Collection Industry Adopts New Standards of Conduct

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ACA International Code of Ethics promotes the interests of consumers.

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We stand firm in our belief that those who collect debt ethically and respectfully should not be placed at a competitive disadvantage to the few who don’t. ACA encourages all businesses and organizations that retain collection agencies to seriously evaluate potential firms based on this code of conduct.

The board of directors for ACA International, the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, (ACA) today unanimously approved an enhanced association code of ethics. The vote occurred during the Annual ACA Board Meeting, held in conjunction with the association’s 68th Annual Convention & Exposition, at the Hyatt Regency Chicago hotel, Chicago.

ACA’s 5,500 members representing 125,000 professionals in the United States, Canada and 60 other countries worldwide, will now be held to higher standards of conduct as they provide a vital economic impact. Under the significantly modified code, the industry has committed to several provisions that balance the needs of the public with the responsibilities of ethical credit and collection professionals.

Key provisions of the code include:

  • Requiring members to designate a contact person at each member company to resolve consumer complaints.
  • Requiring members to make efforts to resolve consumer complaints.
  • Clarifying the responsibilities of the collector when consumers request information about their debt.
  • Forbidding litigation on time-barred debts.
  • Clarifying the need for members to obtain accurate and complete information about any accounts being purchased.
  • Adopting reasonable procedures for investigating claims of identity theft.

“Today’s decision is a milestone for ACA and the millions of creditor businesses we serve,” said ACA President Michael Shoop. “It’s the latest example of our strong commitment to professionalism and fair practices. ACA supported passage of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act in 1977, fought to bring collection attorneys within the confines of the law in 1986, and earlier this year introduced guidelines to help collectors and purchasers of healthcare debt align their practices with the care-driven mission of their healthcare provider clients. The updated code of ethics strengthens our platform of balancing consumers’ rights and collectors’ responsibilities.”

ACA chief executive Gary Rippentrop added the code of ethics will help creditors select an agent that will represent them professionally. “We stand firm in our belief that those who collect debt ethically and respectfully should not be placed at a competitive disadvantage to the few who don’t. ACA encourages all businesses and organizations that retain collection agencies to seriously evaluate potential firms based on this code of conduct.”

How ACA’s new Code of Ethics promotes the interests of consumers

Complaint Resolution Officer: ACA is negotiating additional “teeth” to the code of ethics as a meaningful alternative for consumers to resolve complaints. The first step in the process is accomplished by mandating all ACA member companies designate an officer with sufficient authority to handle consumer complaints. Companies will provide an updated contact each year as a part of their membership renewal.

Verification: Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a consumer has 30 days to request, in writing, debt verification from a third-party collector. Upon receipt of such a request, all collection activity must cease until the collector provides the consumer with documentation the debt is owed. The new code extends indefinitely the consumer’s right to request verification in writing.

Additionally, the law does not require the collector to take any further action if it closes an account it cannot verify. Many consumers are left ill at ease when they hear nothing back regarding their verification request. With the new code, ACA seeks to add a step to the debt verification process requiring collectors to provide consumers notice that collection activity has ceased. This provision was added to the code in the interests of consumers, but lest such notice be interpreted as a violation of the FDCPA’s “cease communication” rule, the provision will only become effective upon ACA’s receipt of a formal advisory opinion from the Federal Trade Commission addressing a collector’s ability to provide this notice.

The new code also requires collectors to indicate, when the account is closed and returned to the creditor, that the reason for closure was the collector’s inability to verify the debt. This should allow the creditor or debt buyer to prevent the account from being sold or reassigned.

Time-Barred Debt: The statutes of limitation on consumer debts vary widely from state to state but are generally, four to ten years. ACA members consider the filing of a lawsuit on a time-barred debt to be an abusive practice and commit to use legal collection remedies only when appropriate to satisfy a debt.

Chain of Title: Creditors increasingly opt to sell non-performing debts to buyers to improve cash flow and recovery. Selling debt is an important tool for managing receivables. To curtail the reassignment or resale of disputed debts and to prevent wrong-party contacts, ACA encourages debt buyers to obtain supporting documents and establish the chain of title for any accounts they purchase.

Identity Theft: ACA members seek to communicate with only those consumers who are legally obligated to pay their past-due debts. Wrong-party contacts and victims of identity theft need protection from unwarranted collection activity. To that end, the enhanced code requires members of ACA to conduct a reasonable investigation to determine the validity of the debt and the identity of the obligor when claims of identity theft are communicated by the consumer.

While the FDCPA’s consumer protections apply only within the United States, ACA extends the Act and its more stringent code of ethics to all 5,500 members worldwide.

A task force of ACA members appointed by the association’s executive officers drafted the new code. ACA published the draft for a month-long comment period following which the association incorporated public feedback on the proposed changes.

By adopting the new standards, ACA members have publicly embraced self regulation, taken meaningful steps to preserve and foster the vitality of the industry and, most important, have set themselves apart as professionals committed to treating all consumers with dignity and respect.

The complete ACA Code of Ethics document can be accessed online at http://www.acainternational.org/images/10758/acacodeofethics.pdf.

ACA International, the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, is the comprehensive, knowledge-based resource for success in the credit and collection industry. Founded in 1939, ACA brings together more than 5,500 members worldwide, including third-party collection agencies, attorneys, creditors and vendor affiliates. The association establishes ethical standards, produces a wide variety of products, services and publications, and articulates the value of the credit and collection industry to businesses, policymakers and consumers. For more information about ACA International, visit http://www.acainternational.org.

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Nate Thompson

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