You may owe a debt, but you still have rights. And debt collectors have to obey the law.
If You Owe Money
Creditors don't want to bring in a debt collection agency. But if it looks like you won't pay, they will. The creditor will sell your debt to a collection agency for less than face value, and the collection agency will then try to collect the full debt from you.
If you owe a debt, act quickly — preferably before it's sent to a collection agency. Contact your creditor, explain your situation and try to create a payment plan. Usually, creditors will help you catch up.
What Debt Collectors Can’t Do
Debt collectors are regulated by the Texas Debt Collection Act. Among other things, the Act prohibits debt collectors from:
Using abusive collection tactics, including:
- threatening violence or other criminal acts
- using profane or obscene language
- falsely accusing the consumer of fraud or other crimes
- threatening arrest of the consumer, or repossession or other seizure of property without proper court proceedings
- using the telephone to harass debtors by calling anonymously or making repeated or continuous calls
- making collect telephone calls without disclosing the true name of the caller before the charges are accepted
Using fraudulent collection tactics, including:
- using a false name or identification
- misrepresenting the amount of the debt or its judicial status
- sending documents to a debtor that falsely appear to be from a court or other official agency
- failing to identify who holds the debt
- misrepresenting the nature of the services rendered by the collection agency or the collector
- falsely representing that the collector has information or something of value in order to discover information about the consumer
- Trying to collect more than the amount originally agreed upon. (But remember: your debt can grow by the addition of fees — e.g., collection fees, attorney fees, etc.).
Violators of the Texas Debt Collection Act are subject to criminal and civil penalties. If you think you have been harassed or deceived, you can even seek injunctions and damages against debt collectors.
These actions are also violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices/Consumer Protection Act, which gives the Attorney General the authority to take action in the public interest.
If You Dispute a Debt
If you dispute the legitimacy of something in your debt collector's file, you must give the collector written notice. Simply calling the collector won't cease collection activities.
If possible, send your dispute letter by certified mail (with "return receipt requested") so you know it was officially received by the collector. The collector then has 30 days to determine whether or not the disputed item is correct.
If the disputed item is correct...
The debt collector can continue collection activities.
If the disputed item is incorrect...
It must be corrected. The debt collector must notify anyone who has already received a report containing the incorrect item. If, at the end of 30 days, the debt collector has not been able to determine whether the item is correct or not, they must make the change you requested and notify anyone who received a report containing the incorrect item.
Debt Collectors Can’t Take Your Home or Your Wages
In Texas, if your residence has been declared a homestead, it cannot be taken to pay a debt—except for debts taken for the purchase of the home (i.e., mortgage in default), for home improvements, for home equity loans or to pay certain taxes.
- Learn more about declaring your home as a homestead.
Wages may be garnished only to pay debts related to court-ordered child support, back taxes, and defaulted student loans. Debt collectors cannot garnish wages for repayment of consumer debt.
If a debt collector threatens to take your home or garnish your wages, you may be the victim of a debt collection scam. File a complaint with us immediately.
Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
This federal law applies only to collectors working for professional debt collection agencies and attorneys hired to collect a debt. It is similar to Texas law, but also prohibits:
- Calls at work if the collector has reason to know the employer does not permit such calls
- Calls before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m. unless the collector knows such times are more convenient for the debtor
- "Unfair or unconscionable means to collect or attempt to collect a debt"
- Any conduct to harass, oppress, or abuse
If you are being subjected to harassing, abusive, or fraudulent debt collection tactics by professional debt collectors — and you want to stop further contact with you — notify the collector in writing. Keep a copy of your letter and send the original to the debt collector by certified mail.