SW Legal studies in Business

Wording in Debt Collection Letter Sufficiently Clear to Most Consumers to Be Legal

Appeals court held that a claim that the wording in a debt collection letter was confusing and therefore violated federal law failed as the court found that most people would find the letter to provide a common sense explanation of the matter.


Consumer Protection

Key Words

Debt Collection; Fair Debt Collection Practices Act; Requirements

C A S E   S U M M A R Y

Williams owed a debt that OSI, a debt collection agency, attempted to collect. OSI sent a letter saying $807.89 is the “total due” and then broke that down into principal, interest and fees. It then stated that the total due may change because of daily interest charges. OSI should be called to get the exact payout balance. Williams sued for violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), contending that debt collection letters must state the amount of the debt they are seeking to collect. Williams said that was not clear since the letter said you must call to get the exact amount due. That is confusing and violated the FDCPA. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of OSI. Williams appealed.


Affirmed. A consumer must show that the letter would confuse many recipients of a letter for it to violate the FDCPA. The letter here, stating that the balance shown in the notice “may not reflect the exact amount of interest which is accruing daily” and instructing consumers to contact the agency for “exact payout balance” does comport with the FDCPA requirement for a clear statement of the debt amount. The fact that the “exact payout balance” might differ from “total due” is a common sense matter that most people would understand.


Williams v. OSI Educational Services, Inc., 505 F.3d 675 (7th Cir., 2007)

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