Of all the burdens one can carry, none is more anxiety-inducing than debt. Paying it off can be a Sisyphean task aggravated by the automated phone calls and nagging threats of debt collectors. People lose sleep over debt worries, while others fall into a depression, and the worst cases commit suicide. There are many ways to manage one’s debts and part of it is knowing how to manage debt collectors.
The best way to do that is to know what your rights are.
The rules regarding debt collection in Quebec are primarily in the Act Respecting the Collection of Certain Debts (the Act). Enacted in nineteen seventy-nine, it has a clear set of rules debt collectors must follow. If they don’t follow the rules, they have to pay fines ranging from three hundred to eighty thousand dollars.
Here are all the things debt collectors are not allowed to do.
The debt collector can’t make false or misleading representations to collect a debt. That means they can’t say, for example, claim that your kid won’t get health care if you don’t pay up – something that’s impossible because we have public health care.
The debt collector can’t claim that if you don’t pay the debt you’ll be arrested and go to jail. You can’t be sent to jail if you are not charged, tried, and convicted of a crime. Canada does not throw debtors into prison.
The collection agent can’t communicate with you if you’ve informed your creditor(s) in writing that you are contesting the debt. They also can’t contact you if you’ve informed them in writing that you want them to communicate with your lawyer from here on in. The exception to this is if your creditor is the Government, which can start nagging you about a debt within a hundred and twenty days following their sending of a letter demanding payment.
Your creditors and their agents can’t use threats, harassment, or intimidation. That means that they cannot threaten you with bodily harm, repeatedly follow you or your loved ones around, or repeatedly communicate with you or your loved ones in a way that will make your fear for you or your loved ones’ safety. If a creditor tries any of these methods, they’ll not only face fines under the Act, but they can also face charges of criminal harassment and threats, which could result in a prison sentence. Do not be afraid to call the police on a debt collector that acts in this way, but remember that threatening to exercise their right to collect a debt does not constitute a threat as per the law.
Collection agents can’t disclose information that might cause injury to you or your loved ones.
They cannot collect or claim more money than the value of the debt.
They are not allowed to present you with a document that could be mistaken for one used, authorised, or issued by a tribunal, government, or any agency acting on their behalf. That means that a debt collector can’t, for example, hand you a phony court order claiming that it’s the real thing when it isn’t in an attempt to pressure you to pay your debt.
The debt collector cannot claim money from anyone other than you and someone who co-signed the loan. If you took out a loan and your mother co-signed, collection agents can only go after you and your mother. They can’t go after your wife or kids if they didn’t sign on to help repay the loan should you be in default of payment.
Collection agents are not allowed to verbally communicate with a person they think might be the debtor and who has previously told them is not the right person.
They are not allowed to contact your spouse, family members, friends, acquaintances, neighbors, and employers to collect your debt. However, collection agents are allowed to contact your employer to find out your phone number and home address so they can contact you. They are not allowed to contact you or your guarantor at work without you or your guarantor’s express authorisation.
They are not allowed to contact you on Sunday and on holidays, and they can only contact you between 8 am and 8 pm.
When collection agents contact you to collect a debt, they are legally bound to identify themselves as debt collectors.
Though debt collectors can be scary, it must be said that their jobs are not easy. They are no doubt used to being loathed and hung up on, and within our current economy getting debts repaid is undoubtedly difficult.
Phone numbers can be blocked and with it being almost impossible for people to find long term employment, most people cannot afford to pay off their debts in the time creditors would like. Despite the threats of debt collectors, the worst thing that can happen to you if you don’t pay on time is your credit score will go down and/or they’ll sue you for the amount of the debt and any legal costs, making it harder to get an apartment, a car, business loan, or mortgage.
You’ll still have your freedom and health care if you need it so you can work hard and pay off your debt.
* Featured image by Sean Macentee, Creative Commons