Debt collection laws in Virginia

Here are your rights in Virginia if debt collectors come knocking

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Racking up more debt than you can pay off is easy to do, especially if you’re dealing with any kind of financial hardship. Unfortunately, debt collectors can come knocking and make your life miserable. And if you are unable to pay back the money you owe, their constant calls and contact can be both stressful and frustrating.

Fortunately, there are laws that limit what debt collectors can do in the state of Virginia and on a national level. If you are tired of bill collectors calling and are wondering what you can do about it, read on for an overview of debt collection laws in Virginia.

Key insights

  • The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is a federal law that provides consumers with protections from bill collectors in Virginia and in other states.
  • Virginia has a criminal statute that makes it illegal for debt collectors to send communications that appear to be from the government or initiated as part of the legal process.
  • Virginia's statute of limitations on debt lasts for six years, which means bill collectors have that long to sue state residents for unpaid bills.

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. The FDCPA applies to most consumer debts, but not to business debts. It also does not apply to debts pursued by the original creditor, or to a business you owed money to.

Ultimately, the FDCPA 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 people in debt stop all contact with debt collectors by informing them in writing that they do not want to receive communications any longer. If the debt collector continues its communications, they can be sued under the FDCPA and be forced to pay for legal fees as well as damages.

» MORE: How to handle bill collectors

Virginia debt collection laws

For the most part, Virginia relies on the FDCPA to protect its residents from unlawful debt collection practices, harassment and threats. That's because the state doesn't have its own debt collection laws in place to limit bill collector activity.

That said, Virginia does have a state law that makes it a criminal offense for debt collectors and other companies to send documents that are made to look like they are part of the legal process.

Statute of limitations

The statute of limitations for most debts in Virginia is six years from when the original missed payment occurred.

This timeline does not mean you no longer owe the debt or that it cannot harm your credit or finances thereafter. This statute only limits the amount of time you can be sued by debt collectors for unpaid amounts you owe.

Required notices and rights to dispute

Virginia residents must also receive required notices about their debts under the FDCPA. Bill collectors are legally required to provide validation information about your debt by mail or electronically within five days of their first contact with you about the money you owe.

This mailing must include:

  • Explanation that the communication is from a debt collector
  • Contact information for the debt collector
  • Name of the creditor(s) you owe the debt to
  • Account numbers associated with the debt(s)
  • Total amount owed, including interest charges and fees
  • Current amount of the debt when the notice is provided
  • Details on how to dispute the debt
  • Notification that you have 30 days to formally dispute the debt

Once this information has been sent, you have the chance to say that all or part of the debt is not yours in writing within 30 days. You can even inform the debt collector that you do not recognize the debt. The collection agency has to suspend all attempts to collect the debt at that point until they mail you proof of the money you owe, such as a copy of the original bill.

If you don't dispute the debt within 30 days or they send proof that validates the debt, debt collection activities can continue as normal.

Enforcement and penalties

Because the Virginia debt collection law that prohibits imitating the government or legal system is a criminal statute, you cannot sue bill collectors under that law for violating your rights. However, bill collectors who send mailings that simulate the look of a legal or government document can be found guilty of a Class 4 misdemeanor.

Virginia residents can sue bill collectors who violate their federal rights under the FDCPA. Upon winning a lawsuit, you can even be awarded up to $1,000 in damages, plus additional damages for losses caused by debt collection activities. Bill collectors can also be on the hook for legal fees and court costs involved.

Note that lawsuits under the FDCPA must be filed within a year of when the violation occurred.

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    What is the Virginia Debt Collection Act?

    The Virginia Debt Collection Act is a state law that relates to debts owed to the Commonwealth of Virginia and actions state agencies can take for the purpose of collection. This law does not play a role in the collection of consumer debts from residents in the state.

    Where do I report Virginia debt collection violations?

    You can report Virginia debt collection violations by filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

    Can my wages be garnished to pay back debts in Virginia?

    Wages can be garnished to pay back consumer debts in the state of Virginia. However, garnishments are limited to a maximum of 25% of disposable earnings in each pay period.

    Bottom line

    The stress of owing money can become overwhelming when you get too far behind on bills. By the time debt collectors start calling, you may be too far behind to pay back what you owe in a timely manner — or ever, for that matter.

    Debt collection laws like the FDCPA can help you stop collection calls and contact altogether, but these laws won't make your debts disappear. If you need help handling unpaid bills, it may be time to reach out to a credit counseling agency, a bankruptcy attorney or another third party who can advise you on the 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. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, "What laws limit what debt collectors can say or do?" Accessed Dec. 20, 2023.
    2. Federal Trade Commission, "Fair Debt Collection Practices Act." Accessed Dec. 20, 2023.
    3. Federal Trade Commission, "Fair Debt Collection Practices Act." Accessed Dec. 20, 2023.
    4. Virginia Law, "Code of Virginia: 18.2-213. Simulation of warrants, processes, writs and notices." Accessed Dec. 20, 2023.
    5. Virginia Law, "Code of Virginia: 8.3A-118. Statute of limitations." Accessed Dec. 20, 2023.
    6. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, "What information does a debt collector have to give me about a debt they’re trying to collect from me?" Accessed Dec. 20, 2023.
    7. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, "What is harassment by a debt collector?" Accessed Dec. 20, 2023.
    8. Virginia Law, "Code of Virginia: Virginia Debt Collection Act." Accessed Dec. 20, 2023.
    9. Virginia Law, "Administrative Code: Chapter 21. Maximum Garnishment Amounts." Accessed Dec. 20, 2023.
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