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Debt Collection Laws in California

Sarah Edwards | July 28, 2023

Sarah Edwards
Legal Expert
Sarah Edwards, BS

Sarah Harris is a professional researcher and writer specializing in legal content. An Emerson College alumna, she holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication from the prestigious Boston institution.

Edited by Hannah Locklear

Hannah Locklear
Editor at SoloSuit
Hannah Locklear, BA

Hannah Locklear is SoloSuit’s Marketing and Impact Manager. With an educational background in Linguistics, Spanish, and International Development from Brigham Young University, Hannah has also worked as a legal support specialist for several years.

Summary: All states must comply with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), but some states, like California, offer additional consumer protections. If you’ve been sued for debt in California, you have 30 days to respond. SoloSuit can help you draft and file an Answer to your California debt lawsuit and stand up for your rights.

If you’ve ever received multiple calls from a debt collector on the same day or had a particularly nasty debt collection notice arrive in your mailbox, you might wonder whether the collector is breaking the law. You’re right to be concerned; debt collectors are known for bending the rules to collect debts.

However, federal and state governments try to limit harassment from debt collectors through legislation. All debt collectors must abide by the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (FDCPA), which imposes hefty penalties on collection agencies that violate its provisions. Some states have other laws that collections agencies must adhere to.

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In California, the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act governs collections activities

The Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, outlined in Cal. Civ. Code § 1788 to 1788.33, closely mirrors the national FDCPA. However, California’s law applies to other entities, not just collection agencies.

Under Cal. Civ. Code § 1788.2, a debt collector includes collection agencies and anyone who collects consumer debts as a regular part of their business, like original creditors. It also includes anyone who makes forms or letters used for debt collection.

The law applies only to consumer credit transactions, including credit cards, personal loans, medical debts, mortgages, and other obligations incurred as part of borrowing money for everyday household needs. It does not apply to business debts.

Creditors cannot harass you to collect a debt

Cal. Civ. Code § 1788.10 makes it illegal for creditors and debt collectors to take any of the following actions when trying to collect a debt:

  • Threatening to use physical force against a debtor or to harm their reputation if they refuse to pay a debt.
  • Telling a consumer their failure to pay a debt is a crime that will lead to jail time.
  • Threatening to accuse the consumer of activities that might defame them, other than failure to repay a debt — for instance, telling their spouse they’re cheating if they don’t repay a debt immediately.
  • Telling the consumer they’ll face property seizure or wage garnishment if they don’t repay a debt when the collection agency has no right to take such action.

Cal. Civ. Code § 1788.11 prevents debt collectors from harassing consumers by undertaking any of the following:

  • Using profane language when trying to collect a debt.
  • Calling a consumer without informing who they are or the name of the company they represent.
  • Failing to disclose their debt collection license number if the consumer asks them for it.
  • Calling a consumer continuously in an attempt to annoy them.
  • Contacting a consumer with unreasonable frequency, like once every hour.
  • Sending written communication without the debt collector’s license number in a minimum 12-point type setting.

Let’s consider an example of California debt collection laws in action.

Example: Donald receives a phone call from someone he doesn’t recognize. The caller refuses to identify themselves but tells Donald that unless he pays his credit card bill by Wednesday, they’ll send someone to pull up all the flowers in his yard and spill black paint on his driveway. They subsequently hang up the phone. Donald traces the number on his caller ID to a California collection agency named Pirate Debts. He files a complaint with the California Attorney General's office, which starts an investigation of the company.

One part of the law that is particularly important to California consumers is Cal. Civ. Code § 1788.14. Under this section, a collection agency or creditor must notify you if the debt is past the state’s statute of limitations and inform you that they will not take legal action against you.

However, they can continue to report your account to credit reporting bureaus for as long as the law allows.

Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 337 outlines California’s statutes of limitations on debt and prohibits creditors and debt collectors from taking legal action on time-barred debts.

The Rosenthal Fair Debt Collections Practices Act includes specific privacy protections

Cal. Civ. Code § 1788.12 includes a few protections to protect consumer privacy. Under the law, debt collectors can only contact your employer to locate or verify your employment. They can also contact your employer to set up wage garnishment if they have a valid judgment.

Debt collectors can’t talk about your debt to family members except for a spouse. However, they can ask your family members for information about your location.

Debt collectors also can’t send you communications via a postcard, where the information about your debt is visible to anyone who sees it.

Debt collectors can’t use deceptive tactics to collect a debt

Cal. Civ. Code § 1788.13 prevents debt collectors from trying to deceive you when collecting a debt. The following actions are considered deceptive, and collection agencies can’t use them in their collection activities:

  • Implying they’re an attorney or representing a law firm to collect a debt if they’re not.
  • Saying they’re collecting debts on behalf of a governmental department or agency if they’re not.
  • Telling you they’ll charge extra fees for collecting a debt unless you specifically agree to them.
  • Sending you communications that appear to come from a legal firm or auditor when they’re simply regular collection notices.

If you believe a collection agency is using deceptive tactics to collect your debt, it’s essential to report your case to the California Attorney General’s office. You may also file a complaint with the FTC.

California has strict debt collection laws to protect consumers from bad actors

California tries to protect consumers from debt collectors and creditors who use their position to try to harass people into paying outstanding debts. While many of the elements of the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collections Practices Act emulate the FDCPA, it also includes some additional protections, like extending the law to original creditors.

If you are behind on a payment obligation and live in California, it’s smart to read up on your rights so you know if a debt collector is breaking the law.

Is a collection agency pursuing you for unpaid debt in California? Make them validate the debt with SoloSuit’s Debt Validation Letter.

Respond to a California debt lawsuit

You have 30 days to respond to a debt collection lawsuit in California, and if you don’t, you run the risk of losing your case automatically by default judgment. If the court grants a default judgment, your creditor or debt collector may be given rights to garnish your wages, seize your property and even freeze your bank account.

In order to respond to your California debt lawsuit, you must draft and file a written response known as an Answer. In your Answer, you should respond to each claim against you and assert your affirmative defenses. SoloSuit’s software makes it easy to draft and file an Answer that is customized to your case — all in a matter of minutes.

Read also: How to Answer a Summons for Debt Collection in California (2023 Guide)

To learn more about how to respond to a debt collection lawsuit in California, watch this video:

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