How can you make debt collectors leave you alone?

By Rebecca Lake

Reviewed by Kimberly Rotter

Aug 28, 2023

Read time: 4 min

Wife giving support to worried husband at home

Key takeaways:

  • The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) sets rules on how and when debt collectors can contact you.

  • You have the right to ask debt collectors to stop contacting you. 

  • Writing a cease-and-desist letter gets debt collectors to leave you alone, but it won't make the debt go away.

You hear the phone ring. You don't answer it because it's a debt collector. Again.

Sound familiar? 

Debt collectors can make life pretty darn unpleasant. All the phone calls and letters are enough to make you want to move to a different planet. Or at least get a new phone number.

What you might not know is that you can make all of that stop. 

That won't make your debt go away. But it can give you some breathing room to come up with a plan for managing overwhelming debts.

When can (and can’t) debt collectors contact you?

Debt collectors can call you or send letters when they're trying to collect a debt. 

Usually, debts don't end up in the hands of a collection agency unless the original creditor assigns or sells it to them. That can happen when a debt is significantly past due. 

But that doesn’t mean debt collectors can call you whenever they like. The rules are spelled out in the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Here's how they work. 

  • Generally, debt collectors can call you between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m., but they can't call you at other times. So if you get a 3 a.m. phone call from XYZ collection agency, that's against the rules. 

  • Debt collectors can't contact you at times or places you don't want to be contacted—if you tell them not to. For example, if you don't want to get debt collection calls at work, you can tell a debt collector to stop calling your employer. 

  • A debt collector can't call you about the same debt more than seven times in seven days. 

  • Debt collectors can't call you about a debt they've spoken to you about within seven days of the conversation. 

There are also rules for other forms of communication. 

For example, a debt collector could message you privately on social media about a debt. But they can't post publicly about debts you owe on social media platforms. And if a debt collector texts or emails you about past due accounts, they have to give you an easy way to opt out of those messages. 

How to make debt collectors leave you alone: a cease-and-desist letter

If you're fed up with all the phone calls, it's time to start writing. Specifically, a cease-and-desist request. 

A cease-and-desist letter is a letter that tells debt collectors to stop contacting you. 

Once you send a cease-and-desist notice to a debt collector, they have to stop all contact, with two exceptions. Debt collectors can still reach out to you to:

  • Tell you there will be no further contact

  • Let you know the creditor may take additional collection actions against you, including filing a lawsuit.

The letter simply needs to include your name, account information, and a written statement telling the debt collector to stop contacting you. If you've got debt collectors calling about different debts, send a cease-and-desist letter to each one. 

Keep in mind that writing a cease-and-desist letter does one thing only: it gets debt collectors to stop calling. You still need to think about how to handle debt, especially overwhelming debt

Leave debt behind, so you can move forward

Get rid of your debt and free up your cash flow without a loan or great credit.

Other ways to stop debt collection calls

Aside from asking debt collectors to leave you alone, you've got other options for putting an end to collection calls or letters. Comparing them can help you decide on the best solution to your debt. 

  • Work out a payment plan. If you've fallen behind on debt payments, getting caught up could stop collection calls. You can try to work out an agreement with the debt collector directly, or ask a credit counselor to set up a debt management plan (DMP). Debt management plans can help you pay down what you owe, if you're able to make all the payments. 

  • Consolidate debt. Debt consolidation typically means getting a loan to pay off existing balances. For example, you might get a personal loan to pay off multiple high-interest credit cards. That could help stop collection calls, but it might be hard to get approved for a loan if you've got late payments on your credit history or your cards are maxed out.

  • Resolve your debt. Debt resolution means working out an agreement with a creditor or debt collector to pay less than what's owed. Any remaining balance is forgiven. This might be a good option for stopping collection calls if you're behind on payments and you can’t afford to get rid of your debt without some degree of debt forgiveness.  

Bankruptcy is another way to stop collection calls. Chapter 7 bankruptcy wipes out your eligible debts, but you might have to give up some of what you own. In Chapter 13 bankruptcy you can keep what you own, but you’ll be put on a 3-5 year payment plan. 

Talking to a debt consultant can help you figure out your best option for handling debt so you can get back on track financially. To get a free debt assessment, start here.

Rebecca Lake - Author

Rebecca is a senior contributing writer and debt expert. She's a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and a banking expert for Forbes Advisor. In addition to writing for online publications, Rebecca owns a personal finance website dedicated to teaching women how to take control of their money.

kim rotter 2022 2

Kimberly is Achieve’s senior editor. She is a financial counselor accredited by the Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education®, and a mortgage expert for The Motley Fool. She owns and manages a 350-writer content agency.

Frequently asked questions

Ignoring a debt collector doesn’t make them go away or stop contacting you. You can still expect phone calls, letters, or emails about the debt. And if the debt collector decides to take things further, they could sue you in civil court to force you to pay.

Debt never goes away, but it won’t show up on your credit report forever, and most debt isn’t legally collectible forever. 

Delinquent debts are usually reported to the credit bureaus. Negative information can stay on your credit reports for seven years, after which it is no longer reported. 

Every state gives creditors a certain number of years to sue for the debt. That’s called a statute of limitations. It ranges from 2 to 15 years, and is usually 3 to 6 years. Once it passes, the creditor no longer has the right to sue you for that debt.

If you think a debt collector is harassing you or violating your rights under the FDCPA, you can file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). You can also report the debt collector to your state attorney general. If the harassment continues, you might be able to sue the debt collector.

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