of $90,460 - a figure that reaches a whopping $140,643 when looking at the average debt carried by members of Generation X (ages 40-55). So, taking out a loan and carrying debt is normal - and millions of US citizens are grateful for the opportunity to borrow money from a reputable institution.
However, not all creditors are created equal.
If you find yourself dealing with unmanageable debt, the chances are that you will receive friendly and overdue payment reminders, as well as more critical final notices. However, when these lending institutions aren’t able to pay, they might pass the responsibility on to debt collection agencies.
Most of these third-party agencies - over 6,000 in the US - pursue debt collection in legitimate ways. However, nearly 70 million consumers deal with debt collectors on a regular basis, and one-in-four report threatening contacts and intimidatory acts. What’s more, nearly a third of debtors report receiving calls at inconvenient times, and 40% are contacted four or more times per week.
Ultimately, if your debt has become unmanageable and you are struggling to keep up with repayments, you are likely to receive notices from your creditors and debt collection agencies. But when do calls and reminders stop being legitimate and become harassment? Learn what creditor harassment is and how to stop it below.
What Is Creditor Harassment?
Lending institutions and reputable creditors will use several strategies to attempt debt collection. These are expected if you owe a large amount of money and you are not keeping up with loan repayments. These methods include:
- Friendly reminders
- Overdue payment reminders
- Direct contacts
- Final notices
- Formal letters of demand
It is important to notice that both creditors and debt collection agencies might carry out a lawsuit against debtors who fail to repay their loans. But this doesn’t mean that they are entitled to use unlawful strategies to solicit repayments.
If this happens, you might be dealing with creditor harassment - an illegal act regulated by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act of 1978.
- Note - The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act only protects you from being harassed by third-party debt collectors, who are hired by or work on behalf of a creditor or a company who’s regular course of business is the collection of debt. The Act does protect you against the harassment caused by first party creditors. Make sure to speak to a lawyer at Starks Law to understand what is the best course of action in each case as the FDCPA is not the only statute aimed at protecting debtors from unruly creditors.
Understanding Your Rights Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA)
Approved in 1977 and updated in 2010, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a federal law introduced to outline what practices debt collectors are entitled to use when attempting to collect debt on behalf of another party (i.e.: an individual creditor, a lending institution, or bank) or businesses whose primary course of business is the collection of debt .
In particular, the law establishes:
- How often a debt collector is allowed to contact a debtor
- When and at what time of the day debt collectors can contact debtors
- How many times the debt collector can attempt to contact
- Who else aside from the debtor the debt collector can contact
- The types of loans covered (medical bills, credit card debt, mortgages, and student loans)
The FDCPA aims to protect debtors and consumers from debt collection practices that are abusive, threatening, intimidatory, or deceptive. This act only aims to protect individuals and not businesses.
If debt collectors violate one or more of the guidelines established by the FDCPA, the debtor is entitled to file a lawsuit against them in a state or federal court. The debtor can also ask for compensation for the physical or emotional damages the debt collector might have caused.
What Constitutes a Violation of the FDCPA?
The FDCPA offers precise guidelines to understand when debt collectors are or aren’t acting lawfully. Any of the following constitute a violation of the FDCPA:
- Calling at inconvenient times - Debt collectors can only contact debtors at convenient times, not before 8 am or after 9 pm. This is unless the debtor specifically requested to be called outside of permitted hours.
- Contacting you at work knowing your employer doesn’t approve - debt collectors are not allowed to contact a debtor at any place inconvenient, such as a debtors workplace where the collector has reason to believe the employer prohibits such communication.
- Ignoring a cease-and-desist- if a debtor explicitly requests to only be called at home, certain times or not at all in the case of a cease-and-desist, debt collectors cannot ignore this.
- Failure to provide a “letter of validation” - within five days of the first collection attempt, debt collectors must provide debtors with a letter specifying the amount of debt, name of the original creditor, and a notice of your rights to dispute the debt within 30 days.
- Using obscene or abusive language - debt collectors must keep communications polite and professional at all times, and they need to be honest about who they are and who engaged them. Any intimidating, or abusive language (explicit or implicit) is strictly forbidden.
- Informing a third party about the debt - debt collectors are forbidden from sharing information about the debtor in public. For example, informing your friends, family, or colleagues about your debt can be a violation of the FDCPA.
- Threatening actions they cannot or will not take - debt collectors cannot threaten to sue on debt that is beyond the Statute of Limitations. In Pennsylvania, this is four(4) years. Additionally, implying legal actions are already occurring when they are not is likely a violation of the FDCPA as well.
- Using or threatening violence - debt collectors cannot threaten or use violence to collect a debt. Threats of violence likely break more laws than those pertaining specifically to the collection of debt.
- Refusing or failing to adequately verify a debt upon a written request - When requested within 30 days of the debt collectors written notice, they must adequately verify the debt before they continue collection activity. Failure to adequately verify or continuing collection attempts before verification is a violation of the FDCPA.
The FDCPA goes into far more detail, defining how many times a debtor can be called, and what defines harassment. For example, multiple calls that cause your phone to ring many times, deceptive information, and misrepresentation can all give you the right to sue a debt collector.
Even more importantly, the Act specifies that you have the right to be represented by an attorney who can handle all communication between you and the debt collector.
Debtor Compensation Under the FDCPA
One of the main reasons to report abusive behavior from your debt collectors or creditor harassment is that you are entitled to statutory damages of up to $1,000 and actual damages.
When working with your creditor harassment attorney at Starks Law, you will be able to determine the damages that require compensation. These might include:
- Statutory damages(up to $1,000)
- Attorneys’ Fees and Costs
- Damages for emotional and physical distress
Aside from monetary compensation, a debtor can also achieve injunctive remedies where the court orders a halt to specific actions such as:
- Requiring the debt collector to stop calling
- Requiring the debt collector to stop sending letters
- And, a halt to other activities the court determines appropriate
Benefits of Engaging an FDCPA Attorney
Attempting to deal with creditor harassment without the help and support of professionals can lead to catastrophic consequences. The law, especially civil procedure, is often unforgiving in its application. There are rules for everything and even a slight oversight could result in the case entering an unrecoverable tailspin.
Mishandling an FDCPA claim could result in getting less compensation than you deserve by either being pressured into settling for too little or failing to identify compensable damages. Handling the case improperly could also result in the entire lawsuit being dismissed for failure to state a claim for which relief can be granted. Losing an FDCPA claim could also leave you with less money than when you started. It is not uncommon for a debt collector to pursue reimbursement for attorneys’ fees. In Scroggin v. Credit Bureau of Jonesboro, the debt collector was awarded $30,000 in attorneys fees and costs where the court determined the debtor brought the case in bad-faith.
Additionally, debt collectors and creditors will know the ins and outs of this aspect of the law. Dealing with an FDCPA claim may be new to a debtor, but it is almost certainly not new for the debt collector. FDCPA claims are not new to us either. We know how to bring these correctly, we know what a claim is worth and we know how to get results.
Even more importantly, amidst dealing with your creditors, liaising with debt collectors, and enduring harassing behavior, you will also need to start preparing and filing court documents, attending settlement conferences and possibly even arguing Motions to Dismiss and Motions for Summary Judgment in open court. All of this can cause significant stress and add a burden to your daily and family life.
Getting an attorney from Starks Law on your side could be the key to your success. FDCPA claims are brought on a contingency fee meaning that we only get paid if you do. Because the FDCPA has a fee shifting provision, the reimbursement for your damages remains yours.
Put simply, arguing an FDCPA case yourself likely won’t save you any money. Even if you claim every statutory and actual damages correctly, you are likely to get the same compensation. The only thing you gain is additional risk and the experience of navigating the legal system by yourself.
But there are many more reasons why, if you are dealing with an abusive debt collector, you should not think twice about hiring a lawyer. Check us out below or get in touch with an attorney at Starks Law to learn how we can help.
Contingent Fee Structures Won’t Cause You Any Out of Pocket Expenses
No debtor harassed by a debt collector wishes to deal with such a situation for long periods of time. However, many people already dealing with unmanageable debt overlook the importance of hiring an attorney - or just assume that they won’t be able to afford their legal services.
However, here at Starks Law, we are committed to providing highly quality and affordable legal assistance to each of our clients. That is why we implement a contingent fee structure for every FDCPA case. We don’t get paid unless you do.
Contingent fees are fees that the client will only have to pay a lawyer if the lawyer wins the case and secures a successful result for the client.
Make sure to consult one of our lawyers to understand what financial help is available to you.
FDCPA Provisions Shift Attorney Fees to the Debt Collector
Another financial relief for clients comes from the fee-shifting provision of the FDCPA. The FDCPA authorizes fee shifting, allowing a plaintiff to recover reasonable attorney's fees as determined by the court with costs “in the case of any successful action to enforce the foregoing liability.”
What this means is that if a case ends by an award of the court, your attorney will file a motion with the court to have the fees paid by the debt collector. It should be noted, however, that most FDCPA cases end in settlement. Fees in settlement are often paid by taking a percentage of the overall settlement amount. This settlement amount, however, typically takes into account what a reasonable attorney would charge.
An FDCPA Attorney from Starks Law Can Help You Through the Next Steps
Unlawful creditor harassment can cause you to undergo severe emotional and physical stress, financial loss and unimaginable financial pressure. Luckily, you don’t have to deal with it alone. Contact the legal team at Starks Law directly or request a call back to free so that we can determine a course of action tailored specifically to you.
In some cases, a well-crafted cease-and-desist letter sent to your debt collector or creditor might be all you need to free yourself of damaging harassing behavior. In other cases, you might need to undergo litigation with the help of an experienced FDCPA attorney.
No matter what course of action you decide to take, an FDCPA attorney from Starks Law can help. Consultations are, and will always remain, absolutely free of charge.