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New Jersey Assembly Consider Debt Collection Bill

For the second time in less than a year, the New Jersey Assembly will consider legislation concerning the debt collection bill.

It is being argued that revising the Fair Debt Collections Act would help eliminate harassing, intimidating and abusive debt collection practices and it would also give those being chased a way to dispute and validate debt information to ensure its accuracy.

The legislation was scheduled to be voted upon on Monday but no longer appeared on the Assembly’s legislative agenda late Sunday night, would enhance additional federal protections and limit collectors’ ability to contact a debtor at work — except under certain circumstances — or at “any time and place” known to be inconvenient.

Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Paulsboro, said “We’re doing nothing here to relieve a consumer of a rightful debt, but this is a fairness bill that’s needed more than ever to ensure consumers aren’t harassed by unscrupulous debt collectors.” Mr Burzichelli is sponsoring the move alongside fellow Assemblymen Matthew W. Milam, D-Cape May Court House, Wayne P. DeAngelo, D-Hamilton and Paul Moriarty, D-Turnersville.

Mr Moriarty said “Just because someone is in debt does not mean they forfeit their rights to be treated fairly. Debt collectors may have a responsibility to get consumers to make good on what they owe, but they also have an obligation to treat consumers with respect and within the law.”

If approved the amended bill would prohibit, with limited exceptions, a debt collector from communicating with a debtor:

  • earlier than 8 a.m. and later than 9 p.m.
  • at the debtor’s place of employment, although the collector may send a single letter or make one phone call per month to a debtor’s place of employment if the debt collector hasn’t been able to contact the debtor at home.
  • if the debt collector knows the debtor is represented by an attorney and can readily ascertain that attorney’s name and address.

If found to be abusing these rules, the offenders could be fined upto $10,000 for a first offence and then up to $20,000 for each subsequent offence. Violations could also result in cease and desist orders issued by the state Attorney General’s office and the awarding of treble damages, attorneys’ fees and legal costs to the injured party.

When originally looked at in July of 2009 Assembly members overwhelmingly approved the measure but it died when the state Senate failed to act on it before the last legislative session ended in January. If it’s passed again, the debt collection bill would go back to the senate for its consideration.