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This content was last updated on 2/13/2024

What is debt collection?

Debt collection is the process a creditor uses to try to get money from someone who owes them a debt. The person who owes the money is the debtor.

The creditor can try to collect the debt themselves or they can use another company or person to try to collect the debt. A company or person that collects debt for a creditor is called a debt collector.

REMEMBER: when the words “debt collector” are used in these questions, it means someone who collects debts on a regular basis. It can be a collection agency, a lawyer who collects debts often, or companies that buy delinquent debts.

Who can be a debt collector?

A debt collector is someone who collects debts on a regular basis. It can be a:

  • collection agency;
  • lawyer (if they collect debts often); or
  • company that buys “delinquent” debts and tries to collect them. A debt is delinquent when it is unpaid or late.
Are there different rules for creditors and debt collectors?

Yes. A creditor has to follow rules set by state law. A debt collector follows rules set by federal law, called the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA).
Kentucky laws have some protection for debtors against original creditors trying to collect a debt.

What does the debt collector have to do if they want to try to collect money from me?

A debt collector must contact you in writing about a debt. They can send you a letter or notice, an email, a text or contact you through social media. If a debt collector contacts you the first time by phone, tell them to contact you in writing.  Always try to get the name of the person you are talking to.

Do NOT give personal or financial information to the caller until you are very sure it is a real debt collector.

When I get the first written notice saying I owe a debt, what information has to be in the notice?

The first written notice from the debt collector is called a “validation notice.” The notice must have all of this information:

  • a statement that the communication (letter, notice, email or text) is from a debt collector;
  • the name and address of the debt collector and your name and address;
  • the creditor’s name that the debt is owed to (there can be more than one creditor);
  • the account number associated with the debt, if there is one;
  • a detailed listing of the current amount of the debt. This listing should show interest, fees, payments and credits since a certain date;
  • the total amount of the debt at the time the validation notice is written; and
  • information about your debt collection rights that must include this language:
    • if you don’t dispute the debt within 30 days, the debt collector will assume debt is valid.
    • if you do dispute the debt in writing within 30 days, the debt collector must stop collection until they provide verification of the debt. 
    • if you request the name and address of the original creditor (if different from the current credit) within 30 days, the debt collector will provide you with this information. 
  • information on how to dispute the debt; and
  • the notice must include a “tear-off” form that you can send back to the debt collector to dispute the debt or take other actions.
What if I don’t think I owe the debt or I don’t think I owe as much as they say I do?

If you don’t think you owe the debt or part of it or if it's not your debt, you can “dispute” (argue) it. Your dispute should be made in writing to make sure that the debt collector sends you verification (proof) of the debt. You can dispute the debt by using the “tear-off” form that comes with your notice. You can also dispute it in a letter, text, email or on social media to the debt collector. Whatever way you do it, make sure you put the date on it! Keep a copy of what you send. 

You have 30 days to dispute a debt or part of a debt. The 30 days start counting from the date you get the validation notice. Make sure the validation notice has all the information in it that it is supposed to (see above). After you dispute the debt, the debt collector can't call or contact you about collecting the debt until they verify the debt in writing to you.

Can a debt collector contact me any time or any place?

No.  A debt collector can’t contact you at certain times or places unless you agree to it. They can’t contact you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. A debt collector can’t contact you at work if you tell them verbally or in writing that you can’t get calls at work. It is best to tell the debt collector in writing, so you have a record of it, but if you tell them verbally to not contact you, be sure to get their name and write down the date and time you talked to them.

Can I make the debt collector stop contacting me?

If you tell the debtor collector in writing to stop communicating you, they can only contact you again to tell you:

  • they will stop trying to contact you anymore; or
  • they plan to take action against you, such as filing a lawsuit.

This is true even if you owe the debt.

What kinds of things are debt collectors NOT allowed to do?

Harassment: Debt collectors cannot to the following:

  • use threats of violence or harm;
  • publish a list of names of people who refuse to pay their debts, but they can give this information to the credit reporting companies;
  • curse or use obscene language; or
  • repeatedly use the phone to annoy someone.

False statements: Debt collectors cannot do the following:

  • falsely claim they are lawyers or government representatives;
  • falsely claim that you committed a crime;
  • falsely claim or represent that they operate or work for a credit reporting company;
  • lie about the amount you owe;
  • say that papers they send you are legal forms if they are not legal forms; or
  • say that papers they send you are not legal forms if they are legal forms.

Debt collectors also cannot say:

  • you will be arrested if you don’t pay your debt;
  • they will seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages, unless they can do any of that by law and really plan to do it; or
  • tell you that legal action will be taken against you, if doing so would be illegal or if they don’t really intend to take the action.

Unfair practices: Debt collectors can’t use unfair practices when they try to collect a debt. For example, they can’t:

  • try to collect any interest, fee, or other charge on top of the amount you owe, unless state law or your original contract with the creditor lets them charge those things;
  • deposit a post-dated check early;
  • take or threaten to take your property, unless it can be done legally; or
  • contact you by postcard.

What should I do if a debtor collector does or says something they are not supposed to?

Contact your local legal aid office.

You can also report any problems you have with a debt collector to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

You can also find additional information here: 

If the person or company I owe money to directly is trying to collect the debt themselves, what can they do?
  • stop doing business with you;
  • report the delinquent debt to a credit bureau;
  • contact you to ask you to pay; or
  • file a lawsuit to collect the debt.

You CAN’T be arrested or go to jail because you don’t pay your debts. You CAN be sued in a civil lawsuit for payment. 

Can a creditor or debt collector take my Social Security, SSI or Veterans’ benefits for a debt they are trying to collect without going to court?

For most types of debt, like credit cards, medical bills, and personal loans, your Social Security, SSI and VA benefits can’t be taken by a creditor or a debt collector to pay a debt. But the creditor or debt collector can go to court and get an order to take money from your bank account. The order is called a judgment.

Other benefits that fall under this protection rule are:

  • federal railroad retirement;
  • unemployment and sickness;
  • civil service and federal retirement and disability benefits;
  • service members’ pay; and
  • federal emergency management agency federal disaster assistance (FEMA).
What do I do if a creditor or debt collector sues me in court?

If you're sued by a creditor or debt collector, you should respond to the lawsuit. You can file a response with the court yourself or get help from your local Legal Aid Program or hire your own lawyer. Whatever you do, you must respond by the date set in the court papers! In Kentucky, you usually have 20 days to respond after you get the notice about the lawsuit. Go here to find the legal aid office that covers the county you live in. If you are in the active military, go here to find the contact information to your local JAG office.

What happens if I don’t file a response with the court?

If you don’t file a response, or if you don’t file by the deadline, you won’t be able to defend yourself. The court’s decision will probably be in favor of the creditor or debt collector and against you.

What happens if a creditor or debt collector gets a court judgment for money against me?

Depending on your situation and state laws, the creditor may be able to:

  • garnish your wages;
  • place a lien against your property; or
  • move to freeze or garnish all or part of the funds in your bank account(s).
Can I protect some of my Social Security, SSI or Veterans’ benefits if they are in my bank account?

Yes. If a creditor or debt collector with a court judgment tries to take money out of your bank account, your bank must look at your account history to see if you had direct deposits of any of these benefits or benefits like these in the last 2 months. They must protect 2 months’ worth of benefits from garnishment and let you use that money. If your account has more than 2 months’ worth of benefits, your bank can garnish or freeze the extra money. But, if that extra money that is garnished is exempt from garnishment under federal or state law, you may be able to go to court to have your money released.


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