Significant Changes to the FDCPA in Late 2021

As of November 30, 2021, debt collectors must comply with additional restrictions under changes to the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).

By , Attorney University of Denver Sturm College of Law
Updated 2/23/2024

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) (15 U.S.C. § 1692 and following) protects consumers from abusive debt collectors. The FDCPA places numerous restrictions on what collectors can—and can't—do when collecting debts.

It also provides consumers with certain rights and remedies against those who violate any of the law's provisions. For example, under the FDCPA, a collector can't contact you at an unusual or inconvenient time or place, threaten to harm you, use obscene language, or call you repeatedly with the intent to annoy or harass you.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a final rule amending Regulation F (12 C.F.R. § 1006 and following), which implements the FDCPA. Effective November 30, 2021, under these changes, consumers get more control over how debt collectors communicate with them, while collectors must comply with additional restrictions on how they collect debts.

Restrictions on Phone Call Frequency

Under the amended law, a debt collector may not call a consumer more than seven times within seven consecutive days or within a period of seven consecutive days after having had a telephone conversation with the person in connection with the collection of such debt. The date of the telephone conversation is the first day of the seven-consecutive-day period. (12 C.F.R. § 1006.14(b)).

This limitation applies to each particular debt, not per consumer. So, a debt collector can call you more often if you owe on several debts they're trying to collect. And the limitation on telephone call frequency limit has three exclusions:

  • calls for which you gave prior consent
  • calls that don't connect to the dialed number, and
  • calls placed to specific professional persons, like your attorney. (12 C.F.R. 1006.14(b)(3)).

How Collectors Can Use Electronic Communications, Like Texts and Emails

The amended FDCPA allows debt collectors to use newer technologies, such as email and text messages, to communicate with consumers regarding their debts, subject to certain limitations, which protect consumers against harassment or abuse. For example, debt collectors are prohibited from communicating or attempting to communicate through a social media platform if the message is viewable by the general public or your social media contacts. (12 C.F.R. § 1006.22(f)).

Also, if a debt collector sends you a private message via social media, like through Facebook or LinkedIn, asking to be added as one of your contacts, the collector is supposed to disclose their identity as a debt collector. (12 C.F.R. § 1006.18(d), see official interpretation).

Consumers Can Set Restrictions on How Collectors Contact Them

Under the modified FDCPA, consumers still have the right to cease all collection communications from a debt collector; and you can also stop communications through a particular medium, subject to some exceptions. (15 U.S.C. § 1692c(c), 12 C.F.R. § 1006.6(c), 12 C.F.R. § 1006.14(h)). You don't have to put this kind of request in writing; you can just tell the collector to stop contacting you in a specific way.

For example, if you tell a debt collector to "stop calling," this statement means you've requested that the debt collector not use telephone calls to communicate with you. So, the debt collector is prohibited from communicating or attempting to communicate with you through phone calls. However, the collector might still contact you by some other method, like text or email.

Or you may request that a debt collector not use a specific address or telephone number. (12 C.F.R. § 1006.14(h), see official interpretation).

Consumers Can Opt Out of Digital Communications

If a collector sends you a text, email, or other electronic communication, it also has to give you a way to easily opt out of receiving those communications. The debt collector can't require you to pay a fee to opt out or ask you to provide any information other than your opt-out preferences and the email address, telephone number for text messages, or other electronic-medium address subject to the opt-out request. (12 C.F.R. § 1006.6(e)).

Collectors May Leave Only Limited-Content Voicemails

Voicemails the collector leaves must be limited to giving the collection agency's business name (without indicating the company is in the debt collection business), making a request that you respond to the voicemail, and providing contact information for whoever you should contact. (12 C.F.R. § 1006.2(j)).

A debt collector who leaves a limited-content message doesn't violate the FDCPA's prohibition against third-party communications.

When Collectors Can't Send Messages to Your Work Email

A debt collector can't communicate or attempt to communicate with you by sending an email to an email address that the debt collector knows is a work email address, subject to some exceptions. For example, a collector may send messages to your work email if you used the email address to communicate with the debt collector about the debt and you haven't opted out since. Or if you gave prior consent directly to the debt collector that it could use your work email address and you haven't withdrawn consent, then the collector can email you at that address. (12 C.F.R. § 1006.22(f)(3), 12 C.F.R. § 1006.6(d)).

Changes to Debt Validation Notices

The amended law also expands the law's requirements for debt validation notices by requiring significantly more information and additional disclosures. Also, under the amended law, collectors can provide validation information orally in an initial communication despite the large volume of information the law requires in the notice. (12 C.F.R. § 1006.34).

Collection of Time-Barred Debts

In addition, under these changes to the federal FDCPA, a debt collector must not bring or threaten to bring a legal action against a consumer to collect a time-barred debt. (12 C.F.R. § 1006.26(b)). This change is consistent with case law, which says threats of lawsuits after the statute of limitations has expired violate the FDCPA.

A collector can run afoul of this provision even if it's unaware that a debt is time-barred.

Talk to a Lawyer

You can use your knowledge of these laws to protect yourself from harassment. For example, if a collector violates one of these laws, you might be able to use the violation to negotiate a favorable settlement or as a defense to a collections lawsuit.

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