Suppose you get called on a debt that, theoretically, you owed, but didn’t pay, twenty years ago. Is there anything you should do? Is there anything you should NOT do? Should you make partial payments for any reason?
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. Know this, though: they can’t sue you for it, and 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.
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 what I just said above. 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.
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,” even one that is many years past the statute of limitations and beyond causing you any harm, you revive the debt and can be sued on it again.
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.
What if there is something you actually want the debt collector to know because you think it will cause it to decide to leave you alone? How do you tell them so they’ll believe you when you say you’re judgment proof? And how do you keep the judge from hearing it and deciding not to take your case seriously? This article discusses the fine art of negotiating when you think you have “nothing to lose.”
How do you Tell the Debt Collector You’re Judgment Proof?
You’ve heard the saying, “you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip.” If you don’t have money a debt collector could reach or a job they could garnish your wages from, or any other assets they could reach, you are what is called “judgment proof.” How do you let them know so they believe you and go away?
If you’re Judgment Proof if Makes No Sense to Sue You
If you’re judgment proof, you almost certainly want the debt collector to know it because it makes all their work more or less pointless. At a minimum, if you don’t have anything for them to collect, they will have to wait – possibly a long time – to get anything back from the lawsuit, and debt collectors know well that time is money. There are generally better things for them to do than chase after people who really are judgment proof and have nothing to give them.
But it isn’t enough for you just to “tell” them you’re judgment proof. It’s too “convenient” for you, and they won’t believe it if you tell it to them too easily. Plus – if you make it too easy, they’ll just get the judgment and sit on it. They’ve already spent something to buy the debt and bring suit. They have to know it will cost them more to chase you – and that it will keep costing even though they’ll never collect anything back from it.
In this article we discuss one of the fine points of negotiation: how to let someone find out something you want them to know – in a way that will make them respond the way you want them to respond.
Here’s a little warning: Unlike a lot of what we say, this will be more the “art” of negotiation than the “science” (so to speak) of law. You might have a different feeling about it, in which case you should think about it for yourself. Put some thought into it and come up with what you consider your best strategy – you’re the one who’s going to live with whatever happens, right?
The Situation: You’re Judgment Proof
You don’t have any money and don’t think you’re going to get any for a while. You want the debt collector to know that you’re judgment proof because you want them to go away.
But there is a “hidden” problem.
Being Judgment Proof Can Mean to the Judge that You Shouldn’t Defend Yourself
The law is much more practical than a lot of people give it credit for being. If you say you have “nothing to lose,” and the judge believes it, you may find yourself losing very quickly and without real fairness or equality. After all, the judge thinks, you have nothing to lose, so why bother? Really. That’s eminently practical, isn’t it? It is the way many of them think.
Most judges won’t say that, although some will. But who wants to waste his or her time on technical fairness when there’s nothing really at stake? The law is not designed or supposed to do that.
You Won’t Be Down Forever
But the fact is, you DO have something to lose. A lot. The worm turns – you may be down now, but however far you’re down now, it only takes a few good breaks, a couple things turning around, for you to be much better. Good luck often happens to people who keep trying their hardest and looking for it, and if it happens for you, let the good luck be for you and not the debt collector. You need to keep fighting even if it looks like you have nothing to lose. You MIGHT, and that’s enough.
Judgments last a long, long time, and do you want the break that could turn things around for you to enrich the debt collectors?
Losing May Hurt you in Ways you Haven’t Considered
The other thing is that the cost of losing may be greater than you suppose. It will hurt your credit report and raise all your costs of living in invisible ways, and… there are other costs, psychologically and socially.
Play to Win
Play to win. If you’re here, you’re already doing that. Don’t blow it now by casually telling anybody you have nothing to lose. But you still want them to know you’re judgment proof. So how do you let them know?
You make them bleed for it.
Make them Pay for Any Information they Get – Even if it’s What you Want them to Know
Letting them know that they won’t gain anything from their efforts is really just half of your goal. The other half is that they must know that they will have to use a LOT of effort, and that it will cost them a lot of money (money they’ll probably never get back). Make sure they know that you will never give them anything without a fight – a fight that’s going to cost more than they could ever hope to win.
Can’t you just tell them that?
It’s better to show them how much effort will be required first. And that’s because talk is cheap. Lawyers should know, right? And they do. Telling them it will take effort is far, far different than requiring them to spend that effort. Of course, it takes far more effort on your part, too. It means you fight everything tooth and nail – don’t give them any information they aren’t entitled to, even when it’s what you want them to know. And if you watch them, you’ll see they don’t plan to give you even information you are entitled to. Fight hard.
How Much you Have, Where you Earn it, and Where you Keep it are “Irrelevant” to the Debt Collector’s Lawsuit
As we have often pointed out, contract cases involve what’s called “strict liability.” Almost. That is, there is only the question of whether you owe the money. No one cares WHY you owe the money or why you haven’t paid it off. No one even cares, legally, whether you can pay it off. The only legal issues for the court to decide on a debt case are: do you owe it to them? And, how much do you owe? That makes the amount of money you have (what you own), where you earn it (your job), how much you earn (your income), or where you keep it (your bank) all irrelevant. You should object and force the debt collectors to go to the judge (motion to compel) to force you to give it to them if they can.
Make them work to get it. Make them work hard and spend money. And then, if you have to answer, you will. It is, after all, what you wanted them to know in the first place. And if the judge denies their motion to compel and does not make you reveal the information about not having money or a job, you can just “drop it” into a conversation with the lawyer for the other side afterward (“Well, I don’t have any money anyway…”). But then you don’t give them proof – you just say it.
If you tell the other side you’re judgment proof too easily, the judge will find out. She will be tempted to find an excuse to rule against you as we said above. Fighting hard from the beginning – especially against divulging financial information – puts the lie to that more effectively than anything you could say. It proves you are taking the case seriously.
Watch out for Laziness
So now, consider your motives here. Isn’t a main reason you want to tell them you’re judgment proof just that you want them to go away without bugging you anymore? You’re tired of your troubles and the suit?
That’s the attitude you must beware of.
Yes, getting them to believe you are judgment proof might cause them to drop the case and reduce your overall effort and inconvenience, but your main weapon in debt litigation is the willingness to spend extraordinary efforts – and to make them do so. And this is true whether the underlying debt was ever yours or not – it takes extraordinary efforts to defend any case. Don’t give up that weapon in the search for a short cut.
Make sure the things you do increase your chances of winning without hurting your underlying case.
Your Legal Leg Up is a business dedicated to helping people fight debt collectors without having to hire expensive lawyers to do it. We offer you everything you need to defend your rights – with special help through our membership services to help make the process smoother, easier, and less worrisome. YourLegalLegUp.com has been in operation since 2007. Before that, Ken Gibert practiced law representing people being sued for debt among other types of consumer law.
Verification under the FDCPA and FCRA – Use Both to Protect Your Rights
The information in this article and video is designed to help people being bothered or sued by debt collectors, or who are concerned about their credit reports and wish to take action to protect their rights.
Two Kinds of Verification and How to Use them to Protect Your Rights
We have spent much of our time talking about “verification” on our site and videos, and what we have meant in most of that has been the “verification” process provided by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). But there is another kind of validation you can use – validation as permitted by the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
We talk about that below and discuss how you can use both forms of validation, together or separately, to your advantage in defending yourself from the debt collectors and in repairing your credit.
The two kinds of verification are different rights. They apply in different circumstances, to possibly different “persons” under different circumstances, give different rights, and have different time requirements.
You can use them both, but they are completely separate. It is important to keep them straight.
Make sure you keep track of everything you do under either statute, and make sure that the response you get is appropriate for the statute you used for the specific right you invoke.
Rights under the FDCPA
Under the FDCPA, when a debt collector first contacts you on a debt, it is required by law to notify you of your right to dispute the debt and require “validation” or “verification.” The two words are used interchangeably, and the requirement is quite simple in general:
First, the debt collector must notify you of the right to dispute within 30 days (along with giving you the “mini-Miranda” warning – that anything you say may be used for collection of a debt) within five days of first contacting you.
And then, the debt collector must “verify” the debt if you ask within the thirty days provided.
Just to make clear, it is YOU who have 30 days to dispute after getting the notice of your rights. The debt collector does not literally even have to do anything at all and also has no time limit. It’s just that, if you dispute and request verification, it cannot make further attempts to collect on the debt until it has verified it.
Exactly what verifying it is, is not exactly clear.
It would appear that contacting the original creditor and “establishing” that the debt is yours would be enough. That’s because the purpose of the requirement is not to require a separate lawsuit, but just to protect consumers from harassment based on typos or mistaken identities. The debt collector has to take some action to connect you to the debt if you dispute it under the FDCPA.
Even this low burden often seems to be too much, and possibly that is because the second owner of the debt (if there is one) has no relationship to the original creditor and simply cannot get the debt verified. Whatever the reason, asking for verification is often enough to make them go away. If they try to collect without having verified, that violates the FDCPA. And that in turn might allow you to stop a lawsuit brought against you.
Remember, however, that when the debt collector immediately files suit against you, this is not a “first contact” which triggers your right to notice and dispute. If you get served, you have to answer (or move to dismiss). It is not enough to request verification.
Disputing under the Fair Credit Reporting Act
There is another kind of validation, and it is completely different from the FDCPA, although you can use it to fight debt collectors, too. It is the validation provided for by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).
This is your right to “dispute” an item on your credit report.
You do this after looking at your credit report and seeing something that is not positive. Let’s say you see a debt collector reporting that you owe a debt. Remember your right to verification under the FDCPA comes when the debt collector first contacts you to try to collect the debt. You can dispute a line item on your credit report at any time.
There are rules, and there are better and worse ways to do it. But it does not depend on the other side being a debt collector or having tried to collect the debt. It simply requires that they have put some bad information on your credit report.
When you seek verification under the FDCPA, the debt collector has to verify the debt before making further attempts to collect. When you “dispute” the debt under the FCRA, it doesn’t affect collection. Instead, you are forcing the company to “investigate” the debt and show that what it is saying to the credit reporting agencies is true.
If the company reporting you cannot validate the debt, it is just required to withdraw the offending credit reference. But it could still try to collect the debt.
If it does keep trying to collect the debt after withdrawing a bad credit reference, that might be a type of admission that it can’t prove the debt if the case goes to a lawsuit.
But it probably isn’t controlling on the case because “validation” of a credit report is not
the same thing as proving that the debt is valid.
A Helpful Strategy
Here’s a strategy that might be helpful. If you receive a bill from a junk debt buyer – a company that bought your debt from the original creditor, in other words – you should
send a request for verification under the FDCPA right away. Then you should and get your credit report and look at it.
If the debt collector is reporting your debt on your credit report, you will want to dispute the credit report and seek validation under the FCRA. Separately.
Remember these are completely different rights. Your sending two different disputes may confuse the debt collector, but remember that under the FDCPA it must provide proof as to your identity and its right to bug you, while under the FCRA it must explain why the information it put on your credit report was correct. The debt collector may not verify under the FCRA, in which case you can clear your credit report.
If it DOES try to validate, it will probably give you information that it would object to having to provide if it were suing you for the debt – so it’s a shortcut to some discovery in that situation.
You should not try to do the FCRA verification first because it takes too much time.
To do the credit dispute right you have to get your credit report and dispute it with the credit bureau before you dispute it with the debt collector under the FCRA if you want to protect all your rights. You don’t have time to work your way through the FCRA before asserting your FDCPA rights.
On the other hand, if the company does not verify under the FDCPA, that would be worth mentioning as a basis for your credit dispute.
We should add that when you get the first letter from the debt collector you may not even know whether it is reporting you on your credit report. They often do not, so you won’t know whether or not you will have anything under the FCRA. But if they are contacting you, you have the right under the FDCPA. Since it only lasts for 30 days, you need not to delay in disputing.
We always recommend sending your disputes by certified mail (and keep all the proof). You don’t have to do this legally, but these things often come down to a question of what you can prove, and having proof from the postal service is a very good investment.
If you would like to get a personalized evaluation of your situation, follow this link: https://yourlegallegup.com/pages/evaluation. (Note that this link takes you to our “home” site, YourLegalLegUp.com, which has many more resources on these issues.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is the centerpiece of legal protections for debtors against debt collectors. The law was passed in its essential form in 1977, and its goal was to protect debtors against the abuses of debt collectors. This article discusses what makes this law great, and some of its limitations.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) was enacted to put an end to some of the worst practices of the debt collection industry. It’s been a very good law, but the debt collectors are still doing many of the things the law was designed to present. You may be able to sue them or prevent them from suing you.
The Debt Collection Industry
Before the act, the debt collection industry was routinely engaging in the most abusive sorts of behavior imaginable, from calling debtors at all hours of the day or night and subjecting them to streams of cursing and name-calling, to discussing their debt with children, neighbors, and employers. Debt collectors frequently misrepresented themselves as attorneys and often threatened legal action which they were powerless to initiate. And they often attempted to, and did, collect debts that either never existed or were long unenforceable because of statutes of limitation or bankruptcy.
Whatever the staid spokespeople of the debt collection industry may say, this is the background of their industry. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. Section 1692, et seq., was enacted to put a stop to these extreme behaviors in 1977. Because the people intended to be protected by the act are underrepresented by lawyers, and because of the explosion of debt litigation over the past decade, many of the old abuses still continue, and as people increasingly defend themselves from the debt collectors, they develop new tricks all the time.
The FDCPA: A Pretty Good Law
Nevertheless, the FDCPA is in many ways a model piece of legislation. What makes the law so powerful is that, in addition to making certain enumerated acts illegal, the Act also more generally makes acts that are “oppressive,” “false or misleading representations,” or “unfair practices” illegal. This means that, whereas in most laws, the would-be wrongdoer is free to craft his actions around the specific language of the law and find “loopholes,” under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, at least, the consumer may argue that these actions are still unfair or oppressive. The Supreme Court has ruled that an “unfair” act can be shown by demonstrating that it is “at least within the penumbra” of some common law, statutory “or other established concept” of unfairness.
That’s pretty broad. The price for this flexibility, however, is that the remedies—what you get if you prove the case—are less powerful. And this may be why the practices are still occurring today.
As mentioned above, there are specific actions enumerated in the FDCPA, and these include most notably, suing on expired debts, filing suit in distant jurisdictions, publishing certain types of information regarding the debtor, calling outside of specified hours. And the list goes on. If the debt collector is acting in some highly offensive way, chances are he’s within the specific provisions of the Act. These can be found at 15 U.S.C. 1692c, d, e and f. You can find the specifics by Googling the Act or provision and determining whether the specific action you’re concerned about is within one of these provisions.