California debt collection laws—here’s what you need to know
If you're struggling with debt collectors in California, you're not alone. Many Americans endure harassment or other illegal practices when debts fall into collections.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be one of them.
Debt collection is regulated by a number of state and federal laws that protect your rights. And this guide will cover what collectors can legally do and when they’ve gone too far.
More specifically, you'll learn:
- The key state laws that limit how collectors can contact and interact with you
- The rules against harassment threats, deception, and other prohibited practices
- Steps to take if collectors violate your rights under California and federal regulations
- How to check whether debts are valid and legally collectible
- The statute of limitations on different types of consumer debt
- Whether collectors need licenses to operate in California
- Ways to seek damages if wronged by abuse collection agencies
Harassment and abusive collection practices are illegal
Perhaps the most significant California debt collection law to know about is that collectors cannot harass, oppress, or abuse you when attempting to recover debts.
The state's Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits collectors from:
- Using profane, obscene, or abusive language
- Calling repeatedly with intent to annoy, harass, or threaten you
- Publishing lists of consumers who refuse to pay debts
- Calling before 8 am or after 9 pm without your consent
- Misrepresenting the amount or legal status of a debt
- Falsely implying they are attorneys or government representatives
- Claiming you'll be arrested or jailed if you don't pay
These practices are strictly forbidden to prevent undue stress and coercion when repaying debts.
Keep this in mind when collectors start calling.
If collectors call your work, request that they only contact your home. Hanging up is often wise if calls become hostile or harassing. Keep logs and records if the behavior is ongoing.
Take action against abusive collectors
Don't tolerate mistreatment or intimidation by collectors. California debt collector laws provide recourse if you face:
- Repeated abusive or vulgar language
- False threats of litigation, garnishment, or arrest
- Calls to your workplace despite requests to stop
- Discussing the debt with unauthorizes third parties
Under state and federal regulations, you can sue collectors for damages resulting from harassment or illegal conduct.
Start by reporting them to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the California Attorney General's office. Consult consumer attorneys regarding filing lawsuits within your rights.
You have options here. Don't let them pressure you.
Taking action deters future abuse and compensates you for the stress and hardship caused by mistreatment. Don't let collectors bully or manipulate you into paying.
California debt collection laws
Did you ever consent to a debt under duress or as a result of deception? Under California’s laws, creditors cannot legally recover coerced debts.
For example, SB 501 protects consumers from owing money if:
- You were pressured o misled into taking out a payday loan
- A creditor added unnecessary products without your knowledge
- You paid fees under false pretenses or fraudulent sales tactics
Before paying coerced debts, consult attorneys to have the balances invalidated based on illegal or deceptive origination practices. This can permanently halt collection efforts.
Know the statute of limitations on debt
The statute of limitations (SOL) sets legal limits on how long collectors can sue you to recover different types of debts. Beyond the SOL, you cannot be taken to court for the balances.
Here are some common SOL time limits to remember in California:
- Written contracts: 4 years
- Oral contracts: 2 years
- Promissory notes: 4 years
- Open-ended accounts: 4 years
- Most credit card debt: 4 years
Avoid making even partial payments for older debt beyond the SOL because doing so can restart the clock. Instead, continue disputing the validity of stale balances.
Check specific SOLs that apply to your debts. Strategically using the statute of limitations on consumer debt prevents collectors from obtaining judgments or garnishing wages over time-barred accounts.
All California collectors must be licensed
Did you know third-party debt collectors operating in California must be licensed by the state? This includes any agency trying to recover or purchase delinquent consumer debts.
The California Debt Collection Licensing Act regulates the industry and sets standards for ethical, non-abusive collection practices. It covers activities like:
- Contacting consumers by phone, mail, or in person
- Furnishing adverse credit information to credit bureaus
- Suing or threatening to sue over uncollected debts
- Collecting on charged-off balances purchased from creditors
Confirm a license to identify illegal collectors
Look up your collectors' license status with the California Department of Consumer Affairs to identify any unlicensed activity.
Collecting without a license can result in state or federal charges for unlawful debt collection. It also calls into question the validity of the debt itself.
This lookup tool lets you proactively verify credentials for peace of mind. Unlicensed collectors lack legal authority over California residents.
Consult attorneys if wronged by collectors
Don't suffer in silence if collectors violate your rights with abusive practices. Consulting consumer attorneys can help determine your options, such as:
- Sending cease-and-desist letter to stop harassment
- Disputing fraudulent or inaccurate information on credit reports
- Negotiating directly with collectors for reduced settlements
- Suing for actual and statutory damages under state and federal laws
Ideally, collectors will immediately correct errors and stop illegal behavior when informed of violations. Not so ideal, legal action becomes necessary to make them accountable.
Defending your rights takes the power back. Don't allow collectors to intimidate you into accepting mistreatment or unfair repayment terms. Make sure you have a solid grasp on debt collection laws in California.