Category Archives: counterclaims

Requiring Verification of the Debt – Secret Weapon against Debt Collectors

Verification is not difficult for debt collectors, but it can be a key right for people with debt problems.

When a debt collector first contacts you, it should notify you of your right to “dispute and request verification.” That right is provided by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). This video explains why you should dispute the debt and require the debt collector to verify it.

In other words, always seek verification  Often a debt collector will either disappear completely once you seek verification or will fail to provide verification but still harass you – a violation of the FDCPA.

But remember this does not apply if they file suit against you – if you don’t answer a lawsuit when it is filed, you will lose the case. See Bogus Right to Verification on Petition – Dirty Trick! If you have already sought verification but not received it, you might file a motion to dismiss based on their failure to verify.

Your Right to Dispute a Debt

If a debt collector contacts you in an attempt to collect a debt, you have a right to dispute the debt. To be precise, you should receive written notice of that right within five days of the first communication. And the notice should tell you that you have a right to demand verification within thirty days. That is, you must make your request to them within thirty days.

If you do, they must verify the debt before taking any further actions to collect it from you. They don’t have to do anything within thirty days – they never have to verify the debt if they don’t want to . It’s just that until they do so, it’s illegal to try to get you to pay it.

If you have disputed the debt.

What IS Verification?

What constitutes verification is a gray area in the law. The FDCPA does not specify what it is.  The courts have taken a pretty non-demanding view of verification. It is intended mostly to prevent clerical-type errors leading to suing or harassing the wrong person. So in reality it takes very little to verify the debt. Debt collectors often offer nothing more than copies of old statements. Absent some sort of more specific challenge to the debt, that seems to be enough.

What could be a more specific challenge? Suppose you wrote and disputed a debt to you, Tom Jones. You say, “my middle name is Jim, and I never sigh without including my middle name.” In that case, sending you statements with the name “Tom Jones” on them might not be enough. They probably would not be. Likewise, a challenge to address or some other specific would probably need to be addressed by the verification. Does that make sense?

What Good Does Demanding Verification Do?

There are three good reasons to demand verification. Sometimes they go away. Sometimes they give you helpful information. And sometimes they ignore the law.

Sometimes they Go Away

Surprisingly, giving how easy it is to verify a debt, demanding verification often causes debt collectors to go away.  Perhaps it is only because you have signaled a willingness to assert your rights. Possibly in some transactions the debt collector lacks even this much evidence. Or more likely the debt collector is playing a simple numbers game and any friction whatever causes it to punt. For whatever reason, though, it seems to happen often enough to justify making the demand every time.

Sometimes they Give you Helpful Information

Rarely, a debt collector will simply give you everything it has in response to a verification demand. This allows you to think carefully about whether they could prove the debt. Usually you will see that they cannot. In any event, in some cases you can get what they have without a fight, whereas when you seek discovery in a lawsuit you will have to fight for everything. So it can be easy discovery.

Sometimes they Ignore the Law

Debt collectors used to ignore verification demands quite often. It seems that they don’t do that as much anymore, but this could simply be my limited observation. In any event, if they ignore the law and continue to harass you, you have the right to sue them under the FDCPA.

If they are suing you, you have a right to counterclaim against them under the FDCPA. This is the same right you have to sue them, only it happens differently because they have sued you first.

You probably have a right to move to dismiss the case as well. The point of verification is to prevent wasteful and harmful lawsuits. If they ignore the law and bring suit without verifying, a court should be willing to dismiss the suit until they obey the law.

Conclusion

If a debt collector is bugging you, you should demand verification. It costs little effort and might gain you something.

 

What to Do if a Debt Collector is Suing You

 If a debt collector is suing you, you may be intimidated or even panicked. You may be thinking about giving up, but that usually isn’t a good idea. You have an excellent chance to win if you will just fight a little bit. Defending yourself  isn’t that hard.

If They Have Already Filed Suit

If you are already in a lawsuit, you need action now. You should be doing things to protect yourself NOW. Our debt defense system gives people what they need to defend themselves.

You can beat them. It’s mostly a question of knowing what you need to do and doing that thing throughout the lawsuit. At the same time, not doing the things you should not do is equally important. It sounds simple, and it is – if you know what you’re doing.  You can know those things with the Debt Defense System and get help doing the right things while avoiding the wrong ones.

You have probably heard of the saying, “inch by inch it’s a cinch.”

Defending a lawsuit is never actually a cinch. However, debt defense just requires a series of decisions and steps. These are steps that anybody with some determination can take. You can do them well enough to do a good job  overall of defending. And that is usually good enough to win.

I have had a great deal of experience both as a litigator and web master. Over the years, I’ve realized that almost everyone representing himself or herself in a debt case does much better with an opportunity to talk to other people facing the same issues.  People can help each other with insights and information. Seeing a variety of samples is helpful as well.  The Debt Defense System, gets you a membership which gets you the full resources of Your Legal Leg Up’s website and  our weekly teleconferences.

 

How to Answer the Petition When You’re Sued for Debt

How to Answer the Petition When You’re Sued for Debt

When you’re sued for debt, one of the first things you have to do is write and file an Answer. This is your formal response to the lawsuit. You could lose the case very easily usually automatically –  until you do. Luckily, it isn’t hard, and this video and article  will show you how. For more detailed information and help on fighting and winning your suit against the debt collector, get the Debt Defense System.

 

Answering a petition in a debt law case is actually very simple. Keeping in mind that it is up to the plaintiff to prove its case if you deny a part of the petition, there is little incentive to admit anything.

Should you Admit or Deny?

Pro se defendants also frequently overestimate the things they should admit. For example, you may know that you borrowed some money or used a credit card, but do you really know how much you borrowed or whether all the charges were legitimate? Do you know for sure that you did not pay some of the debt or that you truly, legally, owed every amount claimed? And do you know with certainty even that the company suing you owns the debt at all?

In most cases, the answers to these questions is legitimately “no.”

Most people do not keep careful enough track of their credit card bills (or other bills) to need to admit either the fact or amount of debt. And there’s really no way you could know whether you owe anything to a third-party debt collector.

With those things in mind, answering the petition is easy. It will usually go something like this:

  1. Deny.
  2. Deny.
  3. Deny.

The reason an Answer is so easy is that the pleadings stage – the petition and answer – really exist just to tell the court what issues need to be proved. Since you want the debt collector to prove its whole case, you deny every allegation.

There’s Much More to Pro Se Defense

Of course that’s just the first step in the process of defending yourself. You will also need to consider whether you have a counterclaim. If so, you should submit that as part of your Answer. And then you need to try to win the case. The Answer frames the issues, and you will need to conduct discovery and do some legal research to win the case. It isn’t always easy, but putting up a legitimate fight is within the ability of anyone. And fighting is often all you need to do to win.

 

Who is a Debt Collector after Santander Case

Debt collectors are governed by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). If you are able to make a counterclaim under that Act, you will improve your defense. Thus the questions are, who is a debt collector, and how do you show that the person suing you is one.

The Supreme Court  issued rulings in 2017 that will make it more difficult for debt defendants to obtain legal representation and will cause debt collectors to engage in more deceptive, dishonest and abusive behavior. Nevertheless, most people will still be able to sue debt collectors. We discuss how after our discussion of the Santander case.

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

When Congress passed the FDCPA, debt collectors were such a problem that they were a threat to the American way of life. The FDCPA was therefore designed to prevent fraud, deception and unfairness in general in the collection of debts. Congress named numerous specific actions as “per se” violations of the Act and also included the more general description of “unfair” debt collection practices.

It wanted to prevent debt collectors from changing the forms their actions took without changing what they were basically doing.

The Supreme Court has just reduced that Congressional intent to a farce, applying just half of the statutory definition of “debt collector” to a case and finding that, under that half of the definition, junk debt buyers were not debt collectors.

Real-Life Debt Collection

In most debt cases, creditors sell charged-off debt to debt buyers who exist to collect that money by hook or crook. They used to hire debt collectors to collect on debts and paid them from the proceeds, Creditors now get their money first and let the debt collectors take theirs from the debtors. All that has happened is that nominal ownership of the debt has changed. In other words, debt collectors have assumed a different form to pursue the very same activities.

Henson et al. v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc.

The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that it would not allow parties to elevate form over substance to evade the impact of laws . Santander does exactly that.

One could also characterize the Court’s ruling as dishonest. It only analyzed half of the definition of “debt collectors.” In looking at Section 1692a(6), the court examined the defining language as “any person… who regularly collects or attempts to collect, directly or indirectly, debts owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another.” The court’s decision then repeatedly referred to and emphasized the words “due another,” arguing that companies were only debt collectors if they fit that traditional form of collectors.

How the FDCPA Defines “Debt Collector”

Look at the part of the definition preceding the language in question to get a truer view of the statute’s clear intention.

The term “debt collector” means any person who uses any instrumentality of interstate commerce or the mails in any business the principal purpose of which is the collection of any debts, or who regularly collects or attempts to collect, directly or indirectly, debts owed or due or asserted to be owed or due another.

Section 1692a(6) (underlined portion is the part ignored by the Supreme Court in Santander, italicized word “any” is for emphasis)

Doesn’t it seem reasonable to read “any debts” literally, so that if the principal purpose of a business is to collect debts, they’re a debt collector? Of course it does, and that would obviously include businesses that exist to purchase debts and collect on them.

Supreme Court is AGAINST Debt Defendants

The Court opinion glibly slides over that, saying that “the parties haven’t much litigated that alternative definition of debt collector and in granting certiorari we didn’t agree to consider it, either.” Santander, Slip Op. at 5. In other words, the Supreme Court agreed to hear only so much of the case as allowed them to shove a dagger into the apparent heart of the FDCPA – not enough of the case to show what the FDCPA actually intended or to do justice.

In theory, the decision in Santander leaves open the possibility that this “alternative” definition would extend the meaning of “debt collector” to junk debt buyers. On the other hand, the decision looks like a court in search of a justification for a desired outcome, and is a negative indication for the Court’s integrity. Particularly in the context of its decision in Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson, No. 16-348 (Slip Op. 5-15-17) (see my article, “Opening the Floodgates of Bad Claims”), it shows actual hostility to the laws that protect consumers from debt collectors and a willingness to engage in intellectually dishonest games to destroy them. As a practical matter, it will likely be several years before the Supreme Court revisits the definition of “debt collector.”

Pleading that a Junk Debt Buyer is a “Debt Collector”

The Supreme Court limited its decision to the “regularly collected” language. Why? Probably because debt defendants have normally found it easy to prove a company “regularly collected” debts. In the Eighth Circuit, law firms representing collectors in three to five cases per year are“regularly collecting” debts.

Under fact pleading rules, one must plead facts constituting a basis for your legal conclusion. So debt defendants routinely allege something like the following:

Heartless, Ruthless and Merciless, represent debt collectors in dozens of lawsuits attempting to collect debts per year. They are, therefore, debt collectors, and

Heartless Debt Collector, Inc., regularly sues persons for debts purchased after default…

Use of “Regularly Collects” Debts Language

Debt defendants have typically used “regularly collected” because it is easy to demonstrate as a matter of public record. Establishing a business’s “principal purpose” will now be much more difficult. My attempts to find an authoritative definition for “principal purpose” of a business turned up zero cases. No doubt there are some cases that address the issue, but certainly not many.

Many court decisions include the term “principal purpose.”  But they use it generically, as a synonym for “main” or “major.”

I found no cases quantifying the term in any way. So it isn’t clear how much of any other purpose would be enough.

Debt buyers who purchase billions of dollars of debt for no other purpose than to collect it. But they will argue that their “principal purpose” is to “service” that debt. In their lexicon that really means extort payment in as many ways, over as long a period, as possible. But they will claim all manner of beneficial purposes for their activities.

This will alter the nature of the proof required to establish that the company is a debt collector. Information regarding a business’s “principal purpose” will be in the possession of the debt collector. Thus parties attempting to obtain that information will encounter the usual tricks when they try to get it. Expect the same series of stone walls, delays and unethical and oppressive litigation strategies debt collectors usually use. (Fortunately, this can be a double-edged sword. We train our members at Your Legal Leg Up to use this to their advantage.)

Debt defendants must now allege and attempt to prove the debt collector’s main business is to collect debts.

What Debt Defendants Should Do

Debt defendants have all the same defenses to debt lawsuits they ever did – or almost all of them. Santander applies very little to the defense of debt suits.

To state claims under the FDCPA, you need to allege the company’s principle business is the collection of debts. You should probably allege they buy debts from others for the purposes of collection. And that they provide no significant service to the debtors.

Bankrupts Beware, FDCPA No Longer Applies – Opening the Floodgates to Bad Claims

Debtors often see bankruptcy as one refuge from debt collectors, but the Supreme Court has recently made things much worse. In Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson, No. 16-348 (Slip Op. 5-15-17), the Court held that filing outdated claims in bankruptcy court does not violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). If you are in bankruptcy or considering it, this is huge. It could mean having to pay more if you file for bankruptcy than if you don’t.

What Bankruptcy Does

In general, if your debts get too bad, you can file bankruptcy and force all your creditors to stop contacting you. They have to file claims in your bankruptcy action, and the court will either “allow” those claims or deny them. If the court allows a claim, you will have to pay some fraction of it (or all of it). The court then determines the amount of payments you must make, over what period of time, and you do your best to do that.

If you succeed, you will receive a “discharge” – this eliminates all the debts disallowed and the fraction of your debts that you don’t have to pay under the plan. This is this “fresh start” that lures most people into the bankruptcy process.

It isn’t an easy path, and most bankruptcies are dismissed without “discharge.”  I have often taken the position that bankruptcy is NOT an appropriate solution for most people facing debt collectors. See my  article, Is Bankruptcy the Best Option for you? and  Bankruptcy May Not Be the Best Option When Sued for Debt, for example. The Supreme Court has made that analysis even more powerful.

Courts Allow Uncontested Claims

The dirty little secret of bankruptcy is that if claims are not disputed, the courts generally allow them. In bankruptcy cases of people without much money, the lawyers representing the bankrupts have little (personal) incentive to dispute wrongful claims. They get their pay out of the scanty resources of their clients.

The U.S. trustee who oversees the process should protect the bankrupt and legitimate creditors from bad claims, but guess what?They often don’t. Likewise, the court should winnow out bad claims, but given the number of bankruptcies and their complexity, they often do not.

Under current realities, poor people pay a lot of bad claims.

Junk Debt Buyers Seek to Exploit the System

Enter the junk debt buyers to make things much worse. They buy vast amounts of LONG overdue debt – debt far beyond the statute of limitations – and file claims in bankruptcy cases. This bogs the bankruptcy courts, the trustees, and bankruptcy lawyers down. The more bad claims they file, the more get through because of carelessness. They should NEVER get through, because an unenforceable claim should ALWAYS be denied under bankruptcy rules. But they often do.

The Trap of Res Judicata

Paying some part of bad claims in bankruptcy is bad, but what happens if your bankruptcy, like most, ends without discharge. What if, for some reason you fall short and don’t get your “fresh start?” What happens then?

Res judicata is the rule that if an issue has been, or could have been decided by a court, it can’t be relitigated.  If a bankruptcy court has allowed a claim – even if it did so by mistake or simply because it was not disputed, you may not be able to dispute the claim in another court later.  And even if a claim would have been illegal to bring in a state court originally, if you file bankruptcy and the claim is allowed, you will probably have to pay full value on the claim later.

Bad claims hurt the chances of the bankrupts to get their fresh start. They hurt the chances of the legitimate creditors to get paid. And they make the whole process stink to high heaven of injustice. Allowing a bunch of hoodlums in fancy suits to steal wholesale from the poor damages the legal system at its very core.

The FDCPA used to offer some protection against that, but the Supreme Court negated that protection with its holding in Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson, No. 16-348 (Slip Op. 5-15-17). In that case, the Court ruled that debt collectors could file claims in bankruptcy that would be illegal if filed in other courts.

Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson

The relevant facts in Midland Funding are very simple. Midland, a junk debt buyer, was buying extremely old debts for very small amounts of money. They were using these debts, which were far beyond the statutes of limitations, as the basis for many claims in bankruptcy. Johnson opposed and got the claim in that case disallowed, and then filed suit in district court under the FDCPA, alleging that the claim had been unfair or unconscionable. The essence of Johnson’s claim was that filing obviously time-barred claims in a bankruptcy proceeding was an unfair debt collection practice.

The Supreme Court ruled that it was not.

There is no need to review (here) the tortured logic that effectively immunizes from consequences the intentional doing of something that never, under any circumstances, should be allowed. The state of the law simply is this: debt collectors can file obviously unenforceable claims in bankruptcy without worrying about the FDCPA. That means there’s a big risk that you will pay them if you aren’t looking out for them.

Result Possibly Different if you Allege Deception

There is perhaps one glimmer of light in this very bad decision. The Supreme Court was addressing “obviously outdated” claims. What Midland was doing was buying obviously unenforceable claims and hoping they would be overlooked and erroneously allowed. While this obviousness is one main way a debt collector’s intention to file outdated claims would be known, the obviousness was also a reason the Court found that the claims were not “deceptive.” What if the claims were known to be outdated by the debt collector but were not obviously so? Facts like that, or similar facts tending to show some actual intent to deceive would present difficult evidentiary issues, but the case could arise and might tip the balance in the other direction.

Conclusion

What the Midland Funding case means is that even if you’re in bankruptcy you’re going to have to know and protect your own rights. Your lawyer has VERY LITTLE incentive to challenge bad claims. The U.S. Trustee and court probably won’t protect you either.

If the claims are allowed, you will probably have to pay them. That means that even if you file for bankruptcy you must be prepared to defend yourself against the debt collectors. You will AT LEAST need to know your rights, and you will very probably have to defend them pro se. You’re probably not going to get much help from your lawyer on this one.

Excuses in Debt Defense Will Lose Your Case

Making excuses will lose your case
Making excuses will lose your case

Sincerity vs. Integrity

Making excuses in debt law cases is a good way to lose your case.

The “iron law of cause and effect” applies to everything. What this means is that, for every action, something happens as a result. No matter why it happened, if it does happen, there are consequences. There are no free lunches. Ever.

You know that. But it’s easy to forget when things get tough.

We pretend the iron law of cause and effect does not apply to us all the time. If we’re late, we apologize, and that’s usually enough to get past the other person’s anger or hurt feelings. If we apologize sincerely enough or give enough good reasons, it seems like we get away with it. But it isn’t called the “iron law” for nothing. Even if the other person excuses us, he thinks we are less dependable. And if the other person doesn’t, we think of it ourselves. Consequences.

Sincerity means not intending to do harm. Integrity means not doing it. Know the difference.

Substantive Law of Debt

If a debt collector can prove you borrowed money and didn’t pay it back, it should get a judgment against you. And if you don’t make them prove their case, they will get their judgment. Simple as that. They call that “strict liability,” which means that WHY you didn’t pay does not matter.

On the other hand, there are events that can destroy a debt. Showing payment, that it was based on fraud, or settlement to name a few, will attack the debt. But if the debt isn’t destroyed, no amount of sincerity will get you off the hook. It doesn’t matter how much you wanted to pay. It doesn’t matter how much you tried to pay. Or whether you tried at all.

It’s surprising how often people get mad at debt collectors for trying to collect debts they (the people involved) can’t afford to pay. Just because the debt collector has a ton of money doesn’t mean they won’t or shouldn’t get a judgment against you. Don’t think that way.

Instead, fight and make them prove their case if they can. Require them to prove the debt and their right to it. Luckily, they aren’t so good at that.

Excuses in Litigation

We’ve been talking about the substantive law of debt, which is almost absolute,. It’s a little murkier when you talk about procedures such as responding to motions and the like. There, excuses CAN make a difference – sometimes. If you make a mistake in doing something, this can sometimes be excused. Likewise, if you make a mistake, you should certainly try to get it excused. The sincerity of your excuse will matter then, so make it good and say it with feeling. And you might get away with it.

But even if you do get away with it, every mistake has consequences. As a pro se defendant, you work mighty hard to get the judge to take you and your words seriously. You want the judge to apply the law fairly and consistently – that’s really all you need in most debt cases to win.

Follow the Rules – Don’t Ask for Breaks

Any time you ask the judge for something special or make some kind of excuse, you will hurt your chances of the court taking you seriously and holding the debt collector to the rules. And all too often, the court will not give you the break it probably should. Thus you should always work your hardest and do your very best to understand the law and rules of your court. As much as possible, you NEVER want to ask the judge for anything she isn’t supposed to do.

And to get your best, you must give your best. Never make excuses for yourself, and never accept them from yourself. It’s impossible to be perfect, but try not to make any mistakes you don’t have to make. That isn’t a cliche or boring old saying – it’s encouragement to you to work your @ss off. The only way to avoid making mistakes is by figuring out things ahead of time and always going the extra mile. You can get away with doing less in some parts of your life, but you often cannot in litigation.

 

 Get Help

If you would like us to take a look at your case and give you a sort of road map to what you need to do and how, take a look at our Personalized Evaluation product. If a debt collector is suing you and you already know you want to defend yourself without spending a lot of money on lawyers, then get our Debt Defense System.

Protect Your Rights

Even if you are reading this article late in the game, shortly before trial, and you are not already a member, you should consider doing so. We have materials helpful to last minute defense and trial preparation even if you are facing this rule.

If it’s a little earlier in the lawsuit, or if no has filed suit yet, you have many other options. Membership can present you many benefits and help you win your case. Or you could check out some of our e-courses.

 

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Never Make Partial Payments on Old Debts

Partial payments are almost always a bad idea on old debts. They (almost) never accomplish anything good for your relationship with the creditor or for your credit report. And they can cause massive problems for you because they revive the debt.

What You Should Do If You Get Called on an Old Debt

What you should do is find out who, exactly, is calling you. Find out the company and the individual. Then listen to what they say. If it is convenient, record the conversation. If not, take notes. Ask questions.

What You Should NOT Do

A 20 year old debt, not paid for 20 years, is beyond all statutes of limitations in all jurisdictions of which I am aware. However, you still “owe” the debt in some theoretical way. It remains a “debt,” and that turns out to be important. That’s because it can still be “revived” by any kind of payment.

You should know that they can’t sue you for such an old debt unless you revive it.  They can’t hurt your credit report if you don’t pay it. And they can’t do anything good for you if you do pay it.

In my opinion, you should never pay such a debt. Unless you have a particular reason. A good reason might be that you need to do business with them and they have a policy of not doing so if you owe them money (utility companies are like this).  So those situations might be different, but you still need to be careful.

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

Just listen to what the debt collector says.

Let’s say he threatens to sue or tells you anything contrary to the above about hurting or repairing your credit. That would violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). It is illegal for a debt collector to threaten you with action that he either does not intend to do or could not legally do. It is also illegal to deceive you about what he might do FOR you.

Suppose, however, he tells you that they can’t sue you, but that you still owe the money, and “wouldn’t it feel better” to pay it? Some people might say they have no money, and so the debt collector tells them, “No problem, you can just make a partial payment. Then, if you ever get any more money, you can pay some more…”

That also violates the FDCPA in my opinion because it is deceiving you and trying to take advantage of something most people don’t know. If you give someone a gift and say you’ll give them more later, that creates no obligation to pay. If you make a partial payment on a “debt,” you revive the debt and can be sued on it again. Even one that is many years past the statute of limitations and beyond causing you any harm,

Suggesting Partial Payments is Sneaky

Debt collectors are often trained to take advantage of people’s ignorance and to suggest partial payments on debts that are beyond the statute of limitations. If they try to get you to do that without telling you that you will revive the debt by doing so, they are misleading you. And that violates the FDCPA.

Partial Payments Revive Old Debts

By making the partial payment, you will revive the debt against you in its entirety, allowing the company to harass and sue you, and possibly even to damage your credit report again. Never, ever do it. Instead, take careful notes, and then go find an FDCPA lawyer to sue them.

If they get it all right and tell you that a partial payment would revive the right to sue you, tell them to go away and never call again. If they do, get a lawyer and sue them for that.

Other things to know

Partial payments will not just revive a statute of limitations after it has passed – it will extend it if it has not passed. Thus if the debt is five years old and getting close to the statute of limitations, your part payment will start the clock ticking again all over.

If you are being harassed or sued for a debt and need more information, be sure to check out our products and materials at Your Legal Leg Up. We have everything you need to protect  your rights.

Foreclosure: A Debt Collection Method in Ordinary Life

Foreclosure is a form of collection
Foreclosure is collection

Foreclosure in the Real World is Debt Collection

Despite what some courts have held, foreclosure is a form of debt collection in the real world. To put it simply, creditors sell something of yours to pay a debt they claim you owe. This is not, as some legal theory would hold, merely a transference of title back to the “true” owner.

To understand why this is so, you need to know some history and law.

Debt Collectors sometimes threaten to repossess and auction off property that secures a loan unless you pay them, or else they actually repossess and sell off the property, in order to pay the debt. This video and article discuss the way the process works.

What Foreclosure Does

Foreclosure is designed to allow for possession (or repossession) of property that secured an unpaid debt. Most people simply think of foreclosure as “getting kicked out of your house.” And in many situations that is an appropriate understanding. In reality foreclosure addresses ownership rather than possession, however. It involves the termination of at least one person’s  ownership in favor of another person. This can, but does not always, lead to eviction.

English Law and the History of Foreclosure and Property Rights

We don’t think of it often, but one of the great inventions of English law was the division of property into different property “interests” or rights that could co-exist in the same property.

The state “owns” physical property in one way. The landowner owns it in another, and the tenant also has certain ownership rights. If the landowner is married, both spouses will have rights in the property, and it is possible to divide the rights up in many other ways, too.

Another form of coexisting rights is the way you could own your home have it subject to a mortgage and also various sorts of liens.

“Foreclosable” Interests

We are primarily interested in the mortgage and liens because these are subject to “foreclosure.”

Most people (including the courts) only think of “purchase-money mortgages” (the mortgage you take out in order to buy your house) when they analyze foreclosure. But people can place liens on your house in other ways, too.  The state can for taxes or judgments, to name two examples, and there are others.

All liens can be foreclosed. Mechanically what happens is that the foreclosing party causes the property interests to be divided and paid off. The way that is accomplished is by selling the property and splitting the money up according to the priority of interests.

There is a hierarchy of interests. The money goes to pay off the higher interests before the lower interests get anything. Eventually, if there is enough to pay every creditor with money left over, the property “owner” would get that.  Or to put it another way, being the property owner means that you get whatever is left after paying all the other interests off.

You get the “equity.” But usually, if there is not enough to cover all the secured interests, you will owe the secured parties money personally.

Two Examples of Foreclosure

Let’s consider two examples. In the first, Owner A  and B each own houses worth $100,000 on the open market. That’s what they would sell for.

Owner A

Owner A has the following liens against the property: a purchase money mortgage of $35,000, a home equity loan of $10,000, and a mechanic’s lien of $1,000.

$100,000 Value of House

($35,000) Purchase Money Mortgage
($10,000) Home Equity Loan
($ 1,000) Mechanic’s Lien
===================

$54,000 – Equity

Owner B

Owner B has the following liens against the property (in this order – the order of liens is beyond the scope of this article): a purchase-money mortgage of $110,000 (the house is “underwater” because the loan remaining is more than the house is worth); a home-equity loan of $10,000, and a mechanic’s lien of $1,000.

$100,000 Value of House

($110,000) Purchase Money Mortgage
($ 10,000) Home Equity
($ 1,000) Mechanics lien
=============

($21,000) equity (a negative number)

If neither one can pay off the purchase money mortgage, go into default, and someone forecloses, here’s what happens.

Results of Foreclosure

A loses possession of the house, and all security interests in the property are “extinguished.” The money is enough for the mortgage, so the bank takes that. Because the home was security for the home equity loan and mechanic’s liens, the foreclosure breaches the contract with the lender. It intervenes (legally) in the foreclosure and demands its money and gets it before anything goes to A. Because the lien was “subject” to the other agreements, the money goes to pay the lien before A gets anything.

In B’s situation, the bank gets all the money. The other lenders get nothing, but keep their claims against B. The sale extinguishes their security interests in the property, and chances are good they’ll lose everything they  lent.

Why Debt Collectors Often Do Not Foreclose

What if, instead of not paying the bank, A and B had failed to pay the home equity loan? In that situation, the Home Equity lender could foreclose on the loan. Lower level security interests can foreclose on the loan. Any other person with an interest in the property, including the mechanic, might take some action to intervene in order to protect its interests, although in B’s case, especially, this is unlikely. The bank will get all the money, and the home equity lender will get nothing even though it is the one that foreclosed.

This explains why debt collectors rarely foreclose on a house. It will cost them money but get them nothing. But that isn’t to say they couldn’t or that it would never make sense for them to do or threaten to do.

 

Counterclaim When Sued for Debt: Important for Your Defense


Filing a counterclaim is probably the single most important thing you can do in defending yourself from a lawsuit brought by a debt collector. In this article and video, we discuss the importance of filing a counterclaim in general and whether you can do so in your case.

Counterclaim – Why So Important?

In most jurisdictions, which is a fancy way of saying most courts and places, the person bringing the lawsuit is allowed to drop the case  if it want to. And usually at any time it wants to. This isn’t true of federal court, where you have to get permission, but in most state courts it seems to be true. And debt cases are pretty much always brought in state courts.

That means that the debt collector could get tired of you and just dismiss the case at any time.

That’s cool! That’s just what we want and what I’ve been saying you should go for, right?

Yes, but if the debt collector simply dismisses your case, it could also sue you again later. Or it could sell the debt to someone else who would sue you later, and that is definitely not cool! You need the case dismissed “with prejudice” to keep it from coming back. You also need it dismissed with prejudice if you want to repair your credit report.

Counterclaims Give you Some Control

So how do you keep them from dismissing the suit and refiling the suit later? You do this by filing a counterclaim against them. A plaintiff can dismiss its own claim against you, but not your claim against it.

Unless you agree.

If you have a counterclaim, if they want to dismiss the case against you they either have to settle the case with you, or they’re still left defending your counterclaim. They never do that, because then they’d be bound to lose money one way or another. They’d either have to pay you or their lawyers (or both) — without the chance of collecting anything from you. They won’t do that. Instead, they’ll settle the whole case with you.

So a counterclaim gives you power over the plaintiff and lets you keep it around till they agree to destroy the debt (or “extinguish” it, as it is called). A counterclaim means you can put the harassment to an end. And sometimes your counterclaim can be worth a lot more than their lawsuit against you was in the first place.

Who Can File a Counterclaim

Counterclaiming became more complicated in 2017 thanks to an important Supreme Court ruling. Two things are necessary for you to file one: some legal wrong, and a “debt collector.” The legal wrong under the FDCPA is pretty broad and includes fundamental unfairness or deception. But whether the person suing you is a debt collector under the Act is more complicated.

To help figure out whether you have a counterclaim against a debt collector, go here. Who is a Debt Collector after Santander.