Should I tell a debt collector to stop contacting me?
Under the FDCPA, you can tell a debt collector to stop contacting you, but it's not always a good idea to do this.
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The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) gives you the right to force a debt collector to stop communicating with you. But while telling a debt collector to stop contacting you may provide some temporary relief, it can also:
- keep you in the dark about what the debt collector is doing, and
- increase the chance that the debt collector will sue you.
(Learn more about how the FDCPA works.)
You Can Stop Debt Collectors from Contacting You
If you don’t want a debt collector to contact you, the FDCPA allows you to make a written request to stop all communications (commonly referred to as a cease and desist letter). If you send a cease and desist letter to a debt collector, the debt collector must stop contacting you except to tell you that:
- it’s ending communications, or
- it may (or will) sue you or use another legal remedy to collect the debt.
Benefits of Telling a Debt Collector to Stop Contacting You
The benefit of sending debt collectors a cease and desist letter is that they will stop contacting you. If a debt collector continues to contact you (other than for the reasons listed above), you can sue for a violation of the FDCPA and ask for money damages. (Learn more about damages you are entitled to for FDCPA violations.)
Drawbacks of Telling a Debt Collector to Stop Contacting You
There are also drawbacks to telling a debt collector to stop communicating with you. Because of the following drawbacks, many consumer advocates advise against sending a cease and desist letter unless the debt collector is harassing you or causing significant stress in your life.
Lack of Information
Telling a debt collector not to contact you doesn’t eliminate the underlying debt. Even if the debt collector can’t contact you, it can still take legal steps to collect the debt, like filing a lawsuit. By stopping all communications with the collector, you limit the amount of information you have regarding the debt and what the debt collector is doing.
Increased Chance of Collection Lawsuits
When you force a debt collector to stop contacting you, the debt collector often has no choice but to either:
- sell the debt to a different collector, or
- sue you in court to collect the debt.
For this reason, sending a cease and desist letter might increase the likelihood that the debt collector will file a lawsuit against you to enforce the debt. If you don’t defend the lawsuit, the debt collector can obtain a default judgment. Then, if you have enough income or property, it may be able to garnish your wages or attach (seize) your assets. (Learn about how wage garnishments work.)
When It Might Be a Good Idea to Send a Cease and Desist Letter
In some cases, it might make sense to tell a debt collector to stop contacting you.
The Debt Collector Is Harassing You
The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from calling you repeatedly, using profane language, making threats, or otherwise harassing you. If a debt collector is constantly calling you and causing you stress, sending a cease and desist letter can stop the collector from harassing you. (Learn more about illegal debt collection practices under the FDCPA.)
Keep in mind, if the debt collector is engaging in these behaviors, you have several remedies. To learn more, see What Can You Do if Debt Collector Violates the FDCPA?
The Statute of Limitations Has Expired
Once you default on a debt, the creditor has a certain amount of time to file a lawsuit against you to collect on it (this is called the statute of limitations). In most cases, state law determines the length of the statute of limitations. When the statute of limitations expires, the creditor can’t sue you to collect the debt. (Learn more about when creditors can’t sue you for unpaid debts.)
But keep in mind that certain actions (such as making a partial payment or a promise to pay) may reset the statute of limitations clock. Also, even if the statute of limitations expires, you still owe the debt. This means that a debt collector can still contact you to collect the debt even if it can’t sue you.
If you know for sure that the statute of limitations has expired, it might make sense to send a cease and desist letter to stop the collection calls.
It’s Not Your Debt
If a debt collector contacts you about a debt that you’re absolutely sure you don’t owe, sending a cease and desist letter can stop the collector from calling you again. But because creditors routinely sell their debts to different debt collectors, it can be hard to know for certain whether or not you owe the debt.
Under the FDCPA, you have a right to dispute the debt and request verification from the debt collector within 30 days after you first receive notice of the obligation. Until the debt collector sends you proof that you owe the debt, it must stop its collection efforts. It's usually a good idea to ask the collector to verify the debt before sending a cease and desist letter.