Please Dumb-Down Your Consumer Collection Demand Letters
The Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits misleading consumer debt collection practices by third-party debt collectors. New York’s similar law also covers creditors who collect their own loans. Federal court decisions under the FDCPA provide an important warning to New York lenders. Whether a communication with a consumer is misleading is measured by a “least sophisticated consumer” standard. A collection letter is acceptable only if an “uninformed, naive, or trusting” consumer would not be misled. It doesn’t matter if the actual recipient has a Ph.D. in Finance from Harvard. The rule applies whether it is a $2 million residential mortgage loan or a $20 unpaid credit card debt.
Today’s Takeaway? Before pressing send on the email or putting a letter in an envelope, reread it. Use words of common and everyday meaning. Will someone who barely made it through junior high school, maybe even less, understand it and not be tricked or confused by it? The best practice is to use a form letter that has been carefully vetted in advance but make sure that the form letter fits with the facts of the specific debt.
Jay L. Hack is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.