When a person owes a large debt to one or more parties, it is commonplace for those parties to turn the case over to a debt collection agency. However, there are federal and state regulations governing how debts can be collected. Federally, all debt collection must adhere to standards set by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). At the same time, individual states like Georgia have their own standards for debt collection. Following is a summary of what Georgia law stipulates on debt collection.
In the state of Georgia, the Governor's Office of Consumer Affairs oversees debt collection laws specific to only the state of Georgia, as well as all other applicable federal laws. These laws specifically outline the legal and illegal actions debt collectors may take during their attempts to rectify an outstanding account.
Georgia statutes on debt collection are very similar to federal guidelines. As with the federal level, it is highly advisable to consult with a lawyer who has expertise in these matters.
Under Georgia guidelines, a debt collection agency may contact you via phone, email, personal visit, facsimile, or handwritten letter, informing you of the debt that you allegedly owe, and to whom it is owed. However, they must do so under the following "reasonable" stipulations:
Furthermore, a debt collector in Georgia may not issue threats of violence, intimidation, or otherwise harass you. Nor may the debt collector issue false claims about their identity (i.e., pretend to be an attorney or government official) or your debt (i.e., exaggerating the amount owed, or threaten to advertise it).
If the debt you owe is substantial and you are not able to pay it, you may ask the debt collector if you can work out a payment plan. Most debt collectors are willing to cooperate on this. However, it is advisable that you get the agreement in writing. If not, the debt collector could use that against you. If you do not owe the debt that the debt collector is claiming you owe, you may dispute it. It is advisable that you send the agency a certified letter that specifies why you do not owe the debt, or the amount they declare that you owe. You may also request that the debt collector stop calling you. However, this does not relieve your burden to pay the debt.
Debtors should also be aware of certain additional stipulations in Georgia law. For instance, some debt collection agencies say you should stop making payments (e.g., to your credit card company) until a debt payment plan is set forth. In Georgia, this is illegal, and you will incur late fees from the company to whom money is owed. In addition, debt adjustment companies may not charge you more than 7.5% of what you owe someone. This means no up-front fees, and it is designed to protect you from going further into debt.
For the reasons listed above, being contacted by a debt collection agency is intimidating, complicated, and stressful. Though they must follow federal and state guidelines, debt collectors nonetheless skirt the law, or at least come very close to doing so. That is why consulting with an attorney who specializes in debt collections is so important. It will help to ensure that your rights are protected from harassment and unreasonable expectations about paying back your debt. An attorney can help also help you to negotiate your payments, as well as your reputation.