Debt collection laws in Tennessee

Here are your rights in Tennessee if debt collectors come knocking

Author pictureAuthor picture
Author picture
Written by
Author picture
Edited by

Could your debt be reduced or forgiven? Take our financial relief quiz.

gavel on a table

Debt collection happens when you fail to repay a debt you owe, such as credit cards and personal loans. The debt collection industry is highly regulated — for good reason. Bill collectors are known for using annoying and unfair practices to try to collect on a debt, including calling or visiting at all hours, making threats and harassing consumers.

Fortunately, Americans are protected against such unscrupulous activities on a national level, and Tennessee residents have their own state-specific protections as well. If you live in Tennessee and you're dealing with bill collectors who won't leave you alone, read on to learn about Tennessee debt collection laws and how they work.

Key insights

  • The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is a federal law that protects consumers from harassment and abusive practices by debt collectors.
  • The Tennessee Collection Services Act adds another layer of protection against unfair and deceptive practices in the state.
  • Consumers have the right to stop collection calls if they make the request in writing.
  • The Tennessee statute of limitations on debt prohibits bill collectors from filing lawsuits for unpaid amounts after six years.

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

Tennessee debt collection laws

The Tennessee Collection Services Act limits what debt collectors can and cannot do in the state.

According to the law, this act applies to "any person that engages in, or attempts to engage in, the collection of delinquent accounts, bills or other forms of indebtedness irrespective of whether the person engaging in or attempting to engage in collection activity has received the indebtedness by assignment or whether the indebtedness was purchased by the person engaging in, or attempting to engage in, the collection activity.”

However, the act does not apply to professionals who engage in the collection of notes or guarantees.

Debt collection practices

This law in the state of Tennessee sets limits on how and when debt collectors can communicate with you and which actions are considered harassment or abuse. Also, note that many of the protections afforded by the state mimic protections passed under the FDCPA.

Based on these laws and regulations, Tennessee bill collectors are prohibited from the following debt collection activities:

  • Attempting to communicate with you before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. local time
  • Calling you repeatedly about the same debt
  • Communicating about your debt with family, friends and other third parties
  • Communicating with you after you have requested they stop in writing
  • Calling you at work after you have requested they stop
  • Contacting you personally when they know you have legal representation
  • Threatening to ruin your reputation or property
  • Threatening physical harm to collect on a debt
  • Using obscene or profane language
  • Publishing information about your debts
  • Calling you repeatedly with the intent to annoy or harass you
  • Refusing to identify themselves when they call you
  • Trying to collect debt that exceeds the amount owed or is permitted by law
  • Attempting to communicate through deception
  • Charging telegram fees or making collect calls to collect on a debt
  • Asking you for a post-dated check to collect on a debt
  • Communicating with you about a debt with a postcard

Required notices to debtors

Tennessee debt collectors are required to provide you with a specific notice about your debts. This notice must come in the form of a Debt Validation Letter that includes the following information and reaches you within five days of initial contact.

The letter must include:

  • Debt amount owed
  • Name of the creditor
  • Notice that the debt can be disputed
  • Notice that not disputing the debt means it’s valid
  • Details on how to request more information on the debt

At that point, you have 30 days to dispute the debt in writing. You can dispute the entire debt amount or any portion of the debt, and you can even report that you do not recognize the debt at all. You can also request more information about the original creditor if it's different from the party attempting to collect on the debt.

From there, the debt collector must send you proof of the debt. This can include a copy of the original bill or judgment against you or other proof. If you do not dispute any information with the collection agency, the debt is assumed to be valid.

Statute of limitations

All states set their own statute of limitations for various debts, which limits the amount of time debt collectors have to sue consumers for unpaid amounts in court. However, these limitations do not mean a debt is no longer valid or that you no longer owe the money.

In the state of Tennessee, the statute of limitations for unpaid debts is six years.

» MORE: How to get out of debt

Licensing and registration

Tennessee debt collectors must be licensed to operate in the state.

Enforcement and penalties

Consumers in Tennessee can sue debt collectors if they violate their rights under the FDCPA, but only within a year of the date the violation occurred.

If a bill collector loses the lawsuit, they can be liable for payment of all legal fees and court costs, up to $1,000 in damages, plus additional damages for your lost wages and other losses sustained due to debt collection activities.

If you feel your rights have been violated under the FDCPA or state law in Tennessee, you can report the debt collector to any of the following:

Could your debt be reduced or forgiven? Take our financial relief quiz.


    Can a debt collector garnish wages in Tennessee?

    Creditors can garnish your wages for unpaid debts in Tennessee, but only with a court order. This means the creditor or debt collector must sue you in court and win before wage garnishment can take place.

    Further, the state of Tennessee sets limits on how much of your wages can be garnished. Under state law, the maximum that can be garnished is 25% of your weekly disposable income or the amount by which your weekly disposable income exceeds 30 times the federal minimum wage (whichever is greater).

    How long do debt collectors have to take me to court?

    Tennessee's statute of limitations for debt is six years. This means you can only be sued for unpaid amounts owed for six years after individual debts become delinquent.

    Bottom line

    Tennessee residents are protected from various debt collection activities on both the federal and state levels, although none of the laws in place can make debts disappear. Debt collection laws merely limit what bill collectors can and cannot do, and they ensure penalties are in place for companies that go too far when it comes to collecting unpaid amounts.

    If you are struggling with debt in Tennessee, you may want to speak with a debt collection attorney or nonprofit credit counselor to determine your best next steps.

    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. Federal Trade Commission, "Fair Debt Collection Practices Act." Accessed Dec. 12, 2023.
    2. Federal Trade Commission, "Fair Debt Collection Practices Act." Accessed Dec. 12, 2023.
    3. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, "What laws limit what debt collectors can say or do?" Accessed Dec. 12, 2023.
    4. Justia US Law, "2021 Tennessee Code Title 62." Accessed Dec. 11, 2023.
    5. Legal Information Institute, "Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. 0320-05-.04 - HARASSMENT OR ABUSE." Accessed Dec. 11, 2023.
    6. Legal Information Institute, "Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. 0320-05-.03 - COMMUNICATION IN CONNECTION WITH DEBT COLLECTION." Accessed Dec. 11, 2023.
    7. Legal Information Institute, "Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. 0320-05-.06 - UNFAIR PRACTICES." Accessed Dec. 11, 2023.
    8. Legal Information Institute, "Tenn. Comp. R. & Regs. 0320-05-.07 - VALIDATION OF DEBTS." Accessed Dec. 11, 2023.
    9. Rothschild & Ausbrooks, PLLC, "Tennessee’s Statute of Limitations on Debt." Accessed Dec. 12, 2023.
    10. Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, "Get a License." Accessed Dec. 12, 2023.
    11. Federal Trade Commission, "Debt Collection FAQs." Accessed Dec. 12, 2023.
    12. Jimmy E. McElroy & Associates, "What to know if faced with garnishment in Tennessee." Accessed Dec. 12, 2023.
    Did you find this article helpful? |
    Share this article