Category Archives: Debt Defense

Cease-Communication Letters – Make Debt Collectors Leave you Alone

Cease-Communication Letters

Debt collectors often try to wear down the resistance of consumers by repeatedly calling and harassing them. If this is happening, you can easily make it stop with a cease communication letter. Here’s how.

They’re Trying to Harass You

Debt collectors know that the people they are calling do not have much money – their purpose in harassing you is to move themselves to the head of the line. The way they do this is by attempting to inflict more pain or annoyance on you than other bill collectors. In other words, debt collectors know you only have so much money to pay your bills – they’re competing with each other. The company that harasses you the most “wins.”

Among other things, this means you should never take what they say personally. But you don’t have to put up with it.

Sometimes individual debt collectors claim not to engage in abusive behavior, but rather to be the victims of it. I leave the reader to decide how much sympathy these debt collectors deserve. My point is that, in general, the debt collectors seek emotional engagement. That is, they want you to take what they’re saying personally and to dispute or argue about it.

In general, the best thing you can do is avoid paying any attention to them. Write them a cease communication letter.

You Can Make them Stop Bugging You

The collectors are not concerned with your priorities or well-being, but you should be. It can be hard to keep a clear head amidst all the noise and all the people trying to use you. Luckily the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) offers some help. Under the FDCPA, 15 U.S. Code Section 1692(c)c,

“if a consumer notifies a debt collector in writing that the consumer wishes [it] to cease further communication with the consumer, the debt collector shall not communicate further…with respect to such debt.”

However, the collector may inform the consumer that it’s efforts are being terminated, or notify the consumer that it “may or will invoke specified remedies which are ordinarily invoked” (i.e., suing or reporting to the credit agencies). They can tell you that once, but then they have to leave you alone.

Many people fear that by invoking this rule they will cause the debt collectors to sue them. This fear is misplaced. The debt collectors have their own guidelines based on what they expect to collect. That is, they may sue you, if you fit within their guidelines, but making them leave you alone is not one of those guidelines (that I’ve ever observed).

If anything, writing a cease communication letter may reduce your chance of being sued because it keeps the debt collector from gathering more information about you. Lawyers dislike uncertainty. They want to be pretty sure they’re going to make money if they go to the trouble of suing you. Your talking to them is one way they find out what they need in order to decide to sue you. Making them leave you alone leaves them in the dark.

What to Do to Make Debt Collectors Stop Harassing You

Crucially, if the cease communication notification is made by U.S. mail, the communication is complete “upon receipt.” In other words, to make sure the debt collector is forced to leave you alone, it makes sense (although it is not required by the law) to send the letter by certified mail. That way you have proof that the debt collector received the letter and when it received it. Any further communication would be in violation of the FDCPA.

When the phones stop ringing off the hook, you will be freer to make decisions according to your own best interests and priorities.

For More Help

If you would like a product that gives you more information on whether the cease-communication letter or the debt validation letter would work for you and be a good idea, along with sample letters that really work, click here. 

Check out our Guide to Legal Research and Analysis for a guide to researching and laws and cases in the most effective way. But legal research is more about what you do with what you find, and so this is a primer on legal thinking and analysis as well.

Garnishment of Assets by Debt Collectors

debt collectors garnish your wages? What about bank accounts? Here are some things you need to know about garnishment.

If you have assets, and this includes either a job or money in the bank, you must be concerned about the possibility of the debt collector finding and garnishing your money. The risk exists if a debt collector (or anybody else) has a judgment against you.

Governments can levy even without a judgment. Our discussion here focuses on private debt collectors, however.

Bank Accounts

Debt collectors can seize and garnish bank accounts and, when they do, it is almost always comes as a surprise to the debtor. What typically happens is collectors obtain money judgments (usually by default) and then use the judgment to freeze the funds in your bank account.

No Notice of Bank Garnishment

State law and banking rules govern how the bank must handle the garnishment process. Collectors always notify the bank first and then notify the debtor. This way your funds are frozen before you can take any action such as withdrawing all your funds.

Their notifying the bank first is perfectly legal. You typically receive the notice (including your rights) a few days after your funds have been frozen. In most states, the garnishment can only freeze funds already in your account at the time of service on the financial institution. During the time the garnishment is in effect, the financial institution cannot honor checks or other orders for the payment of money drawn against your account.

This means any outstanding checks will more than likely bounce or be returned for NSF (non-sufficient funds). In other words, your checks will bounce. The exception to this rule is if your account has more on deposit than the amount of the garnishment. In this case, the bank can honor checks up to the amount that will reduce your funds below the amount of the garnishment. When the amount being garnished is paid, the freeze on your account must be terminated.

Wages

Debt collectors can also garnish your wages. Again, your first notice that they are garnishing you is likely to be when you receive a check that is less than you thought it would be. Federal law limits the maximum amount they can take to 25 percent of your disposable earnings for that week, or the amount by which disposable earnings for that week exceed thirty times the Federal minimum hourly wage, whichever is less. In simple terms, “disposable income” is whatever money you have left after paying all required taxes and national insurances!

Disposable income is after-tax income that is  the difference between personal income and personal tax and nontax payments. In general terms, personal tax and nontax payments are about 15% of personal income. That makes disposable personal income about 85% of personal income. IMPORTANT: In order for wages to be garnished, disposable earnings per week must exceed thirty times the federal minimum hourly wage.  (That’s $154.50 at the time of this writing.)

Put another way, if you make $154.50 or less per week your wages are immune from garnishment – for now and as long as you don’t make any more than that. Also – most debt collectors can never garnish Social Security and some other types of disability or retirement income.

But You Should Not Let them Get a Judgment if Possible

Even if you have nothing for the debt collectors to garnish, you will almost always be much better off it you don’t let them get a judgment against you. Things could get better for you in any number of ways. So they might eventually be able to garnish you when that happens if you let them have a judgment. Remember that just because things may seem bleak now doesn’t mean that the sun won’t eventually shine. When it does, you don’t want debt collectors to take your good luck away from you.

And it isn’t all that hard to keep them from getting a judgment if you know what you’re doing.

 

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.

 

Should You Give a Debt Collector Money? And What Happens if You Do?

Debt collectors are trained to to intimidate or manipulate the people they call. Should you ever give a debt collector money? and what are the legal effects if you do so?

Giving them money can be a big mistake.

Giving them Money Encourages Debt Collectors

Many people have a natural impulse to bargain with debt collectors. They hope if they give a collector money they’ll go away. This does not work.

The person calling you is a low-level employee. Usually the caller will have no power at all to make any kind of deal with you. Or they will have some limited power to accept delays or offer a small discount. On the other hand, the caller’s salary will depend to some extent on getting you to pay. If you offer anything – a promise or a payment – you guarantee that they’ll call you many more times. You are sending a clear signal that they can push you over.

Of course, it costs practically nothing to call you, so any encouragement whatsoever means endless calls in the future. Giving them nothing does not mean they’ll stop calling, however.

Legal Effects of Payments

If you give a debt collector money the legal impact is even worse than just calling them. if the debt is so old that the statute of limitations does or might soon protect you, your payment can restart the clock. If you were disputing the debt, the court might take your payment as an admission that you owe it.

And if the debt collector lacks any means of proving the debt in any way, your payment will help them past any problem.

You Can Still Fight

That isn’t to say that you have lost everything if you made a payment. You still have a chance to win if they sue you. But every payment makes the road harder.

 

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.

 

Hardship Applications and Debt Collectors

Hardship Applications with Debt Collectors – Beware Anything that Requires you to Give them Information about your Assets

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 Debt Collector Hardship Applications


Sometimes debt collectors pretend to care whether you can afford to pay them, or whether they should “give you a break.” If they send you a “hardship application,” you should consider very carefully whether or not to send it back. It could possibly have some value to you, but the stories we hear are not encouraging. And we’re suspicious of anything that would give the debt collector information about you.

Inability to Pay is not a Defense in Debt Law

The first thing you must remember about “hardship” is this. No amount of financial difficulty (for a debtor) is a legal excuse to avoid paying a legitimate debt. And that means that the debt collectors won’t be considering whether you have a RIGHT to a break. They won’t even consider whether you should get one or not in some more esoteric question of fairness or rightness. No.

The question the debt collector will be asking is simply whether you have assets they can get to MAKE you pay. As we have often written, uncertainty is a great concern of the debt collectors and their lawyers. Perhaps THE great concern. Thus we have always suggested that you not respond to them in any way or provide them any information at all. If their hardship application process leads them to your bank accounts or job information, the net effect will be to make it easier and more likely for them to snatch your money rather than to spare you.

Information in Litigation


Debt Collectors never really worry about losing their lawsuit against you. And they sure as heck don’t worry about whether suing you is compassionate or fair. Their main, and usually only, concern is with getting your money. And this means that the one real thing they’re worried about is whether you have anything to take from you and figuring out how to do that.

If you tell them about assets, you not only make your case far more valuable in their eyes, but you subject yourself to the risk of instant seizure or garnishment if they get a judgment against you. We encourage people not to talk to debt collectors at all.

If You Really Have Nothing

If you really have nothing – no assets beyond a monthly payment from Social Security or welfare, and no equity in your home, and no other identifiable assets or expectations – it might make sense to share that information with the debt collector. And even then I would be reluctant to identify any specific bank accounts. Even if they contain exclusively Social Security assets, you could find yourself working to keep them and in a bad spot.

I’m not aware of anyone who actually received a “hardship” break. But even this would be a Trojan Horse – more trouble than it’s worth – in all likelihood. When a creditor (including in this case debt collectors) “forgives” a debt (let’s you out of it), it can file a form 1099S. This does extinguish the debt collector’s right to collect, but also informs the I.R.S. that the debt is forgiven. The I.R.S. treats that forgiven debt as income and will come after you for tax. If you beat the debt collector in a lawsuit, on the other hand, your chances of owing taxes on the money are much smaller.

Protect Your Rights

If you are being contacted by debt collectors, you need to be alert to protect your rights. These calls are often a prelude to their suing you. You might consider membership with our site, which gets you our ecourses for free, plus gives you many other benefits.Check out some of our e-courses. Or consider our prepaid legal plan to protect you from future possible litigation. With that, if you get sued, you’ll get a lawyer to defend you for free.

 

Pro se Debt Defense – Easier than you Think

Pro se (Self-Representation) in Debt Litigation – Easier than you Think and Sometimes Even Fun

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 Should You Represent Yourself in Debt Law?

Pro se defense (representing yourself) in debt cases is not as hard as many people fear. You can do it – and you may need to do it.

Although hiring a lawyer might be the “gold standard” of defense, lawyers are always expensive. If a debt collector is suing you, and you can’t afford a lawyer, you still have a chance. You CAN represent yourself. This is not complicated law, debt collectors are not innovative or particularly energetic, and the debt collection system is a “factory” approach. It isn’t designed to work against people who defend themselves intelligently. You can do it and win.

Okay – maybe debt defense isn’t always very fun. In fact, most of the time it isn’t exactly fun, but it is easier than you expect, and winning is great. Going from the threat of having to pay (somehow) $1,000 to $50,000 to some debt collector, to having them drop the case – or to settling with you for pennies on the dollar… that’s fun.

And it changes the way you look at debt and debt law forever.

Pro se legal representation means representing yourself rather than hiring a lawyer to do it for you. You have the right to do that in essentially any court proceeding, whether as defendant or plaintiff. And it doesn’t matter whether the matter is civil (for money) or criminal.

Some Think It’s Scary

Although many people fear the thought of representing themselves in court, pro se representation is not rare. According to National Center on State Courts in 1991-92, 71% of domestic relations (family law) cases had at least one unrepresented party, and in 18% of the cases both parties were pro se.  It is a growing trend in debt collection law as well as family law and other matters.

The right of self-representation has long been established in the United States. It predates even the ratification of the Constitution, as Section 35 of the Judiciary Act of 1789—enacted by the first Congress and signed by President Washington, states that, “in all the courts of the United States, the parties may plead and manage their own causes personally or by the assistance of counsel.” Most states have a similar constitution provision.

Will the Courts Protect You from Mistakes?

The California rules of Civil Procedure explicitly express a preference for resolution of every case on the merits, even if resolution requires excusing inadvertence by a pro se litigant that would otherwise result in a dismissal. The Judicial Council justifies this rule with the argument that “Judges are charged with ascertaining the truth, not just playing referee.” And the Council suggests “the court should take whatever measures may be reasonable and necessary to insure a fair trial.”

Although most states and the federal courts share this bias in favor of hearing courts on “their merits,” (based on what is actually fair), pro se litigants cannot rely on any special treatment. Some courts explicitly will not extend favorable treatment to non-professional litigants.

Pro Se Litigants Often Do Very Well

They may not need any extra help. According to Erica J. Hashimoto, an assistant professor at the Georgia School of Law, criminal defendants are “not necessarily ill-served” by the decision to represent themselves. In state court, pro se defendants charged with felonies probably fared much better than represented defendants. Of the 234 pro se defendants studied by Ms. Hashimoto, “just under 50 percent of them were convicted on any charge….for represented state court defendants, by contrast, a total of 75 percent were convicted of some charge.” And just 26 percent of the pro se defendants ended up with felony convictions, whereas 63 percent of represented defendants in Ms. Hashimoto’s study did. In federal court…the acquittal rate for pro se defendants is virtually identical to the acquittal rate for represented defendants.

Of course there could well be other important variables that the Hashimoto study did not include. It seems clear, however, that there is nothing like an “automatic penalty” for daring to represent yourself. And as I have pointed out many times elsewhere, there are certain types of cases and situations where pro se representation may actually be an advantage.

In debt collection cases, for example, the economic factors often outweigh legal issues, and a vigorous pro se defendant can gain a significant advantage by being able to take energetic steps in his or her favor that a lawyer—always on the clock—would pragmatically be unable to take.

Courts are not always favorable to self-represented people for various reasons. You face a headwind when it comes to the court taking what you say seriously, for example. But even with that bias, pro se plaintiffs have recorded some significant victories in civil courts.

Most members of Your Legal Leg Up, for example, either win their cases outright or reach very satisfying agreements.

Pro Se Representation in Debt Collection Cases

As pointed out above, defendants in debt collection cases have some significant economic advantages in conducting their cases. They also have fewer of the disadvantages that many other types of cases have. This may simply be because debt collection cases tend to be document-intensive rather than witness-intensive. In the somewhat unusual case which actually goes to trial, the evidentiary questions are pretty basic: can the debt collector produce enough evidence? And is their evidence  “admissible” under the rules? That is, do the rules let the court consider it?

You almost never need to call a witness in debt cases.

This basic legal simplicity, the fact that debt defendants obviously did not seek out and initiate the suit, and the general economic difference between typical debt defendants and plaintiffs often seem to create a favorable impression on the judges.

Protect Your Rights

If debt collectors are contacting you, you need to be alert to protect your rights. These calls are often a prelude to their suing you. You might consider membership with our site, which gets you our ecourses for free, plus gives you many other benefits.Check out some of our e-courses. Or consider our prepaid legal plan to protect you from future possible litigation. With that, if a debt collector sues you, you’ll get a lawyer to defend you for free.

 

What if I Really (Think) I Owe the Money?

What If I Really Do Owe the Money?

Or Think I Do?

Think you owe

What if a debt collector sues you for a debt and think you really owe the money? Should you defend yourself from the suit?

Debt collectors often sue the wrong people and usually overcharge. If you don’t defend, you run the risk of having to pay twice. And if you do defend yourself, you probably won’t have to pay at all. If that bothers you, give the money to somebody who really needs it.

Most People Debt Collectors Sue May Actually Owe Someone Some Money

 

If a debt collector is suing you, you probably think you owe them the money. Or think you owe someone the money, although it’s surprising how often people who do NOT owe anybody any money get sued. If that’s you – you still need to fight the case, it won’t go away by itself. But if you actually do owe somebody the money for which you are being sued, you still need to be careful.

And you should still defend yourself as well as you can.

You must make the debt collector prove every part of its case. This includes not only that you owe the money, but that you owe it to them. And exactly how much you supposedly owe. That’s because old debts get sold – often more than once – and if you don’t make the debt collector prove it owns the debt, you may pay the wrong person. And then you might have to pay again if the person that actually owns the debt sues you.

In addition, most people do not owe what the debt collectors are trying to collect. They routinely add fees and interest they should not, and consumer protections agencies and organizations say that almost all debt collection suits include extra charges. Many of them are for far more than is owed.

The Good News

The good news about debt collectors is that they usually CANNOT prove their cases if you make put them to the test. The whole process by which they get these debts is so sloppy and careless that they usually cannot find or obtain the proof that they need to win their case. IF you defend yourself.

Get Help

If you would like us to take a look at your case and give you a sort of roadmap 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 know you want to defend yourself without spending a lot of money on lawyers, then get out Debt Defense System.

Protect Your Rights

If debt collectors are harassing you, you need to be alert to protect your rights. These calls are often a prelude to their suing you. You might consider membership with our site, which gets you our ecourses for free, plus gives you many other benefits.Check out some of our e-courses. Or consider our prepaid legal plan to protect you from future possible litigation. With that, if they do sue you, you’ll get a lawyer to defend you for free.

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Gold Debt Defense

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Platinum Debt Defense System

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Diamond Debt Defense

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.