New Rules Under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act

New Rules Under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act

On November 30, 2021, The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) will have two final rules under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) come into effect. The first rule, issued in October 2020, focuses on debt collection communications and clarifies the FDCPA’s prohibitions on harassment and abuse, false or misleading representations, and unfair practices by debt collectors when collecting consumer debt.

The rule establishes a presumption on the number of calls debt collectors may place to reach consumers on a weekly basis. A debt collector is presumed to violate federal law if the debt collector places telephone calls to a particular person in connection with the collection of a particular debt more than seven times within seven consecutive days or within seven consecutive days of having had a telephone conversation about the debt.

The rule also clarifies how consumers may set limits on debt collection communications to reflect their preferences and the limits on communicating with third parties about a consumer’s debt. The rule requires debt collectors who communicate electronically to offer the consumer a reasonable and simple method to opt out of such communications at a specific email address or telephone number. The rule also provides that consumers may, if the debt collector communicates through a medium of electronic communications, use that medium of electronic communications to place a cease communication request or notify the debt collector that they refuse to pay the debt.

The rule further clarifies that the FDCPA’s general prohibition on harassing, oppressive, or abusive conduct applies to telephone calls as well as other communication media, such as email and text messages.

The second rule, issued in December 2020, clarifies disclosures debt collectors must provide to consumers at the beginning of collection communications. The second rule also prohibits debt collectors from suing or threatening to sue consumers on time-barred debt. Additionally, the second rule requires debt collectors to take specific steps to disclose the existence of a debt to consumers before reporting information about the debt to a consumer reporting agency.

The rule requires debt collectors to provide, at the outset of collection communications, detailed disclosures about the consumer’s debt and rights in debt collection, along with information to help consumers respond. The rule requires debt collectors to take specific steps to disclose the existence of a debt to consumers, orally, in writing, or electronically, before reporting information about the debt to a consumer reporting agency (CRA). The rule prohibits debt collectors from making threats to sue, or from suing, consumers on time-barred debt.

Anxious young woman reviewing her bills

Before a collector furnishes information about a debt to a consumer reporting agency, the final rule generally requires the collector to take one of several actions to contact the consumer about the debt. These actions include speaking with consumers about their debts by telephone, mailing a letter to the consumer, or sending an electronic message about the debt to the consumer. If mailing a letter or sending an electronic message to the consumer, the collector must wait a reasonable period of time to receive a notice of undeliverability, such as 14 days, before furnishing information to a CRA and must not furnish if a notice of undeliverability is received unless the collector takes additional steps. Collectors are also prohibited from and will be strictly liable for, suing or threatening to sue a consumer to collect a time-barred debt, which is defined as a debt for which the applicable statute of limitations has passed.

Under the final rule, collectors will also be required to provide readily understandable disclosures that contain more information than consumers currently receive when the collector first begins to communicate with the consumer to collect the debt. The disclosures must include details about the debt and consumer protections, including the right to dispute the debt and to request information about the original creditor. The disclosures also must continue to include a statement that indicates the communication is from a collector and is about debt. The disclosures will help ensure that consumers are able to recognize the debt they may owe and raise concerns about unfamiliar debts.

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