By Amy S. York
I work all night, I work all day
To pay the bills I have to pay
Ain’t it sad
And still there never seems to be
A single penny left for me
Abba – 1976
Americans have debt: more than 60% of homes are mortgaged, 44% of adults have car loans, and 41% of American households carry an average of $9,333 in credit card debt. Add food, medicine, utilities, and other monthly bills, and our dollars are stretched pretty far on any given day.
I practiced bankruptcy for several years and found that many, if not most, bankruptcy cases result from one or more of the following “Big Three”: job loss, major medical issues, and divorce. It wasn’t that my clients didn’t want to pay their bills, they simply couldn’t.
Not everyone faces bankruptcy in their life, but many have faced unemployment at one time or another. Job loss can happen to anyone and spiked due to the COVID-19 crisis. Early estimates put the unemployment rate at over 10%.
I can’t tell you how to budget for your family or which bills to pay if your dollars just don’t stretch far enough, but I can give you a little solace by letting you know that the Texas Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from harassing and unconscionable behaviors and provides some recourse if they ignore these prohibitions.
It is important to know to whom the Act applies in order to understand your rights. It applies to consumer debt – debt from purchases for personal, family, or household purposes. It does not apply to business debt.
It applies to all debt collectors, but some provisions only apply to people collecting debts on behalf of others. For instance, a bank calling about a car loan it holds is a “debt collector” under the Act but a collection agency calling about a credit card debt is not only a “debt collector,” but also a “third party debt collector.”
Debt collectors cannot use threats or coercion, including:
The debt collector can, however, tell the debtor that the debtor may be arrested after proper court proceedings if the debtor has violated a criminal law, threaten to institute civil proceedings to collect the debt, and seize, repossess, or sell property where the debt collector is contractually allowed to do so.
A debt collector may not oppress, harass, or abuse a person. It cannot:
A debt collector cannot:
A debt collector cannot, for example:
Additionally, a third-party debt collector must disclose in any communication that:
A debt collector who violates the Act is subject to criminal and civil penalties. Each offense is a misdemeanor subject to a fine of up to $500 per violation. A debtor can sue the offending debt collector for an injunction or restraining order and for actual damages. If the debtor is successful, the debtor can also receive an award for attorney fees.
A violation of the Act also violates the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, which may provide additional relief.
If you or a loved one have suffered a personal injury, contact Dobbs & Porter, PLLC, at 903-600-HURT (4878) for a free consultation.
 Hagan, Shelly, Bloomberg.com, Almost 40% of U.S. Homes Are ‘Free and Clear’ of a Mortgage, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-07-17/close-to-40-of-u-s-homes-are-free-and-clear-of-a-mortgage (last visited Apr. 3, 2020).
 Morgan, Kyle, Finder.com, Car Loan Statistics – How Much Debt Do Americans Take on to Get Behind the Wheel, https://www.finder.com/car-loan-statistics (last visited Apr. 3, 2020).
 Resendiz, Joe, Value Penguin by LendingTree, Average Credit Card Debt in America: April 2020, https://www.valuepenguin.com/average-credit-card-debt (last visited Apr. 3, 2020).
 Cox, Jeff, CNBC, The Upcoming Job Losses Will Be Unlike Anything the US Has Ever Seen, https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/20/the-upcoming-job-losses-will-be-unlike-anything-the-us-has-ever-seen.html (last visited Apr. 3, 2020).
 This Act is referred to as both the Texas Debt Collection Act and the Texas Debt Collection Practices Act. It is found in Chapter 392 of the Texas Finance Code.
 Tex. Fin. Code § 392.001(2).
 Tex. Fin. Code § 392.001(6)-(7).
 Tex. Fin. Code § 392.301(a).
 Tex. Fin. Code § 392.301(b).
 Tex. Fin. Code § 392.302.
 Tex. Fin. Code § 392.303(a), (c).
 Tex. Fin. Code § 392.304(a).
 Tex. Fin. Code § 392.304(a)(5).
 Tex. Fin. Code § 392.402(b).
 Tex. Fin. Code § 392.403(a).
 Tex. Fin. Code § 392.403(b).
 Tex. Fin. Code § 392.404(a).