CFPB FDCPA – With regard to communications (or attempts) what is meant by unusual or inconvenient times or places?

Compliance > FDCPA
Q:   With regard to communications (or attempts) what is meant by unusual or inconvenient times or places?
 
A:   Unless one or more of the exceptions discussed in Section 4.1.1 or Section 4.4 of the small entity compliance guide apply, a debt collector must not communicate or attempt to communicate with a consumer in connection with the collection of any debt:

1. At any unusual time or at a time that the debt collector knows or should know is inconvenient to the consumer. In the absence of the debt collector’s knowledge of circumstances to the contrary, an inconvenient time for communicating with a consumer is before 8:00 a.m. and after 9:00 p.m. local time at the consumer’s location. If a debt collector has conflicting or ambiguous information regarding a consumer’s location, the debt collector complies if the debt collector communicates or attempts to communicate with the consumer at a time that would be convenient in all of the locations at which the debt collector’s information indicates the consumer might be located. Comment 1006.6(b)(1)(i)-2. A debt collector is not required to determine where the consumer actually is located when communicating or attempting to communicate with the consumer. For purposes of determining the time of an electronic communication, an electronic communication or electronic attempt to communicate occurs at the time that the debt collector sends it, not, for example, at the time that the consumer receives or views it. Comment 1006.6(b)(1)(i)-1.

2. At any unusual place or at a place that the debt collector knows or should know is inconvenient to the consumer. Some communication media, such as mailing addresses and landline telephone numbers, are associated with a particular place, such as the consumer’s home or workplace. A debt collector must not communicate or attempt to communicate with a consumer through a communication medium associated with an unusual place or a place that the debt collector knows or should know is inconvenient. For example, a consumer may designate the consumer’s home as inconvenient, and the debt collector must not communicate or attempt to communicate with the consumer through any communication medium associated with the consumer’s home, such as the consumer’s home landline telephone number. Other communication media, such as email addresses and mobile telephone numbers, are not associated with a place. The prohibition on communicating or attempting to communicate at unusual or inconvenient places does not prohibit a debt collector from communicating or attempting to communicate with a consumer through media not associated with a place unless the debt collector knows that the consumer is at an unusual place, or knows that the consumer is at a place that the debt collector knows or should know is inconvenient to the consumer. Comment 1006.6(b)(1)(ii)-1.

 
Examples:
 
Ficus Debt Collection Services has notes indicating that a consumer has a mobile telephone number with an area code associated with the Eastern time zone and a residential address in the Pacific time zone. Ficus Debt Collection Services has conflicting or ambiguous information regarding the consumer’s location. Absent knowledge to the contrary, the convenient times for Ficus Debt Collection Services to communicate with the consumer are after 11:00 a.m. Eastern time (8:00 a.m. Pacific time) and before 9:00 p.m. Eastern time (6:00 p.m. Pacific time).
 
Ficus Debt Collection Services has notes indicating that a consumer has a mobile telephone number with an area code associated with the Eastern time zone and a landline telephone number with an area code associated with the Mountain time zone. Ficus Debt Collection Services has conflicting or ambiguous information regarding the consumer’s location. Absent knowledge to the contrary, the convenient times for Ficus Debt Collection Services to communicate with the consumer are after 10:00 a.m. Eastern time (8:00 a.m. Mountain time) and before 9:00 p.m. Eastern time (7:00 p.m. Mountain time).
 
A consumer tells Ficus Debt Collection Services not to contact the consumer at the consumer’s home. The consumer has a landline telephone number that is associated with the consumer’s home. The consumer also has a mobile telephone number. Ficus Debt Collection Services knows or should know that a call to the home landline
telephone number is a communication or attempt to communicate at an inconvenient place. Thus, a call to the home landline telephone number violates the Debt Collection Rule. In contrast, unless Ficus Debt Collection Services knows that the consumer is at home at the time that it calls the consumer’s mobile telephone number, such a call does not violate the Rule’s prohibition on communicating or attempting to communicate with a consumer at an inconvenient place. This is true even if the consumer receives the call to the mobile telephone number while at home.
 
 
A debt collector knows or should know that a time or place is inconvenient to a consumer if the consumer describes the time or place using the word “inconvenient.” In addition, depending on the facts and circumstances, it is possible that a debt collector knows or should know that a time or place is inconvenient even if the consumer does not describe a time or place using the word “inconvenient.” For example, a consumer might indicate that he or she should not be disturbed
or cannot talk to the debt collector at certain times or places. Comment 1006.6(b)(1)-1.

However, the Debt Collection Rule does not require a debt collector to construe a consumer’s statement that the consumer is “busy” or “cannot talk right now” (without anything further) to mean that the consumer is generally designating a time or place as inconvenient for future communications. Such a statement would indicate that the time or place is inconvenient for the current communication or attempt to communicate.

A debt collector may ask follow-up questions to clarify statements by the consumer in order to determine if a future communication or attempt to communicate would be at a time or place that is inconvenient to a consumer. For example, if a consumer asks a debt collector not to contact the consumer “at home,” the debt collector may ask whether the consumer intends to prohibit the debt collector from communicating through all media associated with the consumer’s home, including mail. Comment 1006.6(b)(1)-1.iii.
 
Examples:
 
Ficus Debt Collection Services has a file that includes a note that a consumer cannot be disturbed on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Ficus Debt Collection Services knows or should know that Tuesdays and Thursdays are inconvenient times to contact the consumer.
 
Ficus Debt Collection Services calls a consumer. The consumer answers the call but states “I am busy” or “I cannot talk now.” Ficus Debt Collection Services asks the consumer when a convenient time would be to talk. The consumer responds, “on weekdays, except from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.” Ficus Debt Collection Services asks the consumer whether there would be a convenient time on weekends. The consumer responds “no.” Ficus Debt Collection Services knows or should know that the time period between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. on weekdays and all times on weekends are inconvenient to the consumer.
 
 
There is a limited exception that applies solely to the prohibition on communications and attempts to communicate at inconvenient times or places. If a consumer initiates a communication with a debt collector at a time or from a place that the consumer previously designated as inconvenient, the debt collector does not violate the prohibition on communicating at inconvenient times or places if the debt collector responds once at that time or place through the same medium of communication used by the consumer. After responding one time to the consumer-initiated communication, the Rule prohibits the debt collector from communicating or attempting to communicate with the consumer at that time or place until the consumer conveys that the time or place is no longer inconvenient, or another exception applies. 12 CFR 1006.6(b)(1); comment 1006.6(b)(1)-2. If a debt collector’s system generates an automated reply in response to a consumer-initiated communication at a time or from a place that the consumer previously designated as inconvenient, this system-generated reply would constitute a response using the same medium of communication. Although this one automated reply would not violate the prohibition on communications at inconvenient times or places, the debt collector could not communicate or attempt to communicate again with the consumer at that time or place until the consumer conveys that the time or place is no longer inconvenient, or another exception applies. For information on additional exceptions to the prohibition on communicating or attempting to communicate at unusual or inconvenient times or places, see Section 4.4 of the small entity compliance guide.
 
 
This Q&A was created based on information from the CFPB’s Debt Collection Rule Small Entity Compliance Guide - April 2021 (which may be updated from time to time).  This may be found on the CFPB’s website here:  https://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/documents/cfpb_debt-collection_small-entity-compliance-guide.pdf

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