This week we are looking for ways to help you get your money in order. When it comes to paying off debt, it’s important to know your rights and what you need to do if a collector calls. You may owe a debt, but you still have rights - and debt collectors have to obey the law.
Question: What if you don’t think the debt is yours?
Answer: You may not recognize the name of the company that says you owe money - because the debt could have been sold to another company.
The person calling to collect money has to give you “validation information.” This includes: the amount of debt, the name of current creditor, and how to get the name of the original creditor.
What debt collectors can’t do
Debt collectors are regulated by the Texas Debt Collection Act. The Attorney General for Texas website says 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
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. [You can make a complaint here.]
Question: can a debt collector take money from my paycheck?
Answer: Yes, but the collector must first sue you to get a court order that says it can take money from your paycheck.
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. 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.
You should dispute any debts you don’t think you owe in writing. Debt collection FAQ from the Federal Trade Commission.
Paying off debt is the first step to getting your money in order
Financial coach Connie Portlas joined me for an episode of Ask Amy. She says listing out your debt should be your first step in getting your money in order.
“A lot of people don’t even look at their statements,” said Portlas. “They don’t even know what their interest is they just look at the minimum payment.”
See details from Connie’s full interview in our Ask Amy episode show notes.