by Ellen Mason, Hotline Attorney
If bill collectors are bugging you remember: you do not have to talk to them. Federal law lets you demand that a bill collector stop calling you. So the next time a bill collector calls and you don’t want to talk to him or her say “Stop calling me!” The bill collector must not call you again except (1) to confirm that they will not contact you again and (2) to tell you they will take further action against you.
If you think that the bill collector is demanding payment on a debt you don’t owe, or if you are not sure that you owe the bill, or if you just want more time, tell the bill collector “I don’t owe this bill. I want to see written proof that I owe this.”
Follow this with a letter. You must send the letter within 30 days after you talk to the bill collector. Send the letter to the bill collector certified mail, return receipt requested. Keep a copy of the letter and the return receipt. The bill collector must stop contacting you unless they give you written proof that you owe the debt. Remember, you still owe the bill, but they cannot contact you anymore.
Whatever you do, do not promise to pay the bill and do not send them any payment – even a small payment. The law only allows a bill collector to collect a debt for a certain period of time. But if you promise to pay or if you pay anything a bill collector has longer to collect on the debt.
One thing a bill collector cannot do is put you in jail. There is no more “debtors’ prison” in the United States. But the company that you owe the money to can sue you. If that happens and if you are “judgment proof,” tell the company that and ask them to write off the debt as a bad debt. You are “judgment proof” if your only income is Social Security, if you have no money in the bank, and if you do not own property.
If a bill collector calls you again, contact the Michigan Attorney General at:
Consumer Protection Division, P.O. Box 30213, Lansing, MI 48909
Editor’s note: The federal law discussed in this article only applies to bill collectors and not to original creditors trying to collect their own debt. See the CFPB website for more information on original creditors.