This section summarizes portions of the state's collection agency law (RCW 19.16) and the federal Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (15 USC 1692). These laws apply to businesses which collect debts for other businesses. They do not apply to a firm which is collecting its own past-due accounts.
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When a Collection Agency Contacts You
The first time a collection agency contacts you, it must give its name and address, and the name of the original creditor (the business or person you owe money to). It must also tell you in writing the amount of the debt and any fees which have been added, such as interest or collection fees. You must also be informed of your right to dispute the information.
- A collection agency cannot call or write to you more than three times a week. Only one of those calls can be at work. You cannot be called between 9 pm and 8 am;
- A collection agency cannot harass, intimidate, threaten, or embarrass you;
- A collection agency cannot threaten violence, criminal prosecution, or use offensive language; and
- If you send a written statement requesting a collection agency to stop, it cannot continue to call or write to you to demand payment.
When Contacting Other People
If you have an attorney, the law prohibits a collection agency from contacting anyone other than your attorney. If you do not have an attorney, the agency can contact other people only to find out where you live or work. The collector cannot tell these people that you owe money. In most cases, the collection agency can contact another person only once. These same rules apply to contact with your employer.
A collection agency can contact a credit reporting bureau about the debt, but if you have disputed the debt in writing that must be included in the report.
To determine if the collection agency can add additional charges onto your debt, consult your original contract. If you agreed to pay "collection costs," the agency can add reasonable charges such as attorney fees, court costs, or credit reports. If the agency is collecting on a bad check, it can add collection and legal fees as allowed by state law.
A collection agency can demand full payment of the debt. It can, but does not have to accept a partial payment plan.
Post Dated Checks
A collector can ask that you write a post-dated check, but you cannot be required to do so. If you give a collection agency a post-dated check, under federal law the check cannot be deposited before the date written on it. And if you give the agency a check with the date more than five days in the future, the collector must give you timely written notice before the check is deposited.
- Publish lists of people who owe money;
- Use a badge or uniform of a law enforcement agency or claim to be from a government agency;
- Use documents which look like court or government documents, telegrams, or emergency messages;
- Make collect phone calls or send collect telegrams;
- Violate postal regulations;
- Threaten to add charges that aren't legal, for example, an interest rate higher than the rate in the original contract;
- Garnish your wages or take your home or possessions without a court judgment, however, an exception exists for federally guaranteed student loans that are in default. A federal law provides for an administrative garnishment up to 15% of the debtor's pay; or
- Threaten to have a debtor put in jail for bad debt.
For more information, read RCW 19.16.250, which identifies and describes in greater detail the prohibited practices of debt collection agencies. A copy of Washington state laws is available at most public libraries.