The Consumer Finance Protection Bureau released new proposed rules today for debt collectors. The government agency estimates a third of consumers, some 70 million Americans, have had a debt in collections.
Critics of debt buying — including John Oliver, who pushed the issue further into the mainstream earlier this year — say the multi-billion-dollar collections industry can be abusive, buying debt on the cheap and harassing people without verifying they actually owe money.
The CFPB proposal is is just a first step toward final rules expected next year, and debt collectors are saying they go too far. Here are the biggest changes the government is putting forward.
According to the CFPB, “consumers often complain that the frequency with which debt collectors contact them is harassing,” but collectors say they have to contact consumers multiple times to establish communication. The Bureau is suggesting collectors only contact debtors six times a week if they haven’t connected yet. If the collector has already verified that they have the right contact information of the debtor, they can only come calling three times a week.
Current rules only let collectors call from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., and the CFPB is considering more boundaries. For example, if a collector calls and the person they contacted says they are at a hospital, place of worship, funeral or childcare facility, the collector would have to stop the call.
The proposed rules push collectors to go further to verify the debt they bought is legit. Debt buyers often get their information through vast spreadsheets, and the data can be sketchy or incomplete. Sometimes debt sellers even charge more for additional information, the CFPB says, disincentivizing collectors to verify the debt is real. That can lead to people being hassled for debt they’ve already paid, had cleared due to bankruptcy or never owed in the first place.
The CFPB proposes a list of “fundamental information” collectors could use to verify the people they’re contacting are actually in debt. The list includes their full name, contact and account information and a complete history of their debt, charges and interest.
That kind of information could help settle disputes, the CFPB says, and new proposed rules would make them less vague and easier to file.
The bureau is calling for a “tear-off” form on debt notifications that would let debtors file more specific disputes and make it easier for collectors to investigate them. While they’re looking into the dispute, agencies wouldn’t be able to continue trying to collect. The proposed rules also clarify that collectors only need to investigate disputes once before collecting again.
Collecting debt after person dies
The CFPB is considering a 3o-day waiting period before collectors can contact the family about a deceased person’s debt. They are also considering an alternative plan that would extend the waiting period to 60 days.