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Behind on bills? You don’t have to put up with creditor harassment

Federal law protects those owing consumer debt from harassment.

If you have fallen behind on your bills lately, you are certainly not alone. Even though the economy looks better than it has since 2008, many people in Louisiana continue to struggle with unemployment. Unfortunately, if you are in this situation, you are likely receiving unpleasant phone calls and letters from collection agencies regarding your outstanding bills. Although you may owe the debt, it is important to understand that you have rights and do not have to tolerate creditor harassment.

Your rights

Your rights against creditor harassment originate in federal law. Under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA), you are protected against misleading or abusive collection tactics. The act sets the ground rules when creditors contact you regarding your consumer debt. Under the FDCPA, the following collection practices are illegal:

• Using threats or obscene language in communications

• Impersonating law enforcement

• Calling you at unreasonable hours (before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.)

• Contacting third parties (e.g. family) regarding your debt

• Contacting you at your place of business, if you have asked the creditor not to

• Using the threat of jail or imprisonment to collect the debt

• Threatening a lawsuit, garnishment of your wages or repossession of your vehicle, if there is no intention to do so

• Contacting you regarding the debt at all if you have requested them not to

Creditors that disobey the collection rules contained in the FDCPA do so at their own peril. Under the act, you are empowered to file a lawsuit against the offending creditor and recover any damages that you have suffered. Additionally, you may recover up to $1,000 for each violation as well as the cost of bringing the lawsuit (i.e. attorneys' fees and court costs).

Bankruptcy can help

Assuming that the outstanding debt is valid, the FDCPA does not protect you against future legal action to collect the debt. In other words, the creditor may eventually obtain a judgment against you and start garnishing your wages . As a result, if you are behind on your bills without any hope of catching up, it is generally a good strategy to consider bankruptcy.

Once bankruptcy is filed, the automatic stay becomes effective, which halts all collection attempts, even ones that were in progress before you filed. Once the stay is in effect, the bankruptcy process begins. During this process, your debts are either eliminated or repaid over a three to five year period, depending on the type of bankruptcy filed. Once the process has been completed, you are free of most of your debts and can begin a new life financially.

Of course, bankruptcy is only one of several options available to you. To learn more about bankruptcy and your other options, contact an experienced bankruptcy attorney. An attorney can review your options and recommend one that would best address your debt situation.

Keywords: creditor harassment, bankruptcy, Fair Debt Collections Practices Act

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