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New debt collector rules you should know about

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The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice. See Lexington Law’s editorial disclosure for more information.

In October 2020, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced  a new rule for the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), which is in place to stop debt collectors from engaging in unfair practices. Consumers must understand the new debt collector rules under the FDCPA to know their rights and protect themselves. 

Your rights under the FDCPA

Approximately 28 percent of Americans with a credit report have had debt in collections, according to a 2019 report by the CFPB. Having a debt collector contact you repeatedly can feel overwhelming and intimidating. The government protects consumers by placing explicit restrictions on debt collectors under the FDCPA. By having a clear understanding of your rights, you’ll know when a debt collector is violating the law. 

The FDCPA outlines the methods a debt collector can and cannot use to contact you. Some of the previously existing rules included:

  • A debt collector cannot contact you at inconvenient times and places, including at work if they are told you’re not allowed to receive calls there. If a debt collector does contact you at work, you have the right to tell them to stop and they cannot continue calling your workplace. Additionally, debt collectors cannot call before 8 a.m. or past 9 p.m. unless you specifically say these times are okay. 
  • Debt collectors generally cannot tell others about your debt. They can only disclose your debt to yourself, your spouse, and your attorney. 
  • However, a debt collector can contact other people in an attempt to find your address, phone number or place of work. They can usually only contact these people one time. 
  • Debt collectors aren’t allowed to threaten you, use obscene language or harass you with phone calls. 
  • Debt collectors can’t tell you lies about your debt or the consequences of not paying your debt.
  • Debt collectors are not allowed to collect more than the original debt owed (like interest, fees, or other charges) unless the original contract or state law allows it.
  • If you don’t believe the debt is correct, you’re allowed to ask for a debt verification letter. After making this request, the debt collector cannot continue to pursue you until they have shown you written verification of the debt. 

It’s important to note that these rules only apply to third-party debt collectors—when a debt has been sold to another party—not the original creditor. If you have a debt outstanding with your creditor, it’s best to start discussions with them before the debt is sent off to collections. 

Updates to the FDCPA

The FDCPA has had many amendments since its original enactment in 1978. The rule was released in October 2020 and will likely go into effect in fall of 2021. 

New methods of communication

Since the FDCPA was originally created before electronic communications existed, no parameters had been set for contacting consumers via texting and social media apps. The October 2020 ruling clarified this gray area, officially allowing debt collectors to reach consumers via electronic messaging. 

Debt collectors can officially send:

  • Text messages
  • Emails
  • Direct messages on social media sites

The CFPB doesn’t limit how frequently debt collectors can send messages but “excessive” communication is prohibited. Excessive communication would violate the FDCPA, which prohibits harassment, oppression and abuse by debt collectors. 

Debt collectors that use electronic messaging to contact consumers must provide a straightforward and easy way for consumers to opt out. Consumers should most definitely use this opt-out feature if they wish to. 

Additionally, public comments on posts aren’t allowed, and debt collectors have to disclose that they’re debt collectors before sending friend requests. 

A representative for Facebook stated, “We are in the process of reviewing this new rule and will work with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau over the coming months to understand its effect on people who use our services.” 

Lack of verification

Another rule update is that debt collectors no longer have to confirm they have accurate details of a debt before attempting to collect. Previously, collectors had to verify the amount owed and the identity of the consumer before pursuing collection. This decision has met a lot of pushback as debt collectors have a history of pursuing debts that are already paid off, and this new rule will do nothing to stop that behavior. 

New limits on collectors

The new provisions also set some limitations on debt collectors. Now, when the debt collector initially makes contact with the consumer, they must:

  • Provide relevant information about the debt
  • State the consumer’s rights about the collection process
  • Provide clear instructions on how the consumer can respond to the collector 

The consumer has the right to receive all this information before their debt is reported to a credit reporting agency. 

Additionally, debt collectors cannot threaten to sue for debt that is past the statute of limitations. They can, however, still attempt to collect an old debt. 

If a debt collector is verbally asked to stop calling, this now holds the same power as a written request and they must stop calling. However, this request doesn’t mean the debt collector has to stop all forms of communication. And a request to stop calls does not mean the debt collector has to (or will) stop attempting to collect on the debts. 

Defining “harassment”

Collectors can’t call on an account more than seven times in a week, and once they have a conversation with someone on an account, they can’t call them for seven days after that. But this doesn’t help if you have multiple accounts with a collector. 

This new rule also doesn’t apply to other communication methods, and voicemails don’t count against the seven-attempts limit.  

Again, you need to be proactive about requesting that a collector stop contacting you. You should make this request in writing and keep a copy so you have a record. (And remember that the new amendments state that debt collectors must obey a verbal request to stop a particular form of contact). 

Know when your rights are being violated

These new rules were originally proposed in 2019, were approved in October 2020 and will likely go into effect in November 2021. The new rules have received a mixed response, as some rules seem to protect consumers while other rules give debt collectors more leeway. 

A debt collector has the right to collect an outstanding debt, but there are limitations in place to protect consumers. Understanding what these limitations are can help you protect yourself. Unfortunately, just because these rules are in place doesn’t mean every debt collector abides by them. The 2019 CFPB report on consumer complaints about debt collection revealed that 81,500 complaints were filed in 2018. 

If your rights are being violated under the FDCPA, you can potentially sue the debt collector for damages (lost wages, medical bills, etc.). And if you can’t prove damages, you may still be awarded up to $1,000 in statutory damages plus coverage of your legal fees. 

Ultimately, the vital step is for you to take action and stop further illegal harassment against you. 


Reviewed by Cynthia Thaxton, Lexington Law Firm Attorney. Written by Lexington Law.

Cynthia Thaxton has been with Lexington Law Firm since 2014. She attended The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia where she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in International Relations and a minor in Arabic. Cynthia then attended law school at George Mason University School of Law, where she served as Senior Articles Editor of the George Mason Law Review and graduated cum laude. Cynthia is licensed to practice law in Utah and North Carolina.

Note: Articles have only been reviewed by the indicated attorney, not written by them. The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, act as legal, financial or credit advice; instead, it is for general informational purposes only. Use of, and access to, this website or any of the links or resources contained within the site do not create an attorney-client or fiduciary relationship between the reader, user, or browser and website owner, authors, reviewers, contributors, contributing firms, or their respective agents or employers.

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Does Getting Joint Credit Cards Have an Impact on Both Spouses’ Credit?

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couples credit history

While marriage can help you improve your financial situation, it does not automatically mean that you and your spouse will share a credit report. Your credit records will remain separate, and any joint accounts or joint loans that you open will appear on both of your reports. While this can be advantageous, it’s critical to remember that joint account activity can effect both of your credit scores positively or negatively, just as separate accounts do.

Users Who Are Authorized

An authorized user is a user who has been added to an existing credit account and has been granted the authority to make purchases. Authorized users are typically issued a card bearing their name, and any purchases made by them will appear on your statement. The primary distinction between an authorized user and a shared account owner is that the account’s original owner is solely responsible for debt repayment. Authorized users, on the other hand, can always opt-out of their authorized status, although the principal joint account owner cannot.

If your credit score is better than your spouse’s as an authorized user, he or she may benefit from a credit score raise upon account addition. This is contingent upon your creditor notifying the credit bureaus of permitted user activity. If your lender does report authorized users, the activity on your account may have an effect on both you and your spouse. However, some lenders report only positive authorized user information, which means that late payment or poor usage may not have a negative effect on someone else’s credit. Consult your lender to determine how authorized users on your account are treated.

Joint Credit Cards Have an Impact on Your Credit Score

Opening a joint credit account or obtaining joint financing binds both of you legally to the debt’s repayment. This is critical to remember if you divorce or separate and your spouse refuses to make payments, even if previously agreed upon. It makes no difference who is “responsible,” the shared duty will result in both partners’ credit histories being badly impacted by late payments. Regardless of changes in relationship status or divorce order, the creditor considers both parties to be liable for the debt until the account is paid in full.

Accounts Individuals

Whether you’re happily married or divorced, you and your spouse may decide to open separate credit accounts. Most creditors will enable you to transfer an account that was previously joint to one of your names if both of you agree. However, if there is a debt on the account, your lender may refuse to remove your spouse’s name unless you can qualify for the same credit on your own. Depending on your financial status, qualifying for financing and credit on a single income may be tough.

Considerations

While creating the majority of your accounts jointly with your spouse may make it easier to obtain financing (two salaries are preferable to one), reestablishing credit independently following a divorce or separation is not always straightforward. To make matters worse, your spouse may wind up causing significant damage to your credit rating following the separation, either intentionally or through irresponsibility – making the financial situation much more difficult.

Before you rush in and open accounts with your spouse, take some time to discuss the shared responsibility of these accounts and what you and your husband would do in the event of a worst-case situation. These types of financial discussions can be difficult, especially when you rely on items lasting a long time, but a mutual understanding and respect for each other’s credit can go a long way toward keeping your score when sharing an account.

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Should you pay down debt or save for retirement?

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rebuilding credit

While establishing a comprehensive, workable budget is undeniably one of the most important factors in maintaining a healthy financial life, it can also be one of the most difficult. For those who are struggling with personal debt, building a budget can be particularly challenging. When the money coming in has to stretch like a contortionist to cover expenses, it can be hard to determine where to focus — and where to trim.

Sometimes, the battle of the budget can come down to a choice between dealing with the present — and thinking about the future. When your income is running out of stretch, do you pay off your existing debt, or do you start saving for retirement? At the end of the day, the solution to that particular dilemma depends on the type of debt you have and how far you are from retiring.

If you have high-interest debt, pay it down

When considering how to allocate your budget, it’s important to understand the different kinds of debt you may have. Consumer debt can be categorized into two basic types: low-interest debt and high-interest debt, each with its own impact on your credit (and your budget).

In general, low-interest debt consists of long-term or secured loans that carry a single-digit interest rate, such as a mortgage or auto loan. Though no debt is the only real form of good debt, low-interest debt can be useful to carry. For instance, purchasing a home with a low-interest mortgage can actually save you money on housing costs if you do your homework and buy a house well within your price range.

High-interest debt, on the other hand, typically has a hefty double-digit interest rate and shorter loan terms, such as that of a credit card or payday loan. High-interest debt is the most expensive kind of debt to carry from month to month and should always be priority number one when building a budget.

To illustrate why you should focus on high-interest debt above everything else, consider a credit card carrying the average 19% APR and a $10,000 balance. If the balance goes unpaid, that high-interest credit card debt will cost $1,900 a year in interest payments alone. Now, compare that to the stock market’s average annual return of 7%, and it becomes clear that you’ll see significantly more bang for your buck by putting any extra funds into your high-interest debt instead of an investment account.

If you are having trouble paying off your high-interest debt, there may be some steps you can take to make it more manageable. For example, transferring your credit card balances from high-interest cards to ones offering an introductory 0% APR can eliminate interest payments for 12 months or more. While many of the best balance transfer cards won’t charge you an annual fee, they may charge a balance transfer fee, so do your research. You’ll also want to make sure you have a plan to pay off the new card before your introductory period ends.

Most balance transfer offers will require you to have at least fair credit, so if your credit score needs some work, you may not qualify. In this case, refinancing your high-interest debt with a personal loan that has a lower interest rate may be your best bet. Make sure to compare all of the top bad credit loans to find the best interest rate and loan terms.

If you’re nearing retirement, start to save

The closer you get to retirement age, the more important it becomes to ensure you have adequate retirement savings — and the more pressure you may feel to invest every spare penny into your retirement fund. No matter your age, however, paying off your high-interest debt should always remain the priority, as it will always provide the best rate of return (as well as likely provide a credit score boost).

Indeed, no matter how tempting it becomes, you should avoid reallocating money you’ve dedicated to paying off high-interest debt to save for retirement. Instead, the focus should be on re-evaluating your budget to find any additional savings you can. To be successful, you will need to make a strong distinction between want and need — and, perhaps, make some tough lifestyle choices.

Though simply eliminating your daily coffee drink won’t magically provide a solid retirement fund, saving a few bucks by homebrewing while also eliminating a pricey cable bill in favor of an inexpensive streaming service — or, better yet, free library rentals — can add up to big savings over the course of the year. The ideal strategy will involve overhauling every aspect of your lifestyle, combining both large and small cuts to develop a lean budget structured around your long-term goals.

Of course, while you should never allocate debt money to your retirement savings, the reverse is also true. It is almost always a horrible idea to remove money from your retirement account before you hit retirement age — for any reason. Withdrawing early means you will be stuck paying hefty fees for withdrawing money early and, depending on the type of account, you may also have to pay significant taxes.

Aim for both goals by improving income

As you take the necessary steps to pay off debt and save for retirement, you may have already stretched the budget so thin it’s practically transparent. In this case, it is time to consider ways to improve your overall income. Increasing the amount you have coming in not only provides extra savings to put toward your retirement, but may also speed up your journey to becoming debt-free.

The easiest solution may be to look for ways to increase your income through your current job; think about taking on additional shifts or overtime hours to earn some extra cash. Depending on your position — and the time you’ve been with the company — consider asking for a pay raise or promotion, as well.

If you do not have options to make more money at your day job, it may be time to find a second job. Look for opportunities that provide flexible schedules that will accommodate your regular job; many work-from-home positions, for example, can easily fit into most work schedules. Doing neighborhood odd jobs, such as babysitting and dog walking, may also provide a solid income boost without interfering with your existing job.

For some, the need to pay off debt and improve retirement savings can be more than just a source of stress — but a hidden opportunity to begin a new career adventure. Instead of being weighed down by yet more work, use the desire to better your budget as a reason to explore the profit potential of a passion or hobby. Starting a small online store, part-time consulting service, or other small business can be a great way to improve your income and your overall happiness.

While it may sound intimidating, starting a side business can be as simple as putting together a professional looking website and doing a little marketing legwork to spread the word. And no, building a website isn’t as scary — or expensive — as it seems, either. A number of the top website builders now offer simple drag-and-drop interfaces perfect for putting together a professional-looking web page in minutes (without breaking the bank).

Learn how you can start repairing your credit here, and carry on the conversation on our social media platforms. Like and follow us on Facebook and leave us a tweet on Twitter.



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How does a loan default affect my credit?

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loan default

Nobody takes out a loan expecting to default on it. Despite their best intentions, people sometimes find themselves struggling to pay off their loans. These types of struggles happen for many reasons, including job loss, significant debt, or a medical or personal crisis.

Making late payments or having a loan fall into default can add pressure to other personal struggles. Before finding yourself in a desperate situation, understanding how a loan default can impact your credit is necessary to avoid negative consequences.

30 days late

Missing one payment can further lower your credit score. If you can pay the past due amount plus applicable late fees, you may be able to mitigate the damage to your credit, if you make all other payments as expected.

The trouble starts when you (1) miss a payment, (2) do not pay it at all, and (3) continue to miss subsequent payments. If those actions happen, the loan falls into default.

More than 30 days late

Payments that are more than 30 days past due can trigger increasingly serious consequences:

  • The loan default may appear on your credit reports. It will likely lower your credit score, which most creditors and lenders use to review credit applications.
  • You may receive phone calls and letters from creditors demanding payment.
  • If you still do not pay, the account could be sent to collections. The debt collector seeks payment from you, sometimes using aggressive measures.

Then, the collection account can remain on your credit report for up to seven years. This action can damage your creditworthiness for future loan or credit card applications. Also, it may be a deciding factor when obtaining basic necessities, such as utilities or a mobile phone.

Other ways a default can hurt you

Hurting your credit score is reason enough to avoid a loan default. Some of the other actions creditors can take to collect payment or claim collateral are also quite serious:

  • If you default on a car loan, the creditor can repossess your car.
  • If you default on a mortgage, you could be forced to foreclose on your home.
  • In some cases, you could be sued for payment and have a court judgment entered against you.
  • You could face bankruptcy.

Any of these additional consequences can plague your credit score for years and hinder your efforts to secure your financial future.

How to avoid a loan default

Your options to avoid a loan default depend upon the type of loan you have and the nature of your personal circumstances. For example:

  • For student loans, research deferment or forbearance options. Both options permit you to temporarily stop making payments or pay a lesser amount per month.
  • For a mortgage, ask the lender if a loan modification is available. Changing the loan from an adjustable rate to a fixed rate, or extend the life of the loan so your monthly payments are smaller.

Generally, you can avoid a loan default by exercising common sense: buy only what you need and can afford, keep a steady job that earns enough income to cover your expenses, and keep the rest of your debts low.

Clean up your credit

The hard reality is that defaulting on a loan is unpleasant. It can negatively affect your credit profile for years. Through patience and perseverance, you can repair the damage to your credit and improve your standing over time.

Consulting with a credit repair law firm can help you address these issues and get your credit back on track. At Lexington Law, we offer a free credit report summary and consultation. Call us today at 1-855-255-0139.

You can also carry on the conversation on our social media platforms. Like and follow us on Facebook and leave us a tweet on Twitter.



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