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Consumer protections for creditor calls are about to get stronger

Being behind on your bills is an incredibly stressful experience. All the contact from creditors and collection agencies only makes things worse. While at first this contact might be seen as "friendly reminders," eventually it can turn into creditor harassment, and there are ways you can stop it.

You can stand up for your rights

Some debt collectors will say almost anything, or even make threats against you in order to intimidate you into pay a bill. Most people don't realize that there are federal rules that control how creditors can contact you, and how they can talk to you. For example, they can't call before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m., and they can't call you at work if you tell them not to.

Soon, there should be even more protections in place. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently revisited the rules regarding debt collection practices and created provisions that would limit how and when consumers can be contacted. The new rules would insist that collectors:

  • Document the debt fully
  • Make it clear what a consumer should do to dispute the debt
  • Disclose if the debt is too old to sue someone to collect it
  • Limit contact about a debt to no more than 6 times in a week
  • Wait at least 30 days before attempting to collect debt owed by a deceased family member

When debt collectors don't follow these rules, consumers have a right to take action.

You don't have to pay debts that you don't actually owe

If you've been behind on your bills before, it is possible to lose track of what you owe and to whom. Some debt collectors will take advantage of that and try to collect debt from people who don't even owe them money. Others may simply be careless in how they verify a debt and attempt to collect from the wrong person.

Whether it is an honest mistake or a deliberate action, you should not have to pay back money you do not owe. If the debt isn't obvious, it might belong to someone else, or it may be too old to collect.

The majority of complaints that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau receives are about debt collection practices, and 40% of those complaints involve debts that the person does not even owe.

Sometimes bankruptcy is your best option

If you are in real financial trouble, sometimes the best option is to start over with a clean slate. You can do this by filing bankruptcy with the help of an attorney.

Although it will take some time for the bankruptcy to fully process through the court, one action that is almost immediate is the automatic stay. The automatic stay will freeze collection efforts and stop harassing and annoying calls or other contact attempts about debts -- whether they are legitimate or not. It can also keep you from being found in contempt for failure to pay child support, stop eviction procedures, prevent utility shut offs, delay foreclosure procedures, or prevent wage garnishment. This will allow you to get your bearings while you work with your bankruptcy lawyer on a long-term solution.

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