If you aren’t paying all your bills every month, you may be contacted by a debt collector. Debt collectors are limited by law in how they can seek to collect debts.

Your creditor has the right to:

  1. Repossess any property that is “secured,” which means you have signed a contract giving him the right to repossess it.  Motor vehicles can usually be repossessed without a court order, but a court order is required if a repossession will breach the peace.  Repossessed property can be sold to pay your debt. If the entire debt is not paid, the creditor can sue you for the rest.
  2. Report your payment record to a Credit Reporting Agency.  You have the right to dispute incorrect or misleading information.  You can submit a written request to have incorrect information removed and your report updated.
  3. Sue you in court.  The creditor is required to attach an account to his complaint. If there is no account showing the history of the credit account you can seek to have the complaint dismissed.  You should seek further assistance.  

After the court finds you owe money, the creditor can seek to:

  1. Garnish your wages. However, you are entitled to keep what you would earn at 30 hours per week at the federal minimum wage. Many employers do not like garnishments. The law prohibits employers from firing an employee for being garnished by one creditor.  If more than one creditor is threatening to garnish you, you should consider filing a bankruptcy, seeking a Municipal or County Court Trusteeship or contacting a consumer debt counselor.
  2. Attach your bank account or other property or foreclose on real property.
  3. Summon you to court for judgment debtor examination to describe your income and property under oath.


Your creditor cannot harass you:

  1. Put you in jail for not paying a debt.
  2. Garnish your wages without going to court. (A possible exception is a student loan).
  3. Garnish ‘exempt benefits’ such as Ohio Works First (OWF, welfare), social security, unemployment compensation and certain disability insurance benefits.  If they seek to attach a bank account that contains an ‘exempt’ benefit, you should request a hearing.
  4. Abuse or harass you by calling at unreasonable hours or an unreasonable number of times or using abusive language.
  5. Talk to other people, such as employers, relatives and neighbors about your debt.
  6. Make false statements about the debt, the creditor or their powers under the law.  For example, they cannot pretend to be part of the government or send you a letter designed to look like court papers.
  7. Contact you without telling you that you have the chance to dispute the bill.
  8. Threaten to do things they are not allowed to do.


This article is meant to give you general information and not specific legal advice.
Prepared by Community Legal Aid Services, Inc. Updated February 2012. CE-09-F061-CLAS