Allegheny County Bar Association Releases
Legal Tips and Your Rights Concerning Debt Collection
Pittsburgh Pennsylvania – April 27, 2012. The officers of the Allegheny County Bar Association today released legal tips to help citizens understand their rights in debt collection. These tips are the ninth in a series of monthly briefs from the association on a timely legal issue. The legal tips are part of the association’s ramped-up marketing efforts to better inform the general public about the free legal information, assistance, and services available through the bar.
According to Howard J. Schulberg, President of the Allegheny County Bar Association, “We received close to 2,100 calls during our annual call-in show on KDKA-TV this week, and many of the calls had to do with debt collection practices and debt collectors, specifically. Unfortunately as the economy continues its ups and downs, more people are struggling with credit card issues that are often followed by calls from debt collectors.”
Schulberg said it is important to understand your rights when dealing with debt collectors. “We want to ensure that people understand that you cannot be jailed for being late on a debt payment, and any such threats are prohibited by the law.”
Future monthly tips will focus on such areas of the law as wills and estates, power of attorney, collaborative law, divorce and custody issues, and teens and the law. The March 2012 monthly legal tips dealt with your legal rights and responsibilities when dealing with the internet.
Chartered in 1870 and headquartered in downtown Pittsburgh, The Allegheny County Bar Association is a professional organization with more than 6,500 member attorneys, judges, legal administrators, and paralegals.
Howard J. Schulberg
Allegheny County Bar Association
Director of Lawyer Referral Service
Allegheny County Bar Association
Director of Marketing/Media Relations
Allegheny County Bar Association
Allegheny County Bar Association Monthly Legal Tips
Debt Collection Practices
Although we do see some hopeful signs, we are still dealing with a struggling economy. Many people still find that they are facing a mountain of debt and are unsure the steps to take when confronted with collection efforts. Bankruptcy laws can be confusing and it may take some people a significant amount of time to gather the filing fee.
If you are continually receiving delinquency notices and debt collectors are always calling, here are some basic facts and some tips to help navigate through this tough time.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (often called the "FDCPA") gives you specific legal rights when dealing with debt collectors. It allows you to sue debt collectors who unlawfully threaten, berate, intimidate or harass you; call you during odd hours, make false representations about the debt or their intentions, or otherwise act in ways proscribed by the act.
One example of conduct that is illegal under the FDCPA is a debt collector contacting your place of employment in an attempt to collect the debt. A debt collector cannot communicate with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt at the consumer's place of employment if the debt collector knows or has reason to know that the consumer's employer prohibits the consumer from receiving such communication. Bottom line is that no employer enjoys the thought of paying you to sit there and take calls about your overdue debts all day, so this type of action is clearly prohibited.
The FDCPA requires that within five days after the initial communication with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt, a debt collector shall (unless already provided in the initial contact), send the consumer a written notice containing - (1) the amount of the debt; (2) the name of the creditor to whom the debt is owed; (3) a statement that unless the consumer, within 30 days after receipt of the notice, disputes the validity of the debt, or any portion thereof, the debt will be assumed to be valid by the debt collector; and (4) a statement that if the consumer notifies the debt collector in writing within the 30-day period that the debt is disputed, the debt collector will obtain verification of the debt. This basically means that if you don’t remember this debt, you have the right to ask what it’s about and get answers to those questions.
- If you are being harassed by a creditor, keep an accurate record of the contacts. Save phone messages, keep letters, keep a detailed list of the times the calls were received and the content of the conversation, and other communications from the debt collector.
- Make no statements and don’t agree with anything without first speaking to an attorney to find out your options. Many times it is tempting to try to negotiate your way out of a debt, and collections agencies will attempt to get you to do so, but it can come back to haunt you later on and may give creditors extra ammunition.
- Each time a debt collector contacts you, he must give you what is known as a "Mini-Miranda Warning." This warning received that name because it is reminiscent of the warnings that police should give you if you are arrested, however, "Mini-Miranda Warnings" have nothing to do with criminal law. A "Mini-Miranda Warning” must contain the following words (or words imparting this meaning):
"Hello, I am _________(name of collector). I am (or this office is) a debt collector representing____________(name of the creditor). Information obtained during the course of this call will be used for the purpose of collecting the debt."
If the creditor has not been advising you as above, you may have a right to sue. Any letter you receive from a debt collector must have the same type of information as well.
- Acknowledge that you owe the money! This is very important if the debt is old. By acknowledging the debt, you may actually extend the time the creditor can sue on it.
- Discuss anything with a collector unless you want to;
- Answer a phone for a collector (this works with caller ID).
- Speak with the collector if you do answer the phone.
- Answer any questions at all posed by the collector (collectors will often demand that you rearrange your finances, or cut back on other expenses to pay them; there is no requirement that you justify your lifestyle to a collector).
- Discuss information about your personal and financial affairs (you do not have to disclose private information about assets or income).
- You, or an attorney acting on your behalf can send the creditor/collection agency a “cease and desist” communication letter which invokes your rights under the FDCPA and prohibits them from contacting you or a family member in an attempt to collect the debt. In addition, once you are represented by an attorney and notify the creditor of this, they cannot legally contact you. They must speak with your attorney.
- • Also keep in mind that Pennsylvania does not allow wage garnishment except in the case of child support or tax debt. You do not have to worry that your paycheck will be attached to satisfy a debt incurred by credit card.
If you need a lawyer, you can call the Allegheny County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at
412-261-5555 or you can visit PittsburghLawyerFinder.org, the association’s new, free online service.