April is National Financial Literacy month and in light of that, it's important for consumers to understand they have important rights if contacted by a debt collector about a delinquent or defaulted account.
"Millions of consumers per year may find themselves behind on payments and are contacted by a creditor or debt collector," ACA International CEO Pat Morris said. "While no one ever wants to get a call or letter telling them they owe money, consumers need to know they are protected by very important federal and state laws."
America's economy relies on the repayment of consumer credit such as loans, credit cards, and bills for services rendered to keep costs down and ensure the availability of affordable credit. Federal, state, and local governments in the public sector also rely on the repayment of billions of taxpayer owed dollars in delinquencies including student loans, uncollected court fees, unpaid taxes, library fines, and traffic tickets. The following are helpful tips for U.S. consumers who may be contacted about a rightfully owed debt:
Know Your Rights. As the old adage goes, knowledge is power. Debt collection professionals have created a valuable resource called www.askdoctordebt.org to provide consumers with important information about their rights if contacted about a delinquent or defaulted debt.
Communicate. Ignoring a creditor or debt collector does not make the debt go away. In fact, it can make the situation worse. Communication is an important ally in taking control and working to resolve the reason for being contacted. It's a critical step in finding a consumer-friendly solution. If not the right person, it's important to correct this information. Similarly, communication provides an opportunity to resolve concerns or complaints.
Identification is Important. By law, a debt collector may not give out information about the existence of a debt to anyone other than the consumer or their attorney so they must confirm a consumer's identify before discussing specifics about an account. When debt collectors contact consumers they identify themselves by their company name so it can be confusing in that the consumer may have never heard of the business. Once a consumer has been properly identified, the collector can then reveal details about the debt.
Consumers have a Right to Dispute the Validity of the Debt. Third-party debt collectors work on behalf of their creditor clients to recover rightfully owed consumer obligations. By law, the collector must inform consumers of their right to dispute the debt and provide written verification if you dispute it in writing. Typically, collection activity stops until this verification is provided.
Active Military have Special Privileges. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) allows active military and, in a few cases, non-service members, to suspend or postpone certain civil obligations. A lender, creditor or insurer is prohibited by law from taking any adverse actions against military personnel because they exercised their rights under SCRA, which can only be exercised while engaged in active duty; including full-time training; annual training duty; and attendance at a service school while in active military service.
Protect Personal and Financial Information. Monitor accounts and immediately report any suspicious or unauthorized purchases to the bank or credit card provider. Consumers should monitor their credit report and report identity theft by contacting the local police department and visiting www.ftc.gov/idtheft.