Student loan collector harassment

Common FDCPA violations in student loan collections

The total amount of federal student loan debt in the U.S. is about one trillion dollars. When a borrower falls behind on payments, the student loan collections process begins. Although federal student loan collectors have impressive collection powers, it's important for consumers to recognize that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act still prevents a debt collector from making false or misleading statements or otherwise harassing or abusing a consumer. Here are some of the most frequent FDCPA violations in student loan collections:

Misleading threats to garnish wages

Debt collectors often mislead or lie to consumers about the imminence of a wage garnishment if the consumer doesn't pay immediately. A federal student loan collector may institute an administrative wage garnishment against a consumer who is delinquent. No judgment is required. But there are important steps that a collector must follow before starting an administrative wage garnishment. They must send the consumer a notice--at least 30 days before starting the garnishment--that advises the consumer of their right to inspect the records related to the debt, their right to a written repayment agreement, and their right to a hearing. The consumer then has 15 days to request a hearing. And a private student loan collector doesn't have the ability to do an administrative wage garnishment. They have to sue the consumer and get a court judgment first. So, a collector can't just start a wage garnishment immediately if the consumer doesn't pay and any threats to the contrary probably violate the FDCPA.

Lies about how to get a federal student loan out of default

Debt collectors often lie to or mislead consumers about the ability to get a loan out of student loan collections. A federal student loan is considered to be in "default" if the borrower goes 270 days without making a payment. Once the loan is in default, a 25% collection fee may be tacked on. But a borrower can get a federal student loan out of default by "rehabilitating" the loan. This means making nine voluntary, reasonable, and affordable monthly payments within 20 days of the due date during ten consecutive months. A borrower may also be able to get the loans out of default by consolidating into a single loan. Debt collectors often tell consumers that there's nothing they can do to get the loan out of default, or don't tell them about all of their options, which may violate the FDCPA.

Telling consumers that they can't discharge student loans in bankruptcy

Student loan collectors often tell consumers that student loans can't be discharged in bankruptcy. While this is often true, it isn't always true. A borrower may be able to get a student loan discharged if they can prove undue hardship. The burden of proving undue hardship is very difficult, but it can, and has, been done. A debt collector that tells you that student loans can never be eliminated in bankruptcy isn't telling the truth and is likely violating the FDCPA.

Illegal contacts with third parties

Under the FDCPA, a student loan collector (or any collector) can't communicate with your family members, co-workers, friends, or other third parties. Even threats to do so probably violate the FDCPA.

The bottom line

If a student loan collector chooses to give a consumer legal advice, they better get it right. Making false statements about the law or a consumer's options probably violates the FDCPA.

Stop collection harassment with the FDCPA

The best way to stop collection harassment is to know and enforce your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. The FDCPA is a powerful federal law that regulates what debt collectors can and can't do when collecting debts. In passing the FDCPA, Congress recognized the negative impact that abusive debt collection has on people and provided powerful remedies against collectors who break the law. Here's what you need to know about how the FDCPA protects you from debt collection harassment:

The FDCPA applies to "debt collectors" collecting "consumer debts"

The FDCPA only covers a debt collector that is collecting a debt for someone else. It does not apply to a creditor collecting its own debts. So if you are getting collection calls from a bank or credit card company that is collecting its own debts, the FDCPA doesn't apply. But the FDCPA does apply to collection agencies, debt buyers, and law firms who are collecting debts for someone else.

In addition, the FDCPA only applies when the debt being collected is a consumer debt. This is a debt used for personal, family, or household purposes. If the debt was incurred for a business, the FDCPA doesn't apply.

The FDCPA protects you even if you owe the debt

It doesn't matter if you owe the debt, the collector still must follow the FDCPA. The law recognizes that you shouldn't be subjected to collection harassment and abuse just because you owe someone money. The FDCPA also protects people who are being wrongfully pursued for debts that they don't owe.

Any conduct that is unfair, untrue, or harassing is prohibited

In general, any collection conduct that is harassing or abusive, false or misleading, or unfair is a violation of the FDCPA. This is extremely broad and potentially covers a wide range of collection tactics. The FDCPA itself and various court decisions have established that the following specific conduct is illegal:

This isn't an exhaustive list. If you think a collector's conduct might be illegal, you should talk to a consumer lawyer to determine whether the FDCPA has been violated.

How to use the FDCPA to stop collection harassment

The FDCPA gives consumers the power to sue a debt collector that violates the law. It's a great way to stop collection harassment cold and to hold the debt collector accountable for its illegal conduct. Under the FDCPA, a successful claim gets you:

  • Up to $1,000 in statutory damages (even if you've suffered no monetary loss);

  • Provable actual damages (including for emotional distress);

  • Your attorney fees and court costs must be paid by the collector

Most consumer lawyers, including me, handle FDCPA lawsuits on a contingency fee. This means that you don't pay us any fees unless I recover money for you and those fees come from the collector's pocket, not yours. Congress wrote the FDCPA this way to incentivize people to enforce the FDCPA and help the government regulate debt collectors and ensure compliance with the law.