What to do when dealing with a collection agency

Sara Gilbert/Fort Collins (CO) Coloradoan
28 June 2013

We hear lots of questions at GreenPath, and sometimes the questions involve debt collection activity. Debt collection is something that most of us don’t pay attention to unless we encounter it, but once you do it is helpful to know what your rights are. There is a Colorado law called the Colorado Fair Debt Collection Practices Act that protects Colorado residents from unfair and abusive debt collection practices.

Debt collection is a fact of life for most businesses.

Sometimes, for many reasons, consumers are not able to pay bills in a timely manner. When that happens, businesses sometimes rely on the services of a collection agency that they contract with to help them recover money that is owed to them.

Some common questions we hear from consumers include:

• I received a call from a collection agency about a bill that I do not remember owing. How do I find out more about the debt? Within five days from when you are first contacted by a collection agency, they are required to send you a written notice stating the amount of money due and the name of the creditor who referred the debt to the collection agency. If you have not received anything in writing from the collection agency, ask that they send you this written notice immediately. Make sure that they have your correct address. You may also want to request your free credit report to see if the debt is listed there at www.annualcreditreport.com.

• A collection agency called me on the weekend. Can they do that? Yes, collection agencies may call you between the hours of 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. Colorado time.

• I don’t believe I owe this money. What should I do? It is your right to dispute a debt or any portion of it within 30 days of receiving the first notice. You need to do this in writing to the collection agency, and you should keep copies of your dispute letter. The collection agency is then required to stop collection activity until it mails you proof of the debt in the form of a bill and the name of the original creditor or a court judgment. If you still believe you do not owe the debt, you may want to contact the original creditor for more information.

A collection agency is calling me at work and I am unable to take these calls at my workplace. What should I do? You can inform the collection agency to stop calling you at work.

• Can I stop a collection agency from calling me entirely? It is your right to ask that the collection agency cease communication or contact you in writing only. The collection agency will comply with your request, but be aware that if the debt is valid, the collection agency may sue you in court to try to collect the money you owe. You have the right to appear and defend yourself in court.

Most importantly with collection agencies, if you owe the debt, it is a good idea to make payment arrangements and send a mutually agreeable amount to the collection agency to pay off the debt as quickly as possible. Get payment arrangements in writing. You may learn more or make a complaint about a collection agency to the Colorado Attorney General’s office at www.coloradoattorneygeneral.gov/ca or contact GreenPath at the number below for further help.