When a debt collector contacts you via phone, it’s natural to have some fears about what will happen in the future.

Before you do anything, you should learn more about the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). In short, this act is in place to govern debt collectors to ensure that they don’t use unfair, abusive or deceptive practices to collect debts.

If you agree with the debt collector that you owe the debt, you can discuss your options for paying it. For example, they may be willing to set up a payment plan that allows you to pay off your debt over the course of several months or years.

Along the way, there are several important questions to address, including the following:

  • Do you have power over where your payments go? If you owe more than one debt, you have the legal right to choose how to apply the payments you make. The debt collector is not permitted by the FDCPA to apply payment to a debt that you claim you don’t owe.
  • What happens if a debt collector files a lawsuit? This could happen, especially if you state that you don’t owe the debt. In this case, review the correspondence from the agency and share it with a legal professional.
  • Can a debt collection agency garnish your wages? The short answer is yes, but it’s easier said than done. The agency must first file a lawsuit to obtain a court order, known as a garnishment. If received, they can then take money from your paycheck.
  • What about federal benefits? Most federal benefits are exempt from garnishment by a debt collector. These benefits are typically only garnished to pay student loans, child support or past due taxes.

If a debt collector contacts you, it’s critical that you don’t let your fear guide your thinking. Ask questions, take notes and tell the collector that you want to learn more about your legal rights before deciding what to do next.

There are ways for debt collectors to get the money that you owe, but they must do so by following the rules and regulations set forth by the FDCPA.