Washington State Debt Collection Laws
This section sums up some of the significant portions of the state’s collection agency law (RCW 19.16) and the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (15 USC 1692). These laws are applicable to those businesses that collect debts from other businesses or from individuals.
When a collection agency can contact you
The first time a collection agency reaches out to you, whether by phone or mail, it must tell its name, address, and the name of the original creditor (to whom you actually owe the money). The collection agency is also required to inform you in writing the actual debt amount and any fees that have been added (like interest or collection fees). Again, you must also be informed about your right to dispute the debt.
A collection agency cannot call or write to you for more than thrice in a week and only one of those calls can be made at work. Again, you can’t be called after 9 pm and before 8 am.
A collection agency can never harass, intimidate or embarrass you. Moreover, a collection agency can never use offensive language, threaten violence or criminal prosecution.
If you send the collection agency a ‘cease and desist’ letter requesting an end to all collection attempts, it cannot continue to call or write to you for payment.
When Contacting Other People
If you have an attorney to deal with your legal issues, a collection agency can never contact anyone other than your attorney. However, if there is no attorney to represent you or handle your cases, the collection agency can reach out to other people to find out where you live or your place of work. However, the collection agency cannot tell other people that you are in debt. Again, as per law, a collection agency can contact another person only once.
Informing credit bureau
A collection agency can contact a credit bureau to report the debt, but they also have to mention in case if you have disputed the debt.
To know whether or not the collection agency can add additional charges on top of your existing balance, consult your actual contract. If you agreed to pay for ‘collection costs’ on the original agreement, the agency can charge you additional fees like court costs, attorney fees, or for credit reports. It can also add collection fees as well.
Post dated checks
A collection agency can ask you to provide them with a post-dated check, but you can refuse to do so. However, if you provide them with a post-dated check, as per federal law, they have to deposit the check on the date written on it.
A collection agency can never:
- Publish a list of people who owe money
- Claim them to be from a government or law enforcement agency
- Make use of documents that have similarity with court or government documents, telegrams or emergency messages
- Violate postal regulations
- Threaten to add charges that are not mentioned in the original agreement
- Garnish your wages or take your possessions without a court order
- Threaten to put the debtor behind the bar for non-repayment of debt
For greater details regarding the prohibited practices of debt collection agencies, read RCW 19.16.250. Also, you can get a copy of Washington state laws at most public libraries.