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How to get a debt collector off your back

  • The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act protects you from being harassed.
  • The CFPB has tools for dealing with debt collectors.
  • Credit counselors can help you set up a payment plan if you are delinquent.

When it comes to harassment, debt collectors can sometimes feel more threatening than a jilted lover.

A third of consumers has been contacted by a creditor or debt collector in the past 12 months, according to a report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Of those consumers who had contact, 27 percent reported feeling threatened by the conduct of that collector, and 36 percent said they received a call at an "inconvenient" time — between 9 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Know your rights

Thanks to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, collectors are prohibited from threatening violence or harm or using profanity. They are also prohibited from calling you at inconvenient times, unless you agree to that contact.

This federal law protects you from being harassed. It applies to personal — not business — loans and covers various kinds of debt, including medical bills, mortgages and credit cards.

Verify and respond

There are debt-collection scams, so it's important to verify that the debt and the collector are legitimate before making any arrangements to pay. Make sure the debt isn't so-called zombie debt that's past the statute of limitations in your state.

Loop in the CFPB

The government agency's site has sample letters that can help you request more information about the debt or specify how you want to be contacted as well as letters that will get collectors to stop contacting you altogether.

You can also file a complaint with the CFPB about any debt collection abuses you encounter. Despite existing laws, complaints about debt collection account for a quarter of all the grievances the 5-year-old agency has received to date — more than any other industry.

Work it out

If it's not a mistake and you do owe money — this is the time to pay up.

There are many nonprofit credit counselors out there to help you develop a budget, weigh your options and work out a repayment plan. Go to the National Foundation for Credit Counseling to find a counselor in your area.

American actors Michael Douglas and Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction."
Sunset Boulevard | Getty Images
American actors Michael Douglas and Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction."

If you maintain your payment arrangements, the majority of those phone calls will stop well before they get "Glenn Close" crazy.

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