For many people who find themselves deeply in debt, one of the worst experiences they can have is the barrage of telephone calls from bill collectors. While no one has the right to be abusive to debtors or to harass them incessantly, there are guidelines that govern such calls.
The U.S. Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) applies to calls placed by debt collection agencies and attorneys trying to collect on a debt, but not to original creditors, such as a credit card company.
Under the FDCPA, collection agencies and attorneys must stop making phone calls to collect a debt once the person who owes the money informs them that they do not want to be called at home or at work. At that point, the collectors are required to contact the debtor in writing only.
Some states, including Texas, Michigan and California, go beyond the federal requirement. Those states also require original creditors to stop phoning debtors once they have been informed to contact the debtor in writing only.
However, once a person files for bankruptcy and informs the collectors of their action, telephone calls generally stop. According to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, filing a bankruptcy petition “automatically stays,” or stops collection efforts, including telephone calls.
At this point, individuals or businesses that owe money will often refer bill collectors to their bankruptcy attorneys. But even in cases in which someone is not represented by an attorney, collectors know that the bankruptcy filing provides a stay on their efforts to obtain payment and will wait for a court ruling on the bankruptcy.
There are some exceptions to an automatic stay. For instance, it cannot stop collection efforts to obtain payment for debts not covered by bankruptcy, such as back child support or alimony payments.
Even in those cases, abusive telephone calls aren’t allowed by law. “A debt collector may not contact you at inconvenient times or places, such as before 8 in the morning or after 9 at night, unless you agree to it,” according to a Federal Trade Commission guidebook on the FDCPA. “And collectors may not contact you at work if they’re told orally or in writing that you’re not allowed to get calls there.”
Once the bankruptcy court rules to discharge the debts, no further actions, including phone calls, can be taken by collectors. If the court denies the debtor’s bankruptcy petition, the case is dismissed and collectors can resume their efforts to obtain payment.
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