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Pop Quiz! What are your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act?

Take this quiz on knowing your rights as a debtor
Published: Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Staff member Linda Williams, who travels all over the country with Consumer Action’s outreach team teaching community-based organizations (CBOs) how to educate and protect the consumers they work with, devised a quiz to test readers’ knowledge of their debt collection rights.

Williams has been using Consumer Action’s debt collection educational module and the accompanying quiz (below) to help CBOs and their clients learn what to do when a collector calls, differentiate between legitimate calls and scams, and know their rights about what debt collection agencies can and can't do to debtors under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (the main federal law that governs debt collection practices in the United States).

“No one welcomes a call from a debt collector,” Williams said. “Your first instinct when one calls may be to hang up and ignore future calls. Some people even change their telephone number to prevent further collection calls. But ignoring calls from real debt collectors can just make the problem worse.” (Of course, if you suspect a call or other contact is a scam because you’re sure you don’t owe money, read this.)

Take our quiz and test your knowledge on your rights as a debtor! (Answers are posted below the quiz.)

True or false?
  1. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a collector attempting to collect a debt cannot contact you by postcard.
  2. Within five days of first contacting you, every collector must send you a written “notice of debt” telling you how much money you owe.
  3. If a debt collector is trying to collect more than one debt from you, the collector can apply any payment you make to the debt of his or her choice.
  4. Under the National Consumer Assistance Plan (NCAP), debt collectors and debt buyers must wait to report medical debt until the debt is at least 180 days past due.
  5. The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act requires the IRS to use private debt collection agencies for the collection of outstanding inactive tax receivables.
  6. The statute of limitations on debt has nothing to do with the length of time a debt can stay on your credit report.

That's the quiz! But before you get to the answers below, you should know that the FDCPA:

  • Protects you against all forms of harassment from collectors, including excessive phone calls, abusive language and threats of violence, harm or arrest.
  • Allows you to seek proof that you owe any money the debt collector claims you do.
  • Prohibits disclosure of debts to others who are not authorized to know about the debts.
  • Bans collectors from contacting you at inconvenient times (i.e., before 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m.)
  • Grants you the right to sue debt collectors for violations of the law (individually or in class actions).
How well did you do?
  • Q1: True. See section 808 (7) of the FDCPA, on “Unfair Practices.” According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), debt collectors may not use “unfair or unconscionable” means to collect a debt. For example, they may not take or threaten to take your property (unless it is legal and feasible to do so), or communicate with you regarding a debt in odds ways (e.g., by postcard).
  • Q2: True. According to the FTC, every collector must send you a written “notice of debt” telling you how much money you owe within five days after they first contact you. This notice also must include the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money and how to proceed if you don’t think you owe the money.
  • Q3: False. See section 810 of the FDCPA, on “Multiple Debts.” If a debt collector is trying to collect more than one debt from you, the collector must apply any payment you make to the debt you select, in accordance with your wishes.
  • Q4: True. Under the NCAP, as of September 2017, debt collectors and debt buyers must abstain from reporting medical debt collection accounts until they are at least 180 days past due.
  • Q5: True. In 2015, Congress passed a transportation bill that includes a provision that requires the IRS to use private debt collectors.
  • Q6: True. The statute of limitations prohibits the collector from making a legal claim against you, but it doesn’t mean that the delinquency will be removed from your credit report before it ages off. See Consumer Action’s Debt Collection: Know your rights lesson plan (pg. 5) to learn more about the debt collection statute of limitations.

If you were unable to answer any of the questions, or you got one or more incorrect, read Debtors’ Rights: Protecting yourself from debt collection lawsuits and The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act: How it restricts collectors and protects consumers, both of which are published in English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean.


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