Help with debt collectors
May 9, 2012 9:10 AM   Subscribe

My sister needs some help dealing with a debt collector who is pursuing her very aggressively. The debt collector keeps calling her at work and threatening her. At this point, my dad is looking into hiring a lawyer to help her out and be a go-between to deal with this debt collector for her. Any advice on who to call?

I don't know too much about the situation as my sis is understandably embarrassed, but I do believe there's a court judgment against her. My sister doesn't want to talk to the debt collectors herself as she's too scared to do so. Thanks in advance for any recommendations or advice you can give us.
posted by hazyjane to Work & Money (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
This seems kind of open-ended.

The best thing to do would be to hire a lawyer, document every communication between the debtor and the collector, and ask the lawyer to consider whether the debt collector has violated either the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act or its equivalent in the state where your sister resides.

Also, to support your sister and encourage her to deal with the shame that she may be feeling. Whatever weird habits she has around money or debt that might have gotten her into this situation (and trust me, we've all got them) are not going to go away if her sense of shame is shutting down her ability to confront them.
posted by gauche at 9:16 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Maybe this is silly, but...pay the debt? How much does she owe? Lawyers aren't cheap.
posted by Dasein at 9:21 AM on May 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


If there's a court judgement against her, then eventually, she's going to have an arrest warrant out against her, so she does need to look out for that. Avoiding collection agents is one thing, but once you have a judgement against you, if you fail to pay it, you're required to go back to court to explain yourself. It could be quite a scene the next time she gets pulled over for a traffic violation, if this is the case.
posted by xingcat at 9:23 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've had good luck with telling bill collectors to stop calling me. I tell them, "I know my rights under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act and I demand that you stop contacting me about this." I've never received a call from any debt collector, for a valid *or* an invalid debt, after that.

Even though she (apparently) owes the money, and if so she should certainly pay, that does not give the collection agency the right to harass her.

I can't quote chapter & verse, this comes from listening to Clark Howard on the radio. Best of luck.

She can also send them a "Drop Dead" letter, also as per Clark Howard.

Best of luck. Being in debt is no fun.
posted by Infinity_8 at 9:24 AM on May 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


...but especially with a court judgement, yes, reiterating, even once they start leaving her alone, it's up to her to pay.
posted by Infinity_8 at 9:24 AM on May 9, 2012


The FTC has a bunch of Fair Debt Collection info.
posted by JoanArkham at 9:27 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Response by poster: Thanks everyone for all the advice so far. Sis does know she needs to pay, but she can't afford to just "pay the debt" in its entirety. Neither can my dad or I but we can pay for a lawyer's letter to be sent to them, for example, or we could pay for someone to negotiate a payment plan that she could afford. If anyone knows a professional who would be able to help with this, their contact info would be extremely useful. If you don't wish to post it here, memail would be great.
posted by hazyjane at 9:27 AM on May 9, 2012


First of all a court judgement will not result in an arrest warrant. Or if it will, it is extremely unlikely. I have never seen one turn into a criminal case. It is possible that the judgement could result in a garnishment but that depends on factors such as which state, what sort of debt, etc, etc

A judgement will last for ever. There is no statute of limitation as there are with normal debts. Furthermore they gain interest year after year. Furthermore a judgement will attach to any real property you own which make financing a home or land impossible without it being paid.

That being said the law does prevent a collector from calling at her at work, provided she informs them that her employer does not allow such calls. If they keep calling her after they've been informed she will be able to sue them

Send them notice not to call at work in writing via certified mail. Make a copy and hold on to it.
posted by 2manyusernames at 9:32 AM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


contact an attorney who specializes in debt. put them on retainer. when the debt collector calls, refer them to your attorney. if your attorney is good at what s/he does, s/he will be able to negotiate your debt for you, sometimes reducing the debt owed by as much as 60%—it's well worth the retainer fee of the attorney.
posted by violetk at 9:38 AM on May 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


Does she have the option to pay the debt directly to her creditor? If so, she might want to start making payments that way and inform the debt collector, directly and in no ambiguous terms, that she will pay the debt but will not do so through him, ever.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 9:38 AM on May 9, 2012


Sis does know she needs to pay, but she can't afford to just "pay the debt" in its entirety. Neither can my dad or I but we can pay for a lawyer's letter to be sent to them, for example, or we could pay for someone to negotiate a payment plan that she could afford.

You may not need to pay for a lawyer to do this because it's in both her best interest and the debt collector's best interest to come up with a payment plan that she can follow through with. Basically, the debt collectors are paying someone $X an hour to hound your sister. They would rather not be doing this because it costs them money, but they know that it's one of the most effective ways of getting someone to pay. They would probably much rather have you sister start making regular payments, which would be a sign that she's much more likely to eventually pay back the whole thing, at which point they won't have to waste money calling her anymore.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:41 AM on May 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Does she have the option to pay the debt directly to her creditor? If so, she might want to start making payments that way and inform the debt collector, directly and in no ambiguous terms, that she will pay the debt but will not do so through him, ever.

this is not how it works. the reason the debt collector is contacting her is because that debt collector has bought that debt from the original creditor (or the last debt collection agency that owned the debt)—usually for pennies on the dollar. the debt belongs to the debt collector and the original creditor is out the picture so any money that gets paid toward the debt goes to the collector.
posted by violetk at 9:41 AM on May 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


First of all a court judgement will not result in an arrest warrant. Or if it will, it is extremely unlikely. I have never seen one turn into a criminal case. It is possible that the judgement could result in a garnishment but that depends on factors such as which state, what sort of debt, etc, etc.

Yes, my response was based on the anecdotal evidence of the warrant that was tacked to my door after I failed to pay a judgement against me. Perhaps I'm using the wrong terminology, but it basically said to show up in court ASAP, or the next time my information is run through the system, I'd be picked up.

I was at the courthouse the very next morning. What I learned was that court for debtors (in Massachusetts, anyway) is a much less painful process than dealing with collection agents. You go before the judge, fill out a summary of assets, say what you can pay each month, and sign something agreeing to pay it each month.

If creditors would deal with debtors like the courts do, it would be a much easier process.
posted by xingcat at 9:53 AM on May 9, 2012


I agree with the Clark Howard advice. There is a series of events to follow, per Clark Howard, to respond to collectors. First the phone call, then certified letters, etc. It should all be on his web site.
posted by PJMoore at 10:01 AM on May 9, 2012


Yes, my response was based on the anecdotal evidence of the warrant that was tacked to my door after I failed to pay a judgement against me. Perhaps I'm using the wrong terminology, but it basically said to show up in court ASAP, or the next time my information is run through the system, I'd be picked up.

You can get [arrested / fined / jailed in extreme cases] for contempt of court for failure to appear when summoned. Technically that's not the same as being arrested for being in default on your debt, because it can happen basically any time a court of competent jurisdiction tells you to do something and you don't do it.

OP, your sister's probably not going to go to jail just for being in default on her debt, but she easily could if she ignores a court order. If she's getting court orders, she should have a lawyer if she can afford one and it makes sense relative to the amount owed. If it does make sense to hire a lawyer, her lawyer should consider whether a personal bankruptcy is appropriate, as well as whether she has any FDCPA claims as I suggest above.
posted by gauche at 10:06 AM on May 9, 2012


Best answer: If you're in the United States memail me with the particular area your sister lives in. I handle cases like this in a reasonably large swath of Southern California I can find someone competent pretty much anywhere else in the United States who can handle it.

The US has federal laws against this activity and from what your describing the debt collector is almost certainly breaking them. Alas, these laws are under utilized. The statutes include attorneys fees provisions, various damages (emotional, actual, harm to reputation), and so a reasonable amount of the attorneys will take the case on something near a contingency basis.

Personally, I love this cases. Debt collectors are often trying to collect on debts they have no right to collect on, using illegal harassing tactics, and making illegal threats to the people they're trying to collect from. It gives me no end of pleasure to make them apologize, pay the people they were trying to collect from, and (in some cases) have to monitor the victims credit report to make sure it's fixed.
posted by bswinburn at 10:13 AM on May 9, 2012 [14 favorites]


Nthing the Clark Howard route. It works, it's free, and gives you time to figure out what the best plan is.
posted by skittlekicks at 10:15 AM on May 9, 2012


You may wish to use a free service such as a credit counselor to be the intermediary on her account. She can verify through them that it is indeed a legitimate debt and then make arrangements to settle sometimes pennies on the dollar. She cannot run forever, trust me. A government vetted site such as this one can at the very least tell her what her options are.
posted by ~Sushma~ at 10:23 AM on May 9, 2012


This site looks scammy but I've found the information in it to be very useful, particularly the articles in credit repair, credit cards and debt - their form letters are good too.
posted by thrasher at 10:34 AM on May 9, 2012


I've meMailed you, but also wanted to mention the Citizens' Advice Bureau, if your sister is in the UK. It may also be worth checking out any resources through her employer or university if either of those are relevant.
posted by paduasoy at 2:31 PM on May 9, 2012


First of all a court judgement will not result in an arrest warrant. Or if it will, it is extremely unlikely.

While you're right about unlikely, the first part isn't entirely true, alas. There seems to be an increase in creditors using the courts to strong-arm debtors.
posted by dhartung at 5:23 PM on May 9, 2012


In certain states, non-payment of debt can and will result in warrants and arrest.

Infinity_8: "I've had good luck with telling bill collectors to stop calling me. I tell them, "I know my rights under the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act and I demand that you stop contacting me about this." I've never received a call from any debt collector, for a valid *or* an invalid debt, after that."

This may need to be done in writing.
posted by IndigoRain at 8:55 PM on May 9, 2012


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