Many consumers who fall behind on debt payments may find themselves on the wrong end of phone calls and letters by companies trying to collect the debts. Often, the calls and letters are upsetting to consumers and unfortunately can lead to unwanted stress and anxiety. While some collection agents may be polite and respectful, more often consumers experience downright rudeness or even illegal threats by unscrupulous and unethical agents. So, is there anything a consumer can do to escape the harassment?
First things first
What exactly is a “cease and desist” or “stop contact” letter? This letter is written by you (the consumer) to a 3rd party collection agency telling it to STOP calling and writing you about your unpaid debts.
So, what is a 3rd party collection agency? When a consumer fails to pay debts, they may be sold to a collection agency. That means the debt is no longer owned by the original creditor. For example, let’s say you had a Chase Bank credit card that you didn’t pay. Chase may try to collect through its internal collection process; if unsuccessful it may eventually sell the debt to a collection agency.
The collection agency begins by calling the consumer, sometimes repeatedly, to collect on the debt. It may also follow up with mail and perhaps threaten to sue if you don’t pay.
Legal authority for cease and desist/stop contact letters
All consumers are permitted to write letters to collection agencies under the Fair Debt Collection and Practices Act. This is a federal law that applies to all consumers regardless of where you live in the US.
Consumers can also write the original creditor (Chase Bank in the example above) to request that Chase (or whoever you originally took out credit with) stop all phone calls and letters except those permitted by federal law. Such permitted letters include a Summons to notify you that a lawsuit has been started against you to collect the debt. Since anyone who is being sued must be notified in writing, these letters are not only allowed but in fact required by law.
Tips for writing a letter:
1. Type or print your letter neatly and clearly. If your instructions aren’t legible, they likely won’t be followed.
2. Do NOT include your phone number on the letter. Since the whole point is to stop the collection calls, don’t open the door.
3. Mail your letter to the creditor or collection agent listed on the most recent notice you received. Sending it to a specific person should be more effective than addressing it to no one or “to whom it may concern.”
4. Go to the post office and send your letter “certified mail with a return receipt.” This means someone at the collection agency has to sign off that the letter was received. The receipt will be mailed back to you so you know.
5. Keep a copy of any letters you write.
6. Be sure to keep copies of any correspondence you receive from the creditor or collection agency. If it calls you, document the date and time in your records.
7. Continue to open your mail. You should watch for mailed updates (those permitted by law) about your account from the creditor or collection agency. In particular, be on the lookout for a Summons informing you about a lawsuit to collect a debt.
8. If the creditor or collection agency continues to call you or send collection notices, contact LSS to make an appointment or speak with our Counselor on Call about the next steps to take.
Here is an example that we share with our clients. See more resources like this here.
Even when you owe debts, you still have rights and protections under the law. Don’t let a dishonest collection agent bully, threaten, or frighten you into doing something you may soon regret. Common collection strategies include coercing you into making payment promises you can’t afford, or prying sensitive bank account information out of you. LSS is here to help; we’re only a phone call away (888.577.2227) with confidential, free, and accurate information! You can email your questions to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LSS Financial Counseling can help you take action to regain control of your finances, conquer your debt, and build up savings. Call us today to schedule your financial check-up or GET STARTED online right now!
Author Barbara Miller is a Certified Financial Counseling with LSS and she specializes in Bankruptcy Counseling and Education.