Suze Orman
Photo: Brian Bowen Smith
Debt collection is a big-time business. Creditors who have made multiple attempts to collect on old debts often hire a collection agency to try to recover the money. Or they may sell your debts to an agency that will try to get you to settle up so it can make a profit. Either way, debt collectors have plenty of motivation to get you to pay. And that often leads to heavy-handed harassment that doesn't abide by federal and state laws for protecting consumers. Here's how to make sure debt collectors follow the rules:

  • Get verification. Within five days of first contacting you, a debt collector must provide written verification of the name of the creditor, the amount of the debt, and steps you can take to dispute the claim. If you do owe the money, find a credit counselor through the National Foundation for Credit Counseling to advise you on your options.
  • Call them on their game. Debt collectors initially have the right to contact you at home or at work between 8 A.M. and 9 P.M. But you have the right to make them stop. If you tell a debt collector (orally or in writing) that your employer doesn't allow such calls at work, those calls must cease. You can also mail a written request to stop the home phone calls (by law a collection agency must supply its contact info to you). Write a letter telling the agency to stop calling; send it certified mail with a return receipt, so you have evidence. Once the collector receives your letter, it may contact you only to tell you it won't contact you anymore (yes, it's a bit convoluted) or to say it is taking a specific action, like suing you.
  • Tune out the threats. No debt collector has the right to garnish your wages or bank account to settle a debt. Only a court of law has that right; until a debt collector sues you, any threats of garnishment are simply scare tactics.
  • Report harassment. Because the Federal Trade Commission enforces the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you can file complaints at But many states have their own debt collection laws, so contact your state attorney general to learn about your state's protections and the steps you can take to fight off an unscrupulous collector. You can find a link to your state attorney general at
Ask Suze your questions about debt & saving money 

Suze Orman's most recent book is her 2009 Action Plan: Keeping Your Money Safe & Sound (Spiegel & Grau).

Please note: This is general information and is not intended to be legal advice. You should consult with your own financial advisor before making any major financial decisions, including investments or changes to your portfolio, and a qualified legal professional before executing any legal documents or taking any legal action. Harpo Productions, Inc., OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, Discovery Communications LLC and their affiliated companies and entities are not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your financial or legal decisions.


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