Are you being served?
April 6, 2011 11:20 PM   Subscribe

Posting for a friend who may be sued in California for a credit card debt. The friend has been a starving university student in Europe for several years, with no money to make payments on the debt. We've read this useful thread and others, but wonder what the advice is for someone who's not in the country.

There have recently been calls to my friend's previous US addresses from people claiming to be process servers. My friend has no assets but will probably return to the USA in a few years, and may have to visit briefly, possibly several times, before returning (in which case the travel would be paid by someone else.) After my friend returns to the USA and gets a job then of course there would not be a problem in repaying the debt, but that's at least three to five years in the future.

The debt was probably around five thousand dollars, was incurred in the USA before my friend left, and has not been serviced for three or more years.

To what extent can I act for my friend? Are people arrested for debt in the USA? Am I right in thinking that debt in one country is not something which can be legally pursued in a different country (i.e. my friend cannot be taken to court in Europe for their US debt)?
posted by anadem to Work & Money (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
They've been in university in Europe and plan to be over much of this decade? I would let it go. You have no reason to be involved in this dispute. Your friend should decide if they will contact the credit card companies. I don't believe the company can compel payment as long as he/she is outside of the US. They might be eligible for statute of limitations. However, $5,000 is not large. They could probably get a job and pay it off in managed payments.
posted by parmanparman at 1:28 AM on April 7, 2011


To what extent can I act for my friend? Are people arrested for debt in the USA? Am I right in thinking that debt in one country is not something which can be legally pursued in a different country (i.e. my friend cannot be taken to court in Europe for their US debt)?

It can be, but not for 5,000 dollars.
posted by atrazine at 1:56 AM on April 7, 2011


The original creditor has probably sold the debt to a collector who is attempting to obtain a judgment in order to collect his fee. The judgment really doesn't change the situation significantly and can be ignored with about the same consequence as ignoring the original debt. Owing money will not lead to anyone's arrest nor cause any problems for travel. As a practical matter, they can not be pursued in European courts. Frankly, the odds are quite good that no one has any interest in the debt by the time your friend returns.
posted by Lame_username at 5:10 AM on April 7, 2011


The collections agency can probably get a judgement in the US but it is unenforceable if he's living outside the US. They would have to sue your friend in his country and county of residence to collect. For a debt in the order of 5K, this is exceedingly unlikely to be cost effective for the collections agency. And as he has no assets abroad, he's essentially judgement proof.

He can travel to and from the US freely with this debt. He will not be arrested or imprisoned. If he is visiting his former residence (ie his parents' house) there is a chance greater than null they could find or serve him while he is there but honestly once they figure out he is not resident in the US they are very likely to write the debt off as uncollectable. Plus the stars would basically have to align for that to happen.

IANAL. IANYL. I did however pay a lawyer admitted to both the Irish and New York State bars to give me this advice, for a far larger debt against which I do theoretically have assets. I basically then told the debt collection agency they were welcome to sue me in any jurisdiction they liked, but they had zero hope of collecting on it and could basically stand on the corner and whistle for the money. I have not heard from them since. YMMV.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:19 AM on April 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


Your friend should look into/consult with a suitable expert on whether his state's statute of limitation on credit card debt applies. (I don't know why it wouldn't, but IANAL or any other sort of tax/law expert.) Depending on how many years it's been since the last time the clock got reset on the debt*, he might be able to tell them to go whistle, as DarlingBri describes.

*Another reason to consult with an expert. The date the clock last got reset (not the technical term, I know) is not the date the charge was incurred.
posted by Lexica at 1:48 PM on April 7, 2011


Thanks for all the info! All excellently encouraging answers. My friend will be able to stop worrying so much. Me too.
posted by anadem at 3:27 PM on April 7, 2011


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