Under federal law, you can access one free credit report yearly, and sometimes, you may dispute a deb if you see inaccurate debt entries. You may also have received notice from a debt collector that you owe money on a certain debt, but you do not believe you owe the debt or the amount the debt collector claims.
You have rights under federal and state law when you believe companies tried to collect or report inaccurate accounts. Debt collectors, including those contacted by consumers, must not report you carelessly, and credit bureaus must give you the right to dispute a debt. If you’re facing challenges with debt collection or inaccurate reporting, consulting with a California debt defense attorney can help you understand and assert your rights effectively.
Federal Law Dictates How Debt Collectors Can Contact You and Collect Debts
Federal law limits what a debt collector can do when dealing with you. A federal law called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act acts as a consumer protection statute.
Debt collectors can still do their job, but you have several protections. FDCPA restricts when and how often debt collectors can call you. The law also prohibits debt collectors from verbally abusing or lying to you.
You have many other protections under the law. If the debt collector violates the statute, FDCPA gives you the right to enforce it directly in a lawsuit against the debt collector. You can turn the tables on the debt collector, and they can owe you money.
If you believe the debt collector violated the law, contact an FDCPA attorney today. Your lawyer can investigate the situation and advise of your rights. If necessary, they can prepare and file an individual lawsuit against the debt collector or join a class action case if many people have suffered the same harm as you.
Standing up for your debtor rights can obtain legal relief for harm you suffered, and send a message that creditors should always comply with the law and respect consumer rights.
You Can Challenge a Debt if Things Do Not Look Right to You
When a debt collector contacts you, federal law gives you legal rights. The debt collector does not have the first and final say about whether you owe money. You have the right to challenge the validity of the debt. The debt collector will then have to provide information about the debt’s validity so you can determine whether you owe the money.
While disputing a debt does not necessarily put a close to the issue, it can give you more clarification so you can decide how to respond.
The debt collector comes into play because your original creditor has sold them the debt. The debt collector then takes over as your creditor because you now owe them the money. Alternatively, your original creditor might have enlisted the debt collector’s help, and they will receive a contingency fee if you pay back the debt.
What the Debt Collector Must Tell You About the Debt
The debt collector may send you an initial notice informing you they own the debt. They must identify themselves and the company for which they work.
Federal regulations also mandate that the debt collector provide you with certain information that includes:
- Notice that the statement is from a debt collector
- The name and mailing information of the debt collector
- The creditor to whom you owe the debt
- The account number associated with the debt
- An itemization of the amount that you owe, including the principal, interest, and fees
- The current amount of the date as of the date of the notice
- Information you can use to reply to the debt collector, such as if you believe the debt is not yours or if the amount is wrong (the debt collector must even include specific language that you can use when you respond that will tell them that you are disputing the debt)
- The end date of the period that you have to dispute the debt
The debt collector must send you the validation information in the initial communication with you or within five days. The requirement holds whether the initial communication came over the phone or in writing through the mail.
The validation information gives you enough information to decide whether the debt is valid.
Reasons Why You Would Dispute a Debt
When you dispute a debt, you will give a reason to the debt collector.
You may dispute a debt because:
- The debt is not yours
- You did not owe the debt in the first place
- You already paid the debt
- You are disputing the debt for other reasons
You can also ask the debt collector to send you the contact information of the original creditor so you can speak with them about the debt.
You Must File Your Dispute Quickly to Stop Collection Efforts
Federal regulations give you 30 days to dispute the debt with the collector. Once you dispute the debt, the collector must verify the debt. While they verify the debt, they must stop all debt collection efforts. They cannot contact you in the interim to get you to pay the debt.
You do not lose the right to dispute the debt if you miss the 30-day deadline. However, the debt collector can continue to contact you and make collection efforts. Of course, you can stop communication in all forms if you tell the debt collector to stop.
The other thing that the debt collector cannot do while verifying the debt is report the debt to any credit bureau. Once the debt collector reports the debt, your credit score will suffer. Not paying bills on time is the most significant factor that can harm your credit history and keep you from getting loans in the future. Thus, the debt collector must verify the debt beforehand.
The Credit Bureaus Can Mark the Debt as Disputed if You Still Disagree
If you dispute the debt, and the debt collector verifies it, they still cannot report it to the credit bureau without any limitations. They must report the debt as disputed, which will appear on your credit report. This way, when potential future creditors see the debt, they will know you believe it is inaccurate information and initiated a dispute.
This often allows you to explain the circumstances to another creditor instead of them relying solely on the wrongful information on your credit report. You often have a better chance of obtaining new credit or financing with an updated credit report showing the dispute.
When you dispute the debt, do it through a letter. If you dispute the debt verbally, the collector can continue their efforts. If possible, send the letter-certified mail so you have confirmation that the debt collector received it. Always maintain a copy of the letter for your files so you have it in the future if you need it. Documentation is vital because the debt collector may deny something if you have only verbally told them.
If the debt collector does not provide sufficient proof of the debt after you have challenged it, they cannot contact you again. If they do, you can hold the debt collector liable in a lawsuit. FDCPA imposes sharp limits on when and how the debt collector can contact you.
You Can Also Fight the Debt Collector in Court
Even if the debt collector validates the debt, it is not the end of the story. They may sue you in court to get you to pay. You can dispute the debt in court at that time. If the judge finds it invalid, the debt collector will lose their lawsuit against you.
If you do not believe you owe the debt, you should not pay it without a fight. Never pay it without the debt collector filing and winning a lawsuit. No matter how much the debt collector may badger you, do not give in to them just to make them go away. Then, you will cost yourself money, and the debt collector will win.
As soon as you even pay part of a debt, you may admit you owe the money. If you let the debt collector pressure you into paying something you do not owe, they win.
What Happens if the Debt Collector Reports an Invalid Debt?
The debt collector must take care when they report your debt to the credit bureaus. You can hold both the debt collector and the credit bureau liable when you suffer harm due to wrong information on your credit report.
The FDCPA also legally entitles you to accurate credit reporting. First, you must dispute the inaccurate information on your credit report. The credit bureau must perform a reasonable investigation of the report’s accuracy. If the investigation revealed an invalid debt, the credit bureau must remove the information from your report.
The credit bureau need not determine that every incorrect entry is false. They must have reasonable procedures and conduct a thorough investigation. Otherwise, you can hold them liable in a lawsuit. The company that furnished the incorrect information can also face legal action. The damages can escalate if you show the furnisher or credit bureau recklessly or willfully violated FDCPA.
Your Damages in an FDCPA Lawsuit
When you win your FDCPA lawsuit, the debt collector must pay you damages.
These damages can include:
- A one-time statutory award of $1,000 for breaking the statute
- Mental anguish that you have suffered from the damage to your credit and dealing with a debt collector who breaks the law
- Lost income if the anguish that you suffered caused you to miss time from work
- Other economic damages that you sustained because of the damage to your credit
You can recover punitive damages if you file a case under state law. FDCPA usually preempts state law, but you can file a claim in state court if state law is more extensive.
Why You Need an FDCPA Attorney
Filing a lawsuit for false reporting requires you to prove a set of facts in your case. Not only will you need to show that the reporting was incorrect, but you will also need to prove that the credit bureau failed to perform a reasonable investigation. Then, you can demonstrate a willful violation. You need an attorney to investigate your claim and build your case.
The debt collector will either defend the lawsuit or try to negotiate a settlement. If they try the latter, you need an attorney to maximize your compensation.
There is a chance that you can lead or join a class action lawsuit. If a furnisher reported incorrect information for several consumers, you may have a class that can file a lawsuit. You will need more plaintiffs who have suffered the same harm to file a class action lawsuit. Usually, the benchmark in a class action case is 40 class members.
It does not cost you anything upfront to hire an FDCPA lawsuit attorney. Your lawyers will work for you on a contingency basis. You do not need to pay a retainer or hourly fee while your case is pending. Consumer protection lawyers in California charges legal fees only if you win your case. They will receive compensation from the proceeds of your lawsuit.
Take Legal Action When a Debt Collector or Credit Bureau Violates the Law
Debt collectors and credit bureaus have their legal obligations that they must follow. The credit reporting system does not allow them to do anything they want.
Since your credit report significantly impacts your life, they have the duty to report accurate information and investigate if you have disputed the validity of a debt. You can and should hold them accountable for the harm that they have done to you.