New York Adopts More Stringent Debt Collection Regulations

By:  Diana M. Eng and Jennifer L. Neuner

The New York State Department of Financial Services recently issued new regulations requiring debt collectors to provide additional disclosures to consumers. The new regulations (see 23 NYCRR § 1) are intended to provide protections beyond what is currently required by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). These new debt collection regulations will become effective in March 2015, except that provisions regarding required disclosures for charged-off debt[1] and substantiation of a charged-off debt[2] will become effective in August 2015.[3]

Required Initial Disclosures

The regulations require enhanced initial disclosures when a new debt collector first contacts an alleged debtor. The newly mandated disclosures include specific notices that are not formally required by the FDCPA. Specifically, pursuant to 23 NYCRR § 1.2, the debt collector must, within 5 days of the initial communication with the consumer, provide “clear and conspicuous written notification” that 1) debt collectors are prohibited from engaging in “abusive, deceptive, and unfair debt collection efforts” under the FDCPA; and 2) a written statement that if a creditor or debt collector receives a money judgment against the consumer in court, state and federal laws may prevent certain types of income from being taken to pay the debt, including, among others, social security, public assistance, unemployment and disability benefits, pensions and veterans’ benefits.

Similarly, with respect to debts that have been charged-off, the debt collector must, within 5 days of the initial communication with the consumer, provide a “clear and conspicuous” written notification about the debt, including 1) the name of the original creditor; and 2) an itemized accounting of the charged-off debt, including the amount owed as of charge-off, total amount paid on the debt since the charge-off and the total post charge-off interest, charges and fees. 23 NYCRR § 1.2(b).

Required Disclosures Regarding Collection of So-called “Zombie Debts”

The regulations also require disclosures regarding the collection of debts for which the statute of limitations has already expired. 23 NYCRR § 1.3. Further, the debt collector must maintain reasonable procedures to determine the applicable statute of limitations of a debt and to determine whether the statute of limitations has expired. The FDCPA does not contain such requirements.

Under the New York regulation, if a debt collector “knows or has reason to know” that the statute of limitations for a debt may have expired, the debt collector must provide a “clear and conspicuous” notification to the consumer that 1) the debt collector believes that the statute of limitations may be expired; 2) suing on a debt for which the statute of limitations has expired is a violation of the FDCPA, and, if the consumer is sued, the consumer may present evidence to the court that the statute of limitations has run; 3) the consumer is not required to provide the debt collector with an admission of any kind that the debt is still owed, or to waive the statute of limitations; and 4) a partial payment of the debt, or other admission that the debt is owed, may restart the statute of limitations. 23 NYCRR § 1.3(a)-(b). Further, the regulation provides specific language that would comply with the notice requirement.

Requirements Regarding “Substantiation” of the Debt

The regulations also contain important changes regarding a debt collector’s obligations when a consumer disputes the validity of a charged-off debt. 23 NYCRR § 1.4. Currently, under the FDCPA, consumers must dispute the debt in writing and request verification of the debt within 30 days of the first collection attempt. See 15 U.S.C. § 1692g. Under the new New York regulations, consumers may request “substantiation” of the debt at any time during the collections process, and may do so orally. Once a request is received, the debt collector must provide the consumer written substantiation of a charged-off debt within 60 days of receiving the request. 23 NYCRR § 1.4(b). The debt collector must also cease collection until written substantiation has been provided to the consumer. The regulation further lists the various forms of documentation required to substantiate the debt.

In addition, the New York regulation includes a document retention requirement related to a request for substantiation of a charged-off debt under 23 NYCRR § 1.4. 23 NYCRR § 1.4(d). Specifically, debt collectors must retain evidence of the consumer’s request for substantiation and all documents provided in response to such request until the charged-off debt is discharged, sold or transferred.[4]

Requirements for Agreements to Settle a Debt

The regulations also include procedures for documenting any agreement between the consumer and the debt collector to satisfy or otherwise settle the debt. 23 NYCRR § 1.5. The FDCPA does not regulate communications from a debt collector regarding settlement. Under the new regulations, a debt collector must, within 5 business days of agreeing to a debt payment schedule or other agreement to settle the debt, provide the consumer with 1) written confirmation of the debt payment schedule or agreement, including all material terms and conditions relating to the agreement; and 2) a notice stating that if a creditor or debt collector receives a money judgment against the consumer in court, state and federal laws prevent certain types of income from being taken to satisfy the debt.[5] The debt collector is also required to provide the consumer with 1) an accounting of the debt on at least a quarterly basis while the consumer is making scheduled payments; and 2) a written confirmation of the satisfaction of the debt, along with the name of the original creditor and the account number, within 20 days of receipt of the final payment.[6] 23 NYCRR § 1.5.

Debt collection companies that operate in New York should review their current policies and take steps to comply with the new regulations in advance of the 2015 effective dates. Specifically, debt collectors should ensure that initial disclosures satisfy the new regulations, that disclosures inform consumers regarding the potential expiration of the statute of limitations and that procedures are in place to substantiate the debt upon a debtor’s request.

[1] 23 NYCRR § 1.2(b).
[2] 23 NYCRR § 1.4.
[3] 23 NYCRR § 1.7.
[4] Debt collectors who transfer a charged-off debt should consult the CFPB rules regarding mortgage servicing transfers to the extent applicable.
[5] This notice provision is identical to the statement required in the initial disclosures (23 NYCRR § 1.2) noted above.
[6] 23 NYCRR § 1.6 provides that, after mailing the initial disclosures required by Section § 1.2, a debt collector and consumer may communicate via email, if the consumer voluntarily provides an email address and consents to receiving email correspondence regarding a specific debt.

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