Debt collection laws in Pennsylvania

Here are your rights in Pennsylvania if debt collectors come knocking

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Debt collection is when companies try to collect money you owe. While some debt collection is pursued by creditors themselves, there are also third-party debt collection agencies or debt buyers that assume collection responsibilities once a company has written off an unpaid debt.

Because some debt collectors are known for using harassment, threats and downright lies to get consumers to pay back amounts they owe, the debt collection industry is highly regulated. In Pennsylvania, bill collectors have to follow federal regulations as well as a state law known as the Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act.

Key insights

  • The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is a federal law that prohibits certain debt collection activities, including constant phone calls and using threats or harassment.
  • Pennsylvania's Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act offers additional protections for consumers in the state who are subject to debt collection activity.
  • Debt collection laws can help you limit or end debt collection calls and even sue for damages when your rights are violated.

Federal debt collection laws

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a federal debt collection law that affords all Americans certain rights when unpaid debts are being pursued by bill collectors.

This act prohibits debt collectors from using deceptive or abusive debt collection practices, such as contacting you at odd hours, calling you repeatedly or making false threats regarding legal actions they plan to take. Debt collectors are also barred from revealing the existence of unpaid debts to other parties, both on social media and through direct forms of communication.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the FDCPA requires debt collectors to contact your attorney instead of reaching out to you personally if you have legal representation already in place.

Also, note that the FDCPA lets you stop all contact from debt collectors by informing them in writing that you do not want to receive communications any longer. If the debt collector continues its communications, you can sue them under the FDCPA and receive coverage of your legal fees as well as damages.

» MORE: How to handle bill collectors

Pennsylvania debt collection laws

Pennsylvania's Fair Credit Extension Uniformity Act extends additional protections against unfair and predatory practices, although most of it overlaps with protections afforded in the FDCPA. It also provides another avenue for lodging complaints against bill collectors that break the law.


In Pennsylvania, bill collectors are prohibited from harassment, unfair debt collection methods and making false statements. Debt collectors in the state cannot do any of the following:

  • Communicate with third parties for reasons other than obtaining your contact information
  • Contact you at unusual times and places
  • Call you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. without permission
  • Call you more than once per week about a specific debt
  • Call you or text you with the same communication method after you tell them to stop
  • Call you at work if they know your employer disapproves
  • Contact you directly when they know you have legal representation

Harassment and unfair practices

Pennsylvania bill collectors cannot do any of the following:

  • Threaten you with violence or harm if you don't repay a debt
  • Publish a list of consumers who refuse to pay their debts
  • Use obscene or profane language in their communications with you
  • Repeatedly use the telephone to annoy you about your unpaid bills
  • Try to collect an amount greater than what you owe, unless permitted by law
  • Deposit a postdated check before the date listed
  • Use deception to get you to accept collect phone calls
  • Contact you by postcard
  • Contact you at a work email address
  • Contact you on social media in a way that is visible to the public

Making false statements

Pennsylvania bill collectors are prohibited from making false statements, including incorrect and misleading statements, such as:

  • Implying that they are vouched for, bonded or affiliated with the government
  • Pretending to be an attorney
  • Claiming you have committed a crime
  • Saying documents sent to you are legal documents when they’re not (and vice versa)
  • Misrepresenting the amount or legal status of your debt
  • Misrepresenting their name or identity
  • Threatening to file a lawsuit when they cannot do so

Statute of limitations

Pennsylvania has a statute of limitations on debt that limits how long bill collectors have to sue a consumer in court for their unpaid bills. Once this statute runs out, you still owe the money but can no longer be pursued for unpaid debts on a legal basis.

In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for debt is four years. This same time limit applies to written and oral contracts, promissory notes and open-end accounts, including credit card debt.

Licensing and registration

Pennsylvania does not require debt collectors or collection agencies to be licensed in the state. 

Disputing a debt

If you don't recognize the debt or you don't think all of it is yours, you have the legal right to dispute the debt within 30 days of receiving the notice. You can do this with a dispute letter that lists your personal information, information about the debt and the fact you believe you don't owe the money.

Once the debt collector receives your dispute letter, they can no longer attempt to collect on the debt until they prove you owe it with written verification. This could come in the form of a copy of the original bill or other documentation.

If you don't dispute the debt within 30 days of receiving the letter, the debt collector can assume the debt is correct and has the legal right to continue collection activities.

Enforcement and penalties

If you feel your rights have been violated in the state of Pennsylvania, you can report incidents to Pennsylvania’s Office of Attorney General or over the phone at 1-800-441-2555. The state Attorney General can sue Pennsylvania debt collectors for violating your rights, so you'll want to report unlawful activity right away.

You can also sue Pennsylvania bill collectors for violating your rights on the federal level, although you can only sue under the FDCPA for up to one year after the violation occurs. If you win the lawsuit, the debt collector may have to pay you for lost wages or medical bills that resulted from debt collection activities, and they can also be liable for up to $1,000 in additional damages plus your legal fees and court costs.

» MORE: How to get out of debt

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    Can debt collectors garnish my wages in Pennsylvania?

    Wage garnishment in Pennsylvania can only be ordered by a court in certain situations, meaning you are unlikely to have your wages garnished for consumer debts you owe. Eligible circumstances for garnishment include (but are not limited to) unpaid child support, certain student loans and unpaid tax debt.

    Can I be sued for debt in collections in Pennsylvania?

    You can be sued for unpaid debt in the state of Pennsylvania as long as the lawsuit is filed before the four-year statute of limitations on debt expires.

    Bottom line

    Having debt in collections can be stressful, especially when debt collectors never seem to leave you alone. Fortunately, you have the legal right to end communications from bill collectors and sue them under the FDCPA if they keep contacting you after you tell them in writing to stop.

    Laws in Pennsylvania add even more teeth to the protections afforded to you federally, and you can report legal violations to the state Attorney General.

    Article sources
    ConsumerAffairs writers primarily rely on government data, industry experts and original research from other reputable publications to inform their work. Specific sources for this article include:
    1. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, "What laws limit what debt collectors can say or do?." Accessed Dec. 16, 2023.
    2. Federal Trade Commission, "Fair Debt Collection Practices Act." Accessed Dec. 16, 2023.
    3. Federal Trade Commission, "Fair Debt Collection Practices Act." Accessed Dec. 16, 2023.
    4. Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle A. Henry, "Fair Debt Collection Practices." Accessed Dec. 16, 2023.
    5. Harborstone Law, "The Pennsylvania Statute of Limitations on Debt Stops Vulture Debt Collectors." Accessed Dec. 16, 2023.
    6. Federal Trade Commission, "Debt Collection FAQs." Accessed Dec. 16, 2023.
    7. Placidi, Parini, Grasinger & Page, "What to Do If Your Wages Are Garnished in Pennsylvania?" Accessed Dec. 16, 2023.
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