Consumer Bureau to Banks: Be Nice When Collecting Debts

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The federal government is warning banks they face penalties for mistreating consumers who owe money. It's also giving consumers ways to challenge debts and debt collection practices.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is warning banks that try to collect debts that consumer protection laws apply to them, too — not just the debt collectors they hire or sell debt to.

“The new policy, which follows efforts to rein in abusive credit card and lending policies, will plug a gap in federal anti-harassment law that generally excluded creditors who collected debt themselves, rather than hiring third parties,” Bloomberg says.

The agency wrote a letter to banks to “clarify the contours” of their legal obligations, and spell out a host of abusive and deceptive practices that are all pretty obviously wrong, such as lying about the status of a debt or who is collecting it, delayed processing of payments so late charges are applied, and revealing a debt to a consumer’s family or co-workers to embarrass him.

Along with that release, the agency posted five template letters to help consumers challenge debts. There are letters for requesting information about a debt or disputing it, telling a debt collector when it can contact you or to stop altogether, or to notify a collector you have hired a lawyer.

The agency is also now accepting complaints about debt collection practices. Its complaint system has received about 123,000 complaints on subjects including credit cards and mortgages since July 2011, Bloomberg says. You can file a complaint here.

Stacy Johnson

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