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New law may end protections for consumers without bankruptcy stay

What cellphones have done for the rest of us have made them the bane of the existence of the debt collection industry. Under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, automated calls, or “robocalls,” made for collection purposes to cellphones were prohibited. But that inconvenience may soon be cured for debt collectors.

It is not uncommon for legislators to hide an otherwise unpopular amendment into a bill that is being considered. Cellphone users are the unfortunate victims of such an amendment that passed in early November when President Obama signed a bill designed to end the stalemates that threaten government shutdowns.  In the deal-making that went down to get agreement on the primary purpose of the bill, a section was added to allow the use of robocalls for the purpose of collecting debt owed to the federal government. This could include debts such as student loans, mortgages, VA loans, farm loans and even taxes.

Without this legislation, debt collectors are missing a considerable segment of their targets. According to 2013 statistics from ACA International, a third-party collection agency trade group, forty percent of American homes exclusively use cellphones for telephone communication and, even of those households that also have a landline, about one-third use their cellphones for most or all calls. As recently as July, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General, along with 44 others, petitioned the largest phone service providers to use technology to block robocalls. So this new law is a 180 degree turn in the direction of consumers’ rights.

Laws such as the TCPA and the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act are designed to protect debtors from harassment by creditors and third-party collectors. When our elected officials try to undo those protections, bankruptcy may be the best option to stop the relentless haranguing by collectors and solve your financial challenges. Once you file bankruptcy, your creditors must stop all debt collection efforts or face sanctions from the bankruptcy court. A bankruptcy attorney can provide advice about your options to stop creditor harassment and find debt relief.

Source: NBCNews, “Budget Deal Gives Debt Collectors Authority to ‘Robocall’ Cellphones,” Nov. 5, 2015

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