Can Debt Collectors Contact Relatives About My Debt?

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Debt collectors are annoying enough when they’re calling you, but when they contact your family members about your debt, it can be embarrassing.

There's a limit to what debt collectors can say when they contact your family members. If debt collectors are giving out information to your relatives rather than getting information, they’re breaking the law.

Why Debt Collectors Contact Family Members

If a debt collector has been trying unsuccessfully to get in contact with you, they'll use other methods to try to get to you. That may include calling your family members to figure out the best way to contact you.

It’s easier than you think for debt collectors to find your relatives. They use many of the same methods to locate your relatives that they use to locate you. For example, debt collectors can easily find your relatives if you've previously shared an address with them. The internet has made it easier than ever to find these connections with just the click of a few buttons.

Is It Legal?

It's not against the law for debt collectors to contact your family members. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act allows debt collectors to contact other people to locate you, but there are limits on what they can say. Debt collectors can only contact your relatives to locate you, not to collect money for your debt, and they’re generally only allowed to contact a person once.

If the collector later believes they were given false information by the person they contacted, they’re allowed to contact that person again. When a debt collector contacts your relatives, certain topics are off-limits.

Collectors Have Limits on Content

There are a few notable exceptions for when a debt collector can legally discuss your debt with a family member, including your spouse, your parents if you are a minor, and your guardian or executor. If the collector shares details of your debt with any other relatives, they’re breaking the law. You have the option to sue a collection agency that violates this law.

Debt collectors can’t reveal that they’re working for a collection agency unless the relative “expressly” requests this information (for example, if they ask, “Who do you work for?” or “Who is your employer?”).

Even without directly telling your family members that you owe a debt, the collector may hope that by simply contacting your relatives about your “important business matter,” you’ll be inspired to pay off the debt, if for no other reason than to prevent further embarrassment.

How to Stop Collectors From Contacting Your Family

Since the collector’s ultimate goal is to get you to pay your debt, one of the easiest ways to get them to stop contacting your family is to pay the debt. Only do that if you’ve confirmed that the debt is legitimately yours, and you've reviewed your budget to be sure you can afford to pay it.

Don’t try to get debt collectors off your back by making a promise to pay if you can’t actually make good on the promise. A payment agreement will restart the debt statute of limitations (the amount of time after which debt cannot be collected on), and a broken payment agreement may cause the debt collector to escalate collection efforts.

You can request that the debt collector stop contacting you about the debt, but you must make the request in writing by sending a cease-and-desist letter.

If you’re already in contact with a debt collector who threatens to tell your family about your debt, they’re breaking the law. You can report a debt collector who has violated your rights regarding your debt to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Finally, consider speaking with an attorney about filing a lawsuit against a collection agency that’s violated your rights by telling your family members about your debt.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do you pay a debt collector?

The first step in paying a debt collector is to confirm that you owe a debt that's owned by the collector. If the debt collector legitimately owns a debt you owe, then you may consider negotiating a payment plan. Debt collectors may be willing to accept less than the total debt, but it will depend on your negotiations. You may want to hire an attorney if you're dealing with a hostile collector or if you want help negotiating a payment plan. If you want to pay off your entire debt and have the funds to do so, you just have to ask the debt collector where to direct your payment.

How long can a debt collector pursue an old debt?

The statute of limitations on old debt depends on the type of debt it is and the state law regarding that type of debt. You can generally expect debt to come with a statute of limitations between three and six years, but some debts can be pursued for more than a decade. Unpaid debt doesn't necessarily follow the same timeline with credit reports as with debt collectors. Most negative credit marks will fall off your report after seven years.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Can Debt Collectors Tell Other People, Like Family, Friends, or My Employer, About My Debt?

  2. Federal Trade Commission. “Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.”

  3. Federal Trade Commission. “Debt Collection FAQs.”

  4. Federal Trade Commission. “Time-Barred Debts.”

  5. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Is It Possible To Remove Accurate, Negative Information From My Credit Report?"

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