Trying to get out of debt can be stressful and challenging, especially if you’re receiving constant phone calls from debt collectors. Renea, an Equifax Finance Blog reader, left the following comment on a story about personal loans:
“I have several personal loans. Now it’s very difficult for me to pay them back. I’m trying but can’t seem to catch up on [any] of them. Will I go to jail for not paying back my loan in a timely manner? … ”
While we are not able to offer legal advice as everyone’s circumstance is different, we can say that generally speaking: There can be very serious consequences for not repaying certain types of debts such as credit card debt or loan debts.
Failing to repay your debts may impact your credit score if the lender reports your missed payments to the credit reporting agencies (CRAs). Payment history accounts for 35 percent of your total credit score, and paying off your outstanding debt can reflect positively on your credit history because it satisfies your commitment to your creditor.
That said, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), debt collectors are prohibited from threatening criminal prosecution for unpaid debts. Creditors are also prohibited from saying that you will be arrested or imprisoned if you do not pay off your debts.
If a debt collector files a lawsuit against you to collect a debt, you may want to consider contacting an attorney to help you resolve the matter.
Fair debt collection practices
If you owe money to a creditor, debt collectors will likely contact you. However, the FTC prohibits creditors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive practices to collect from you, according to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA).
“Deceptive practices” can include things like a collector or creditor falsely claiming that he or she works for the government or a CRA, or falsely claiming that you have committed a crime. Debt collectors are also prohibited from misrepresenting your balance or lying about legal actions.
What to do if you believe a debt collector has violated the law
The FTC advises that you speak with the collector at least once, even if you can’t repay the debt or believe that it doesn’t belong to you. You may want to contact an attorney to discuss the matter further, and consider the following steps:
1. Tell the collector in writing to stop contacting you. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has samples and templates to help you write a letter.
2. Contact your state’s attorney general. You should report any violations committed by a debt collector to your state’s attorney general’s office, which can help you determine your rights under your state’s laws. You should also notify the CFPB and the FTC.
3. Get assistance from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). The NFCC is the nation’s largest and longest-serving financial counseling organization. NFCC member agencies can help you develop a plan for tackling your debt.
Do your research
As with any legal matter, it’s important to contact an attorney before taking action. Simply doing your own research online may not be enough. If you can’t afford legal help, consider contacting your local bar association, which may be able to put you in touch with a pro bono attorney.
Being in debt can be scary, and unlawful threats or untruthful statements only make it worse. To learn more about fair debt collection practices and what you can do if you feel you’re being treated unfairly, check out the FTC’s website. You can also check out how one of our bloggers paid off more than $30,000 in credit card debt and apply some of his principles to your own debt repayment strategy.
The information contained in this blog post is designed to generally educate and inform visitors to the Equifax Finance Blog. The blog posts do not give, and should not be assumed to provide, personalized tax, investment, real estate, legal, retirement, credit, personal financial, or other professional advice. Before making any financial decision, you should always consult with the appropriate professionals who can explain your options, rights, and legal responsibilities, and advise you on any tax, legal, credit, or business implications that may result from those decisions. The views and opinions expressed by the authors of blog posts are their own views and may not be the views or opinions of Equifax, Inc. and/or its affiliates.