The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) gives you the right to force a debt collector to stop communicating with you.
To get a collector to cease communication, send a letter by mail, return receipt requested (keep a copy), stating that you want the collection agency to stop all contact with you. You can also send this letter electronically if the collector uses that way of accepting communications from consumers. So, if the debt collector accepts emails from consumers, you can send your message via email.
If you send a cease and desist letter to a debt collector, the collector must stop contacting you except to tell you that:
But while telling a debt collector to stop contacting you might 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 collector will sue you.
The benefit of sending a debt collector a cease and desist letter is that they'll stop harassing you. If a 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.
Many consumer advocates advise against sending a stop-contact letter unless the debt collector is really stressing you out. Here are some drawbacks to telling a debt collector to stop communicating with you.
Telling a debt collector not to contact you doesn't get rid of 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 get regarding the debt and what the debt collector is doing.
When you force a debt collector to stop contacting you, the debt collector often has no choice but to either:
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 get a default judgment (an automatic win). Then, if you have enough income or property, it might be able to garnish your wages or attach (seize) your assets.
In some cases, it might make sense to tell a debt collector to stop contacting you.
The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from contacting you repeatedly, using profane language, making threats, or otherwise harassing you. If a debt collector is constantly calling you and causing you major stress, sending a cease-communication letter can stop the collector from harassing you.
Though, you can probably accomplish this goal in other ways, too. If the debt collector is engaging in these behaviors, you have several other options, including:
Once you default on a debt, the creditor has a limited amount of time to file a lawsuit against you to collect on it. This time limit 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. In fact, the FDCPA prohibits debt collectors from bringing or threatening to bring a legal action against a consumer to collect a debt when the statute of limitations has expired.
But keep in mind that some actions, such as making a partial payment or a promise to pay, might reset the statute of limitations clock. Also, even if the statute of limitations expires, you still owe the debt. So, 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 contacts.
If a debt collector contacts you about a debt that you're sure you don't owe, sending a cease and desist letter can stop the collector from contacting you about it again. But because creditors routinely sell their debts to different debt collectors, it can be hard to know for sure whether 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 about this right. 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.
If you're thinking about filing for bankruptcy, stopping the collector from contacting you might be a good idea. Once you file, an order called the "automatic stay" goes into place. The stay stops most collection calls, but collectors can still call before you file.
If you need help dealing with an aggressive debt collector, figuring out what option is best for handling your debts, negotiating a settlement, or responding to a lawsuit for nonpayment of a debt, consider consulting with a lawyer. Once you've hired a lawyer, under the FDCPA, a collector must talk to your attorney only—not you—unless you give permission to contact you or your lawyer doesn't respond to the collection agency's communications.
And if you have a lot of debts, you might want to consider filing for bankruptcy.