Getting a call from a debt collector looking to recoup on an old debt you owe is never exactly pleasant, and it’s probably the last thing you want to deal with during the most wonderful time of the year. After all, who wants to excuse themselves from Christmas dinner just so they can sort out that cable bill they forgot to pay in college?
Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), it’s totally legal for a debt collector to try to recoup an outstanding bill you actually owe, but there are restrictions about how and when they can go about doing so. For instance, debt collectors can’t call you at times they know are inconvenient, like too early in the morning (before 8 a.m.) or too late at night (after 9 p.m.). They can’t call you at work if you ask them to stop, and they can’t call repeatedly throughout the day. But are holidays like Chanukah, Christmas and New Year fair game?
The short answer: Maybe.
“There isn’t an actual holiday carve out,” Troy Doucet, a consumer attorney in Columbus, Ohio, said in an email. However, you could argue that a call on, say, Christmas Eve is, in fact, a violation of the FDCPA.
“It would probably fall under the prohibition against calling at times known to be inconvenient,” Doucet said.
How Can I Keep Debt Collectors From Ruining My Holiday?
Keep in mind, if you’re on a debt collector’s radar and you really don’t want to deal with the account during the holiday season, you can request that they stop calling you. Under the FDCPA, a debt collector must cease contact with you if you send a written request to do so. However, it’s important to note that this request doesn’t absolve you of the debt — or the ramifications of letting a long-overdue bill you legitimately owe go unpaid. That account could still wind up on your credit report and do big damage to your credit score. And the collector could elect to seek a judgment against you to recoup the debt, which could result in garnishment and further hurt your credit. (You can see how any collection accounts are affecting your credit by viewing your two free credit scores, updated every 14 days, on Credit.com.)
That’s why you may want to try to negotiate a payment plan with a collector. Doing so could preclude them from taking further adverse action against you. If you do work something out, be sure to ask the collector to put your agreement in writing. That’ll help ensure they stick to what was agreed.
Something else to note: If you have an unpaid bill that hasn’t gone to collections yet, like an old medical debt, you may want to touch base and see if you could work something out with the creditor. They may be more willing to waive some fees, lower an interest rate or take a large lump sum payment that’s less than what you actually owe just to get back some of the money you owe back. Many creditors or service providers wait at least 90 days before turning a debt over to collections. (There are more tips for negotiating with creditors and/or debt collectors here.)
Finally, if you truly don’t owe the debt or you think a debt collector has crossed a line, you can also consult a consumer attorney about whether you have a FDCPA claim and what your next steps should be. Remember, when it comes to debt collectors, it helps to know your rights. You can go here for a debt collections crash course.