It’s no picnic when your bills are overdue and debt collectors are calling you at all hours, harassing you non-stop at home or work.
But just because you may (or may not) owe some company money, that doesn’t give an overly aggressive bill collector a free pass to violate your legal rights, intimidate and harass you, or break the law in their efforts to get your cash.
Fortunately, there is a way to get many bill collectors off your back.
You simply have to write what’s called a “Cease and Desist” letter.
Before I give tell you EXACTLY what to say in such a letter, let me first explain what your rights are when collectors are hounding you, and what debt collectors must refrain from doing, based on the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, or FDCPA.
The FDCPA forbids debt collectors from:
- Contacting you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. your local time unless you give them your blessing (and who would do that?) or unless they have a court order permitting them to do so (fat chance)
- Calling you while you’re at work once you tell them your employer prohibits such calls (so tell them this right away)
- Contacting you in any way once you advise them that you have an attorney representing them (if you’re paying a lawyer, it instantly becomes their job to deal with a debt collector, not yours)
These are just a few of the protections you’re afforded under the Fair Debt Collections Protection Act. This law gives you many other rights too, and I spell them out in my book, Zero Debt: The Ultimate Guide to Financial Freedom.
Here’s a free link to the section in Zero Debt that describes your legal rights.
Now that you know a few of the restraints put on debt collectors in terms of how and when they can contact you, you also need to know about the almighty Cease and Desist Letter.
It can be a powerful weapon and an effective tool to help you prevent constant harassment and phone calls from belligerent, persistent debt collectors.
Writing a Cease & Desist Letter
I’m always amazed when people:
a) allow themselves to be subjected to annoying, verbally abusive and even illegal phone calls from debt collectors; or
b) stress out over yet another letter in the mail from a bill collector
In reality many, many consumers can put an end to this torture simply by hanging up the phone and by writing a Cease and Desist letter telling the bill collector to stop all contact with them.
So here’s how to develop your own Cease and Desist letter.
Start by addressing the letter to the person who has been contacting you. If you don’t have their first and last name and you only have the company name, you can simply use “To Whom It May Concern” in your salutation.
After that, the first sentence of your letter should say: “I am unable to pay this bill because….” or “I refuse to pay this debt because….” and explain your reason. You also have the option of not giving a reason at all.
If you give a reason why you are “unable” to pay, you can let a debt collector know that you are unemployed, going through a costly divorce, have recently been ill – or whatever true facts apply to your circumstances.
No need to go into all the gory details. Just a line or two about what your predicament is will suffice.
What To Say When You Dispute the Debt
If you are stating that you “refuse” to pay a given debt, you should explain why.
Perhaps the debt collection company has the amount you owe completely wrong. Or you might be refusing to pay a bill based on defective products or services that were not rendered. Or maybe you are disputing that you owe the debt at all.
Whatever the case, make clear that you do not agree that you owe the debt and that is the reason for your refusal to pay it. And again, no overly long, drawn out explanation is required. One or two sentences clarifying your position are enough.
Your next sentence in this Cease and Desist letter is crucial. Here’s where you put the debt collector on notice that they are to stop contacting you forever. Period. End of Story.
This sentence should state something like: “I hereby assert my rights under Section 805-C of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to request that you cease any further communication with me.”
If they have been contacting you in multiple places, it would not hurt to add something to this effect: “Do not contact me at home, work or my parent’s house.”
Getting an Attorney Involved
If you have an attorney working with you to resolve your debts, give the debt collector the name, address and phone number of your attorney, and let them know all future correspondences and inquiries should be addressed to your legal counsel.
If no lawyer is involved, just end the letter with a brief statement such as: “I do not expect to hear from you any more regarding this matter.”
Then simply conclude the letter with “Regards” or “Sincerely,” sign your full name, and send your Cease and Desist letter to the debt collector return receipt requested.
Don’t just send the letter through regular mail because bill collectors have been known to “play dumb” and act as if they never got Cease and Desist letters – much to many consumers’ dismay. Your return receipt is proof of your mailing.
After the debt collector receives your “Cease and Desist” letter, he or she cannot contact you except to indicate that the collection process against you has stopped or that legal action against you is moving forward.
While most consumers might live in mortal fear of being taken to court by a debt collector, in reality many collectors rarely take this route – especially if you are truly broke.
I’m not saying that bill collectors never take consumers to court. They definitely do – some routinely.
But what I am noting is that some debts aren’t worth the trouble and legal expense for debt collectors.
What to Do If a Debt Collector Takes You To Court
Furthermore, it’s actually against the law for a debt collector to even threaten you and say that they plan to take you to court, if in fact they have no real intention of doing so.
(By the way, if you do get a court summons or a letter from a debt collector saying they’re hauling you into court, read my advice about why you should always show up in court. I explain 5 Tips If You’re Facing Court Action From a Debt Collector).
Most of all, however, realize that if a debt collector is stressing you out, you don’t have to take it lying down.
In fact, just by asserting your rights and crafting a strong, but simple Cease and Desist Letter, you could regain some measure of control over your life and bring back the peace of mind y