Cease and desist letter: Your weapon against unwanted contact from debt collectors

By Gina Freeman

Reviewed by Jill Cornfield

Mar 19, 2024

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Key takeaways:

  • You can stop debt collectors from contacting you with a cease and desist letter.

  • You can also use a letter to limit how and when debt collectors can contact you.

  • You may be able to use such a letter with original creditors like your credit card company, depending on your state’s laws.

Being hounded about debts you can’t pay can make you feel helpless. But you can stand up for yourself, clear your head, and then tackle your debt. You’ll do that by exercising your rights and taking control of how, when, and where debt collectors engage with you.

Here’s how.

What is a cease and desist letter?

If you want debt collectors to stop calling you, you must tell them in writing. This written request is called a cease and desist letter

You can use this letter to tell a collector that you’re exercising your rights under the Federal Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The FDCPA is a federal law that protects you from abusive treatment by debt collectors. It limits what debt collectors can say and do. You have the right to tell debt collectors how you want to be contacted (or not contacted) by them about your alleged debt, effective immediately.

When to use a cease and desist letter

There are several good reasons why you might want debt collectors to leave you alone:

  • You want to stop collection calls for a family member who owes money.

  • You believe that you don’t owe the money.

  • You believe the debt is uncollectible because the statute of limitations has expired (too much time has gone by and the creditor can no longer sue you for the debt). The statute of limitations for debt varies from state to state.

  • You can't afford to pay the money you owe, because of financial hardship or some other reason.

  • You're trying to negotiate your debt with the creditor.

  • You don't want calls at work or on your cell phone.

  • You’re considering filing bankruptcy.

Once a debt collector has received a cease and desist letter telling them to stop engaging with you, they can contact you one final time for these reasons:

  • To let you know that they will no longer be contacting you.

  • To inform you that they will be taking specific action, like filing a lawsuit.

You can also use a letter to restrict how a debt collector contacts you. It’s illegal under the FDCPA for a debt collector to contact you in any way that you say is inconvenient. 

You can inform a debt collector, for example, that it’s inconvenient for you to take phone calls at work or on your cell phone. You can specify that you’re to be contacted only in writing, by email, through the U.S. mail, or any way that you feel is workable. This may be preferable to stopping all contact if you’re trying to work out an arrangement with a creditor.

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What a cease and desist letter doesn’t do

One detail that’s important to understand is that the FDCPA only applies to debt collectors, not original creditors. A collection agency is a debt collector. Your credit card company is an original creditor. Debt buyers, who buy debts from others, can be considered original creditors or debt collectors, depending on how they structure their businesses. You don’t have to guess. Send a letter. Although original creditors may be able to legally ignore your cease and desist letter, some of them do honor the requests. In addition, many states have their own debt collection laws that apply to original creditors. If you’re dealing with an original creditor, consult the specific laws of your state for more accurate and up-to-date information. 

Finally, a cease and desist letter doesn’t release you from debt that you owe. Receiving a letter may prompt a debt collector to offer you a payment plan, debt resolution, or other concession. It might also push them to sue you, although that’s a less common outcome.

How to write a cease and desist letter

It’s fairly easy to write a cease and desist letter. You’re just telling a debt collector to stop contacting you or to stop contacting you in ways you don’t want.

It’s important to include information that identifies you, the collector, and the debt, so that the letter can be used as evidence that you exercised your rights. You’ll state exactly how you want to be contacted (or not contacted) about your debt, and where the collector can send written confirmation that they will respect your request. 

Don’t include information about the debt that comes from anyone but the debt collector you’re writing to. Anything else could hurt you if you go to court. For instance, a debt buyer who can’t prove that you owe an old debt might get new ammunition if you reference an original creditor in your letter to them. 

Debt collectors have to honor your wishes under the FDCPA, but some don’t. If a debt collector ignores your letter or violates the FDCPA in other ways, you may be able to avoid the debt or even sue them. 

Sample cease and desist letter

Here is a sample letter you can adapt to your situation:

[Your Name] [Your Address] [City, State, ZIP Code] [Date]

[Debt Collection Agency Name] [Debt Collection Agency Address] [City, State, ZIP Code]

Subject: Cease and Desist Communication Regarding Debt [Account Number]

Dear [Debt collector name],

I am responding to your contact about a debt you are trying to collect. You contacted me by [phone/mail], on [date]. You identified the debt as:

[List any information the debt collector gave you about the debt, including original creditor, original balance due, account number, current amount due, etc].

If you want all contact to stop, include the following:

Please stop all communication with me about this debt, except for written confirmation that you will comply with this request, sent to my address listed above.

Otherwise, if you want to be contacted but only in certain ways, include the following:

You can contact me about this debt, but only as listed below. Don’t contact me about this debt in any other way, or at any other place or time. It's inconvenient for me to be contacted, except:

By mail: [Mailing address if you want to get mail] By email: [Email address if you want to get email] By phone: [Phone number and convenient times if you want to be contacted by phone]

If you dispute the debt, include the following:

Note that I dispute having any obligation for this debt. If you forward or return this debt to another company, please indicate to them that it is in dispute. If you report it to a credit bureau (or have already done so), also report that the debt is disputed.

Thank you for your cooperation. 


[Your name]

How to send a cease and desist letter 

It’s not enough to just send a cease and desist letter. You have to prove that the debt collector received it. The safest way is by certified mail with a return receipt, because it will be delivered even if the recipient doesn't sign for it, as in the case of a P.O. Box. Certified mail ensures that your letter reaches its destination and that you can prove it was received.

Keep a copy of your letter and the receipt confirming delivery. If the debt collector violates your rights, this is the evidence you need to file a complaint or a counter-suit. 

Reach out if you need to

Dealing with debt can be scary and stressful. Contact a debt expert who can help you explore other options that might be right for your situation, such as resolving your debt (getting your creditor to agree to lower the amount you owe). The debt experts at Achieve have a lot of experience helping people deal with overwhelming debt. You could also schedule a free consultation with a bankruptcy attorney, or look up legal aid services where you live. Getting rid of your debt is a journey that you only have to take one step at a time.

What’s next

Your next steps include deciding how much contact you want from a debt collector. 

  • First, get familiar with the laws that protect you. Visit the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau’s website for up-to-date information.

  • Gather the information you received from the debt collector. Remember, you don’t want to give them any information that they don’t already have. 

  • Decide how much contact you want (or don’t want). 

  • Write, copy, and send your letter by certified mail.

Gina Freeman - Author

Gina Freeman has been covering personal finance topics for over 20 years. She loves helping consumers understand tough topics and make confident decisions. Her professional history includes mortgage lending, credit scoring, taxes, and bankruptcy. Gina has a BS in financial management from the University of Nevada.

Jill Cornfield

Jill is a personal finance editor at Achieve. For more than 10 years, she has been writing and editing helpful content on everything that touches a person’s finances, from Medicare to retirement plan rollovers to creating a spending budget.

Frequently asked questions

There are rules about when debt collectors can call you. They usually can’t call before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. They can’t call you at work if you inform them that your employer doesn’t allow it, and they can’t contact you at any time or or in any way that you inform them is “inconvenient.” 

A debt validation letter can refer to two related (but different) things. It’s a letter that a debt collector sends you to provide legally-required information about a debt. It can also be a letter that you send to a debt collector requesting that information. Sometimes, it’s also called a debt verification letter. 

Follow these steps:

  • Decide the amount you can afford to pay.

  • Decide what you want from the creditor—more time to pay, lower payments, a reduced payoff, reduced interest, waiver of fees and penalties, or a combination.

  • Contact the creditor by phone or in writing to make an offer. If you come to an agreement, send two copies of a letter detailing the terms of your arrangement. Have them sign and return one copy.

  • Fulfill your obligation—for instance, make a lump sum payment for the agreed-upon amount. Don’t do this unless you have a signed agreement in place. 

You can also hire a debt resolution company to analyze your debts, negotiate for you, and complete the process. 

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