Consumer rights: Collection agencies

Washington State law prohibits intimidating, threatening, or harassing conduct in connection with the collection of a debt.

Collection agencies aren’t allowed to disclose your debt:

  • To a third party, except under the specific circumstances in RCW 19.16.250(9).
  • By publishing or posting a list of debtors, or threatening to do so.

Collection agents aren’t allowed to misrepresent themselves:

  • By using any name other than the one listed on their collection agency license.
  • By using documents that appear to be judicial processes, government documents, telegrams, or emergency messages.
  • By wearing a badge or law enforcement uniform.
  • By implying they’re officially connected with any law enforcement or government agency.

When contacting you, collection agencies aren’t allowed to:

  • Contact you or your spouse more than 3 times a week.
  • Communicate with you at your workplace more than once a week.
  • Communicate with you or your spouse at your home before 7:30 a.m. or after 9 p.m., unless you request they contact you during alternate hours.
  • Use offensive language.
  • Make threats of force, violence, or criminal prosecution such as jail time or taking of personal property (doesn’t include filing a court case to obtain a judgment).
  • Threaten you with an impaired credit rating if you don’t pay the debt (doesn't include telling you the debt will be reported to a credit reporting agency, which may affect your credit rating).
  • Communicate directly with you if they’ve been notified in writing by your attorney to contact the attorney about your debt.

Collection agents aren’t allowed to collect or try to collect:

  • Any additional fee not authorized by law (doesn’t include attorney’s fees and taxable court costs awarded by a judge).
  • On a written note, contract, or stipulation where you’re required to pay any amount other than the original debt, allowable interest, and applicable attorney’s fees and taxable court costs.

The Washington State Collection Agency Act

RCW 19.16: The Washington State Collection Agency Act took effect on January 1, 1972 and is enforced by the Department of Licensing and the Washington State Collection Agency Board. The law is intended to protect consumers and stop abusive practices by debt collectors.

The law does:

  • Cover the collection of any business, personal, family, or household debt.
  • Apply to any person or business who solicits or collects debts owed to another for collection.
  • Apply to creditors who use a different name when collecting from their own debtors.
  • Apply to anyone who directly or indirectly collects, or tries to collect, debts they have purchased.

The law doesn’t:

  • Apply to banks, other lenders, or businesses that collect their own accounts using their own names.
  • Include individuals making collections in their own name that are directly related to the operation of a business other than a collection agency, such as:
    • Lawyers
    • Abstract companies doing an escrow business
    • Real estate brokers
    • Insurance companies

What to do if you’re having trouble with a collection agency

If you feel your rights have been violated, you can file a complaint with us. If we find the collection agency has violated the Washington State Collection Agency Act, we can take disciplinary action against them.

To file a complaint, fill out a Business Resources Complaint and mail it to us at:

Business Resources
Department of Licensing
PO Box 9027
Olympia WA 98507-9027

For more information, call us at 360.664.1389.

Other Resources

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

Collection agencies must also follow the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission. For more information:

Washington State Attorney General

You may also file a complaint with the Consumer Protection Division of the Washington State Attorney General’s Office. For more information:

  • See Filing a complaint at the Attorney General’s website.
  • Call:
    • Bellingham: 360.738.6185
    • Seattle: 206.464.6684
    • Tacoma: 253.593.2904
    • Vancouver: 360.759.2150
    • Toll Free: 800.551.4636
    • TTY: 800.276.9883
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