What Is the California Fair Debt Collection Practices Act?

The Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is California's main debt collection law.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is a federal law prohibiting debt collectors from engaging in abusive or deceptive bill collection practices. Those living in California are also protected by the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, which covers more types of collectors and offers additional protections to consumers.

So, if you live in California, you’re protected by both the federal FDCPA and California law.

The Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act: The Basics

The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) (15 U.S.C. §§ 1692 and following) governs the way in which debt collectors may try to get you to pay a debt. This law, among other things, prohibits debt collectors from:

  • using deceptive and unfair tactics
  • regulates what time of day debt collectors can contact you, and
  • requires that collectors honor a request not to contact you.

The FDCPA applies to agencies collecting debts for someone else. So, the FDCPA wouldn’t apply to a credit card company when it collects on an overdue account. But it would apply if the credit card company hired a collection agency to collect on its behalf. (To learn more about the protections the FDCPA offers, see Illegal Debt Collection Practices .)

How California’s Debt Collection Law Differs From Federal Law

California residents get protections under state law in addition to the protections that the FDCPA offers. California’s main debt collection law is the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (the “Rosenthal Act”). (Cal. Civ. Code §§ 1788 to 1788.33).

While the federal FDCPA applies to debt collection agencies—but not original creditors—California law extends the protection to creditors, and others. Under the Rosenthal Act, the term “debt collector” includes:

  • original creditors
  • collection agencies
  • anyone who collects consumer debts in the regular course of business, and
  • anyone who makes and sells forms, letters, and other collection media for debt collection. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1788.2).

Incorporating Federal Law Into California’s Law

The Rosenthal Act also requires that original creditors comply with most parts of the federal FDCPA. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1788.17). So, in California, original creditors have to comply with both the Rosenthal Act and the FDCPA. If, for instance, a credit card company contacts you about an overdue bill, it must follow both the FDCPA and the Rosenthal Act. (To learn more about the difference between debt collectors and original creditors, see What Is the Difference Between a Debt Collector and a Creditor.)

The Rosenthal Act contains two significant exceptions for when a creditor doesn’t have to comply with the FDCPA: creditors don’t have to provide consumers with a “mini-Miranda” notice, and they don’t have to send consumers a debt validation notice.

Debts and Collectors Not Covered by California’s Debt Collection Law

The Rosenthal Act doesn’t apply to every person trying to collect a debt in California, nor does it apply to all kinds of debt.

Occasional debt collectors don’t have to comply. The Rosenthal Act applies only when people and companies ordinarily and regularly collect consumer debts. For example, say you’re contacting an acquaintance who owes you money, but you don't regularly collect money. You don’t have to comply with the Rosenthal Act. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1788.2).

The law applies to consumer credit transactions only. The Rosenthal Act applies to debt collectors who are attempting to collect on debts that people incur by borrowing money, buying property, or obtaining services for personal, family, or household needs. (Cal. Civ. Code § 1788.2). So, it probably doesn’t protect you from those collecting debts you incurred while operating your business. Likewise, you don’t need to comply if you’re collecting debts owed to you by other businesses.

Prohibited Collection Activities Under the Rosenthal Act

The Rosenthal Act contains a lengthy list of regulations that apply to debt collection activities. Under the law, among other things, debt collectors:

  • can’t use threatening or unlawful conduct
  • can’t misrepresent themselves, and
  • must respect the judicial process.

Talk to a Lawyer

If you think a debt collector has violated the Rosenthal Act or the federal FDCPA when trying to collect from you, consider talking to an attorney to get advice about your options.

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