The best place to file a complaint against a debt collector is with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Better Business Bureau (BBB). Both bureaus will forward a copy of your complaint to the debt collector and ask for a response, which they will then forward to you. Complaints are made visible to online viewers, if you give your permission for publication, and the bureaus will attempt to help you and the debt collector resolve any issues that you are having. What you say in your complaint, how you say it, and what issue(s) you complain about can make a big difference however in whether or not your problem can or will be resolved.
Where to File Your Debt Collector Complaint
The CFPB is a federal agency that helps protect consumers against unfair treatment by banks, lenders, and other financial institutions. It provides an online complaint system on its website for consumers to file complaints when they feel that they have been treated unfairly. Not only will filing a complaint with the CFPB provide you with a way to resolve the issue, but it also gives the agency insight into the problems that consumers are facing so that it can better enforce federal consumer protection laws.
The BBB is a non-profit organization that creates and maintains searchable profiles for U.S. businesses in order to help facilitate a trustworthy marketplace where consumers can access information about a company's dealings with previous clients and customers, post reviews, and file complaints. The BBB also offers an online complaint system on its website and provides instructions for using the system and information about what types of complaints it accepts and what actions it will take once a complaint is filed.
Valid Issues for a Complaint Against a Debt Collector
While you may feel as if you are being treated unfairly by a debt collector for a number of reasons, generally neither the CFPB or BBB can help you resolve the issue if your complaint is about the debt collector's legal actions. So, you should first determine if the debt collector's actions may be in violation of any consumer protection law. This may sound like a daunting task, but you do not have to locate and read every law in order to get a basic idea of what types of collection practices violate consumer protection law. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), and Electronic Funds Transfer Act (EFTA) are three major federal consumer protection laws that debt collectors commonly violate. These Acts prohibit debt collectors from doing such things as:
- Calling a consumer before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.
- Allowing a consumer's phone to ring continuously in order to annoy them
- Threatening jail or criminal charges if a consumer does not pay a bill
- Failing to provide a consumer with information that allows them to verify they owe a debt
- Using auto-dialers or recorded voice message to contact consumers without their permission
- Contacting a consumer after receiving a written request to stop
- Debiting a consumer's bank account for payment without authorization
- Using obscene, profane, or abusive language
- Discussing a consumer's debt with a third party, other than to verify contact information one time
- Reporting false information to a credit reporting agency
- Attempting to collect fees or additional sums not allowed for in the original contract
Most violations of consumer protection law by debt collectors involve the FDCPA. You can find an easy to understand guide to this act here.
Issues that are Not Valid for a Complaint Against a Debt Collector
There are some common issues that consumers include in complaints against debt collectors that are likely not going to be resolved, as they should be filed against the original creditor or involve actions which are legal and not prohibited by consumer protection laws.
The Debt Was Paid to the Original Creditor or Covered by Insurance
If you paid the debt to the original creditor, either before or after the account was given to a collection agency, or your insurance paid or should have paid the account, your complaint is not with the debt collector. It is with the original creditor who should have properly credited your payment, notified the debt collector of the payment, and/or worked with your insurance company to ensure it received payment. Because a debt collector works for the original creditor, its information is limited to that provided by the original creditor, and it may legally act on that information. If the original creditor has provided inaccurate information to a debt collector, you should contact them to have your account removed from collections, file a complaint against the original creditor, and possibly contact a consumer protection attorney for help resolving the issue.
The Debt Collector Refuses to Negotiate Payment Arrangements or a Settlement
Debt collectors are not required by any law to negotiate payment arrangement or a settlement agreement. While it may seem unfair for them to refuse to do so, you must contact the original creditor in order to make payment arrangement or reach a settlement if the debt collector is not willing to do so.
I Did Not Agree to Pay the Debt Collector and Have No Contract with Them
A debt collector is a person or company hired by an original creditor to collect a debt owed to the creditor. U.S. contract law allows creditors to hire third parties to perform this service for them. Therefore, you do not have to have an agreement with the debt collector to pay them or to allow them to attempt to collect on a debt you owe to the creditor who hired them.
What to Include in Your Complaint Against the Debt Collector
Both the CFPB and the BBB will ask for basic information when you file your complaint. This includes the name and address of the debt collector and your name and address. You may also be asked to choose a category for your complaint or provide your email address or military status. The body of your complaint should include times, dates, and names of callers, dates of letters you received, and a short, concise description of what happened. For example, if a debt collector called you before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m., you should give the date and time of the call and say whether you answered the call or it went to your voice mail or answering machine and exactly what the person calling said. If you saved a message or have a recording of the call, you should also mention this in your complaint. You should also clearly state what you want to happen, so in this example you would say that you want the debt collector to stop calling you before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.
What Not to Include in Your Complaint Against a Debt Collector
In order to help the CFPB, BBB, and debt collector understand what law may have been violated, what you expect to happen next, and what everyone can do to help, your complaint and statement concerning what you want to happen next must be clear and concise. Including irrelevant or excessive information, threats to sue the debt collector, or demands that simply cannot be met will decrease your chances of accomplishing anything with your complaint. Your complaint should not include:
- Names of, citations to, or quotes from the law. The debt collector, CFPB, and BBB already know the law. Including this information in your complaint will only make it harder to read and follow and less likely that the issue will be resolved.
- Any information concerning your inability to pay the debt. If you are unable to pay a debt, you should consult a consumer protection or bankruptcy attorney to help you negotiate a payment arrangement or settlement or file for bankruptcy protection.
- Threats to call your attorney or sue the debt collector. While you have every right to call an attorney, and in many cases, you probably should, threatening to do so in your complaint will not help the CFPB or BBB resolve your issue and could make the debt collector less likely to help.
If a debt collector is harassing you and the issue was not resolved after you filed complaints with the CFPB and BBB, please contact our office at 1-800-219-3577, for a free, no obligation consultation.