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FCC limits cell phone calls by medical debt collectors

South Carolina consumers should know that a new ruling by the Federal Communications Commission makes it harder for medical debt collectors to contact debtors on their cellphones. However, the collection industry claims the rule change is unfair.

According to the FCC, collection agencies can only "robocall" debtors on their cellphone if they have consented to receive such calls for billing issues. Companies that violate the rule could face fines of up to $1,500 per call. A representative with the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals said that the rule becomes unfair when a debtor changes the phone number. Collectors could be fined for mistakenly calling the old number and reaching the wrong person.

An attorney with the National Consumer Law Center said the new rule is designed to get debt collectors to stop harassing the wrong people. She said collection agencies may still contact debtors using regular mail, email and "non-robocalls." The collection industry said using those contact methods will add expenses that will be passed along to consumers. Medical debt collection is a massive industry in the U.S. Debt collectors contacted 27 million Americans over unpaid medical bills in 2014. According to NerdWallet, collectors raked in $21 billion from medical debtors in 2012, which is three times the combined total collected from bank and credit card debtors.

South Carolina residents who are having difficult paying their medical debt may wish to consult with an attorney. Legal counsel could carefully review a client's financial situation and recommend ways to eliminate debt and stop harassing phone calls from debt collectors. In some cases, it may be advisable to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in order to obtain a financial fresh start.

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