Debt Collection

What is a debt collection agency?

When you get behind on payments, the creditor (bank, credit card company, or medical provider) may send your debt to another company for collection.

How do I know my debt has been sent to a collector?

Usually, you will get a letter from the collection agency telling you it is collecting the debt. The letter will explain that you have 30 days to tell the collector if you dispute the debt. If you dispute the debt, the collector cannot contact you again until it sends you proof of the debt.

How do I stop debt collector calls?

You can send a letter to the collector telling it not to contact you. When the collector gets your letter, it cannot contact you, except to tell you it plans to sue you in court.

Can a debt collector call me at any time?

A debt collector cannot call you at unreasonable times (before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.).

Are there things a debt collector cannot do when it collects a debt?

A debt collector cannot:

  • Threaten to hurt you, your family, or your property,
  • Use dirty or bad language,
  • Publish a list of names of people who refuse to pay their debts,
  • Call many times a day, or
  • Lie or make false statements.

For example, a debt collector cannot:

  • Claim you have committed a crime,
  • Make you think it is someone else (like a lawyer or sheriff),
  • Threaten to put you in jail,
  • Say it operates or works for a credit reporting agency,
  • Misrepresent the amount you owe,
  • Indicate that papers it sent are legal forms if they aren’t, or
  • Tell you they are going to garnish your Social Security or other benefits.

What do I do if I think a debt collector has done something illegal?

File a complaint with the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau at https://www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint/.  You should also talk to a lawyer about your legal remedies under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Debt Collection PDF

Acknowledgements & Disclaimer: This Fact Sheet was prepared by West Tennessee Legal Services (WTLS) and made possible by Serving Tennessee Seniors-administered by The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee at the request of the Chancery Court. WTLS thanks the Tennessee Bar Association for its permission to use The Legal Handbook for Tennessee Seniors (2014 edition) as a primary information source. This publication is supported, in part, by funds provided by the Southwest Area Agency on Aging and Disability, the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The content herein does not necessarily reflect the opinion or policy of the Southwest Area Agency on Aging and Disability or any agency of Tennessee or the U.S. government. Fact Sheets are for information only and not intended to replace legal advice. If you are in need of legal help, call WTLS at (800) 372-8346, or seek the help of a private attorney. (Revised 5/2017)