Category Archives: litigation strategies

Verification of Debt – Don’t Let the Right Turn You into a Sucker

Don’t be a Verification Sucker – Request for Verification is NOT a Substitute for an Answer

 

Debt verification (also called “validation”) of your debt is an important right. If the debt collector brings suit, though, it’s too late. Demanding validation will NOT prevent a default judgment if you try it after the debt collector brings suit. In fact, a lawsuit does NOT trigger the right to verification at all.

People in debt trouble hear a lot about debt validation, and it can be a valuable right. Even though it requires little from the debt collector, making the demand seems to cause some debt collectors to go away. It will at least send a signal to the debt collector that you will defend your rights.

If the debt collector has filed suit, you must defend the lawsuit and file an answer (or appropriate motion) in court. If you don’t answer, the debt collector usually gets a default judgment. That effectively ends your rights to fight the debt.

That’s because, under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), filing suit is not an “initial contact” for purposes of verification. Validation is designed to keep debt collectors from suing the wrong people. After they file suit, it’s too late for that. Instead, the courts will decide.

Or so goes the legal precedent. The debt collectors know – and we all know – that most people do not protect themselves in court.

Make sure you do. You have to file an answer or the appropriate motion to do this.

Conclusion

When a debt collector (or creditor) files suit against you, you will have to file an answer in court to avoid a default judgment. Many people think all they have to do is “dispute the debt and request verification.” The right to verification, however, applies only to collection efforts that are not part of a lawsuit. Don’t be a verification sucker – file an Answer and defend yourself.

Assignment Contract – Holy Grail of Debt Defense

An assignment contract provides the “terms and conditions” of mass debt sales. If you can force the debt collector to give it to you, you improve your chance of defending yourself in a debt lawsuit. We discuss why in the video and text below.

The Actual Assignment Contract is BIG

The bill of sale is not an assignment contract. It is essentially a note (that could be many pages long) that refers to the sale of property. The terms of sale are important, but they are in the assignment contract rather than the bill of sale. They will help you decide what the debt collector has or could get for trial. They could also affect who the “real” owner of the debt is. Also, the debt collectors hate for you to get this document. Fighting for it may cause them to drop your case.

No Magic Bullets

We say there are “no magic bullets” in debt defense. Every so often, though, we find a few things that seem almost like they would or should be. However, the sort of “magic bullets” we refer to, and that don’t work, are simple, formulaic things. Think writing the word “refused” on the summons or claiming it is illegal to use your name.

If you think these might work, you are not using common sense. And if you think using all capital letters matters in some way, you are just wrong. But some people claim these things will bring you easy victory. However, spending energy on them is more likely to hurt your case than help it.

Certain things, however, can make a dramatic impact on your case. They won’t magically end the fight or reliably make the debt collectors go away all by themselves. But they can make a big difference if you know what to do with them. One of these things is the Assignment Contract. That’s the agreement assigning the debt in question from the original creditor to the debt collector. In many cases debt collectors would rather lose the case than give you the contract.

What is an Assignment Contract?

An assignment contract is the contract between the original creditor and the debt collector. The original creditor sells (large numbers of) debts to the debt collector according to certain terms. Selling debts is perfectly legal and is a widespread and commercially reasonable thing to do. Unless your contract with the original creditor prohibits transfer or assignment(very rare in consumer debt), there’s nothing wrong with doing it.

You don’t expect these things to be done on an individual basis, though, do you? No. Consumer debts are bought and sold by the hundreds of thousands at a time. The original creditors – often banks, utilities like phone companies, or gyms – create “portfolios” of debt which they sell to junk debt buyers according to certain terms. These terms are found in the assignment contracts, and assignment contacts are not little things. They are lengthy contracts of 20-30 pages that apply to all of the debts bought and sold in a given transaction.

The assignment contracts set the rules for what the debt collector can get from the original creditor if it needs to sue to collect the debts. I provides for how long the original creditor has to provide the material, and how much getting that information will cost. The contracts have many interesting features, and the debt collectors will assuredly NOT want you to see them. In fact, in many cases, the debt collectors would rather dismiss their case against you than let you see the contract.

Not Bills of Sale

Assignment contracts are not bills of sale. The bill of sale is a one-page document that says something “All the debts identified in Exhibit A, attached, are hereby sold and assigned to Company X.” It could also be a bit longer than that, but the main thing is that it does not outline the rules of the deal in detail. As we have often pointed out, debt collectors often hate to provide the bill of sale or, more often, the accounts subject to a bill of sale.

But they REALLY don’t want to give you the assignment contract.

What the Assignment Contracts Contain (that Debt Collectors Don’t Want you to See)

There are two main things the assignment contracts contain that debt collectors do not want you to know about. They don’t want you to know what they think of their own records, and they don’t want you to know how much time, and how much money, it takes for them to obtain records from the original creditors.

Debts are Sold “As Is”

As you will notice if you take the time to read through the assignment contracts, original creditors sell debts to debt collectors “as is” and without any warranty. Specifically, that means that the original creditor specifically disclaims any guarantee that the debts or supporting information they’re selling to the debt collectors are legitimate, accurate, or trustworthy.

The natural and intuitive conclusion is that the records are NOT reliably accurate. Nevertheless, some courts have ruled that they are sufficiently trustworthy to justify admission of the documents in question. The argument needed to use lack of warranty is therefore sophisticated.

Documents will Take Time and Cost the Debt Collector Money

Another important fact about the Assignment Contracts is that they usually establish that the debt collector can obtain certain specific documents from a certain, very small percentage of debts. And the original creditors give themselves a minimum of sixty (60) days to provide requested information upon receiving the request. Both of these facts are hugely important to people representing themselves pro se – and for the pro se movement at large.

Sixty days is longer than the amount of time permitted in any state’s rules of discovery of which we are aware. That means, in plain English, that if you request documents, the debt collector will never be able to provide you documents within the time permitted by law. They can get extensions – the courts are generous with time, normally – but even with extensions they may not be able to provide the documents within the required time. Therefore, you should push hard to get the information.

It may even be that in California this arrangement violates the California Rules of Civil Procedure – and you have an even more powerful weapon at your disposal to attack their case.

It is important that the original creditors charge for documents and only require themselves to provide documents in a small percentage of the debts. If EVERYONE asked for documents, the costs might bury the debt collectors. And the delays would likely make it impossible for them to answer discovery at all. They would have to change their whole way of doing business.

Another Way to Attack the Debt Collectors

You don’t have to have the Assignment Contracts to make life harder for debt collectors and better for you.  If the debt collectors after you use credit damage as a collection tool, this gives you an advantage. You can start the ball rolling even faster than through formal discovery.

Get your credit report. If you find them on there and dispute the debt under the FCRA, they get thirty (30) days to “conduct a reasonable investigation” into the dispute. They can’t get the information in most cases in less than 60 days. They will either have to withdraw the negative information or you can sue them for that. The FCRA gives you attorney fees if you win that suit, so you may get a lawyer for free.

If they do withdraw the reference, you might use that against them in defending their suit against you.

Press – Hard – for the Assignment Contract

Under all the circumstances, you should use the discovery process to get the assignment contracts.  Debt collectors do not want to provide this to you. They will lie about its existence, deceive you if they can, and stonewall you to the limits of their ability. We are developing tools for our members to use to make this fight a little easier.

[1] There are groups of people who energetically claim that things like this make a difference. They can’t point to a strong case opinion that backs them up, but this doesn’t stop them.

Supreme Court Attacks FDCPA – Defending Pro Se in Debt Defense Cases

Defending pro se may have just become an even more important option for debt defendants.

The Supreme Court has recently damaged debt defendants’ rights with two very important decisions. These decisions attack the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). One allows debt collectors to bombard the bankruptcy courts with outdated claims. The other holds that junk debt buyers are not “debt collectors” under one important definition of the FDCPA.  Together, these rulings change the landscape of defense. One thing is clear: you need to know your rights more now than ever.  Defending pro se may be the only kind of debt defense you can get anymore.

Pro Se Defense

Let’s start with what “defending pro se” is.  Pro se means representing yourself in a lawsuit. This eliminates big legal fees, but it ALSO means taking on the burdens and risks of defending yourself. Hiring the right lawyer is the “gold standard” of defense, but hiring lawyers is expensive. Additionally, recent Supreme Court rulings will make it harder to get a debt lawyer at all. Still, in most debt cases people can handle their own defense. The law is not complicated, and debt cases are document, rather than witness, intensive. Defending pro se even has some significant advantages in the debt law context.

Who is a Debt Collector

In Henson et al. v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc., No. 16349 (Slip Op. 6-12-17), the Supreme Court ruled that junk debt buyers are not“debt collectors” under one provision of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). I discuss that case, its impact, and what action people need to take regarding it, in my article and video, “Who Is a Debt Collector – Supreme Court Tries to Destroy the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and what to Do about that.” In general, the effect of Santander is to make it more difficult to establish that a junk debt buyer is a debt collector, and it may signify that the Supreme Court would not let you sue junk debt buyers under the FDCPA at all.

Harder to Get a Lawyer

Santander is going to make it more difficult for you to get a lawyer to defend you in a debt case – and more expensive if you can get one. That’s because the FDCPA applies only to debt collectors and gives you certain counterclaims, and certain defenses, that make defending you easier. The FDCPA also includes a “fee-shifting” provision which allows a consumer to make a debt collector pay for most of the time a lawyer spends on a case. These things – ease of defense and a rich company to pay fees – make FDCPA cases attractive to lawyers. Take away the FDCPA, and the lawyers are going to have to charge more – a LOT more. And they simply won’t take as many cases because they’re harder. This means that debt law defendants, already drastically underrepresented, are going to find it much more difficult to hire lawyers. Defending pro se has become a much more important option.

Debt Collectors Will Run Wild

The decision in Santander threatens to neutralize the FDCPA and let junk debt buyers – who now make up the vast majority of debt collectors – run completely wild. They will be much freer to abuse, deceive, harass – in short, all the tricks that brought about the FDCPA in the first place because the laws regulating them will have been predominantly removed. At the same time it makes getting a lawyer much more difficult, the decision in Santander will likely result in a large number of new and wrong lawsuits. HOWEVER, Santander does not negate any (or very few, anyway) of your defenses in a debt law case, and it does not reduce the burden of proof for debt collectors. You can still win, in other words, but you very well may have to do it yourself.

Bankrupts Beware

Bankruptcy is one refuge debtors have from debt collectors. In general, you can file bankruptcy and force all your creditors to stop contacting you and, instead, file their claims in your bankruptcy action. In theory, the court will then either grant those claims or deny them according to what is right. The dirty little secret of bankruptcy, though, is that if claims are not disputed, they are generally granted. In bankruptcy cases brought by poor people (you can bet Donald Trump never had this problem), the lawyers representing the bankrupts have little incentive to dispute wrongful claims. There’s a U.S. trustee who is supposed to oversee the process and protect the bankrupt and legitimate creditors from bad claims, but guess what?

They usually don’t.

So bad claims get allowed. In most bankruptcies, allowing a bad claim means that it’s going to get paid (eventually) by the person filing for bankruptcy.

Junk Debt Buyers Make Things Worse

Enter the junk debt buyers. They buy LONG overdue debt – debt far beyond the statute of limitations – and file claims in bankruptcy cases. This bogs the bankruptcy courts and everyone involved down. As a practical matter this results in people paying billions to debt collectors who have no right to collect. This crushes people who declared bankruptcy and rips off legitimate creditors whose debts get paid at a lower rate.

Some debtors were suing debt collectors under the FDCPA for filing outdated claims in bankruptcy.  The FDCPA has a “fee-shifting provision,” that means consumer lawyers who win make the debt collectors pay their fees. That gave debtors’ bankruptcy lawyers at least some financial incentive to bring these claims and dispute unenforceable claims. They were doing so as part of the bankruptcy proceedings, and the debtors were also bringing suit outside of the bankruptcy context as well.

FDCPA Does Not Apply In Bankruptcy

The Supreme Court negated the FDCPA’s 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 they know are unenforceable in an ordinary court (and would violate the FDCPA if filed there).  For a fuller discussion of that case, look at my article and video, “Bankrupts Beware, FDCPA No Longer Applies – Opening the Floodgates to Bad Claims.”

Midland Funding means, in practical effect, that even if you’re in bankruptcy you’re going to have to know and protect your own rights. Your lawyer has LITTLE (personal) incentive to challenge bad claims, and likewise the U.S. Trustee has VERY LITTLE time (or incentive) to do it. If the court allows the claims, you will probably have to pay them in all likelihood. That means that even if you file for bankruptcy you must prepare 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 despite having a bankruptcy lawyer.

Defending Pro Se

The Supreme Court’s decisions in Henson and Santander mean debt defendants will get much less help from lawyers. These cases are still possible to defend against and win – they’re as easy as any law gets, probably. Because so many fewer defendants will fight, you will probably have even better chances of winning YOURS. It’s less profitable for debt collectors to fight now because they will have so many more easy wins. But you are more likely to have to do it yourself now than ever.

Make it hard for them.

 

Henson v. Santander – Supreme Court Attacks the FDCPA

In Henson et al. v. Santander Consumer USA, Inc., (“Santander”), the Supreme Court hurt the FDCPA and attacked the rights of consumers. Its ruling means that the FDCPA will no longer apply to most debt collectors. This decision will make it far more difficult for debt defendants to obtain legal representation. And it will cause debt collectors to engage in more deceptive, dishonest and abusive behavior.

If you are facing debt collectors, you should know your rights and may need to defend yourself pro se.

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) became law In 1978. Debt collectors were so corrupt and destructive  Congress they were a “threat to the American way of life.”  Congress named numerous specific actions as “per se” violations of the Act. It also included the more general descriptions of “unfair,” “unconscionable,” and “deceptive” debt collection practices as illegal actions. Congress wanted to keep 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. Its ruling in Santander guarantees more dishonest, careless and abusive debt collection techniques. It means consumers and honest businesses will support the worst scavengers in the world.

Real-Life Debt Collection

Instead of holding it for collection, creditors usually sell charged-off debt to debt buyers these days. When debt buyers buy a debt, their only purpose is to collect that money by hook or by crook. Creditors used to hire debt collectors to collect on debts and pay them out of the proceeds. Now they get their money first. The debt collectors take their money 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 not allowed parties to change the form of their actions to evade the impact of laws. Santander cheerfully elevates form over substance, however. The same actors will perform the same abhorrent deeds that the FDCPA was designed to prevent.

One could consider the Court’s ruling dishonest in that 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 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. In the Supreme Court’s view, debts which had long belonged to another but were sold for purposes of collection, change their nature when sold. Junk debt buyers are collecting on their own debts, not debts due another.

How the FDCPA Defines “Debt Collector”

We should look at the whole definition of “debt collector” to get a truer view of the statute’s 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).

The Court ignored the underlined portion of the definition because the debt collector at issue in the case was a bank. The parties agreed that Santander’s principal purpose was not the “collection of debts.” But the Court should not have ignored that portion of the definition, as its broadness showed congressional intention to get all “functional” debt collectors. Taking note of that intent, the Court should have read “debts owed… to another” to keep their substance despite the debt’s sale. Doing so would have prevented debt collectors from changing the NATURE of the debt merely by selling it to another party. This would have honored congressional intent and protected consumers.

Why the Court Did What it Did

Why didn’t the Supreme Court look at the whole statutory definition of “debt collector?”

The surface reason was that Santander was a bank – and the parties agreed that its business was not principally collecting debts. But that’s really only the surface fact. It would not have stopped the Court from considering the entire definition to garner congressional intention. And it wouldn’t have prevented the Court from giving a reasoned decision on the whole statute anyway. The Supreme Court grants certiorari only in a very small percentage of cases, and it has had numerous opportunities to examine the whole reality of debt collection. It chose the issue it wanted to address deliberately.

Plaintiffs in FCPA cases have usually relied on the “regularly collecting” debts language because it is easier to show than “principal purpose.”

Establishing a business’s “principal purpose” will be much more difficult. Few case use the term “principal purpose” of a business. While there must be some cases that address the issue, there are not many. Courts often use the the term “principal purpose” in judicial decisions, but its use is primarily generic.  Opinions use the words  as a synonym for “main” or “major.” I found no cases quantifying the term in any way.

“Principal Purpose” Is Hard to Prove

Junk debt buyers, who purchase billions of dollars of debt for no other purpose than to collect it in any way they can, will argue they are not debt collectors. They will claim 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.

Or they will make up some other reason or claim.

This will alter the nature of the proof required to establish that the company is a debt collector. Rather than being a matter of public record, information regarding a business’s “principal purpose” will be in the possession of the debt collector. That means that parties attempting to obtain that information will have to use discovery to find it. Thus they will encounter the same stone walls, delays and unethical and oppressive litigation techniques they encounter in their other discovery attempts.

Considering the current ideology and integrity of the Supreme Court, of which debt collectors are very well aware, who knows what the courts will officially “believe?” As a debt defendant, you must now allege and prove that the debt collector’s main business is to collect debts. The judicial wind will be in your face.

Reading the Supreme Court

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. The decision shows a court in search of a justification for a desired outcome – you should view it as a negative indication for the Court’s integrity.

Santander and another recent case, Midland Funding, LLC v. Johnson, No. 16-348 (Slip Op. 5-15-17) (see my article, “Opening the Floodgates of Bad Claims”), show actual hostility to the laws that protect consumers. They also show 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” and applies the entire definition to the question of junk debt buyers.

What Debt Defendants Should Do

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

On the other hand, many and perhaps most lawyers are going to be scared away from taking debt cases. Many lawyers who do not understand Santander will simply regard the FDCPA as not applying to junk debt buyers. That is almost all the debt collectors in litigation these days. These lawyers won’t take debt defense cases or will charge much more for them. They will accomplish much less than they would have, too, because they will not counterclaim on your behalf. Lawyers who understand Santander will charge more and warn clients that winning is less likely than it used to be.

This means that far more debt defendants will be on their own.

Expect to see a motion to dismiss based on Santander if you currently have a counterclaim under the FDCPA. I believe you will want to amend your counterclaim to include the “principal purpose” language mentioned above. You will also need to conduct discovery designed to prove the company’s principal purpose.

Should I Declare Bankruptcy? Maybe not if Sued for Debt

Should you declare bankruptcy?  When debt collectors call or bills pile up, many people look or hope for a quick, easy escape. Too many people tell them bankruptcy is that easy way out. Unfortunately, for most people it is neither easy nor a way out. It can be a costly mistake.

There might be better ways.  Most people can defend themselves from debt cases  (using materials provided by this site) without having to hire an expensive lawyer.

When people are being sued for debts, they often panic and look for the quickest, easiest, or least scary way out. And they often consider bankruptcy as a possible solution. There are often much more effective ways to handle old debt, especially credit card or merchant account debt in the possession of a debt collector, than bankruptcy. You can defend yourself without hiring a lawyer, and even if that doesn’t work out – which it usually does – you could still file bankruptcy. But if you can avoid bankruptcy, you will reduce the harm the debt doesyou.

Types of Debt

There are two main types of debt: “secured,” and “unsecured.” Secured debt means that the debt has specific assets backing it. If you miss payments, you can have your house foreclosed or your car repossessed. These things “secure” the debt and can be repossessed and sold if you stop making payments.

Unsecured Debt

Unsecured debt is debt that is not secured – no specific assets guarantee the debt’s repayment. Just because a debt is “unsecured” does not mean that a debt collector can’t sue you for it. On the contrary, it means the collector must sue you personally in order to collect any money. The creditor then “enforces” the judgment against you by garnishing wages or attaching accounts. But this can be difficult for various reasons.

Rights of Creditors

Lenders on secured debts are in a much better position than unsecured lenders in general. One of those advantages comes in bankruptcy.

In the bankruptcy law, the law regards an item securing a debt as the creditor’s property (the one who lent the money). If you do not make the payment owed, the creditor can just take it back. Consider a mortgage on a house. The house “secures” the debt, and if you stop making payments the bank can take the house and sell it to pay the debt. That is “foreclosure” as you probably know. The law considers it unjust to allow someone not paying for the property to keep it from the rightful owner. So the lender typically asks the bankruptcy court to “lift the stay” so foreclosure can take place. Although you can sometimes delay the lifting, the courts usually “relieve” the lenders and allow them to foreclose on the house and kick the debtor out.

Unsecured Debt

With unsecured debt, on the other hand, the court simply adds up the debts and pays them out according to how much money the bankrupt person has. Usually very, very little. And only at the end of the bankruptcy procedure.

Bankruptcy May Not Help When It Applies

What all that means practically is that if you have a large secured debt (mortgage) that you cannot pay, bankruptcy will offer you very little protection. If you have a large unsecured debt, bankruptcy will probably protect you to an extent, but it is slow, time-consuming and expensive compared to defending yourself against the debt collector. And most people who start bankruptcy end the process without getting what they wanted.

Some examples may help make it clearer.

Consider the Smiths. The Smiths have a house and make payments of $2.500 per month. Mr. Smith loses his job and they fall behind in their payments. If the family seeks bankruptcy as their house payments add up, the lender will obtain “relief from the stay” and foreclose on the house. The Smiths are out of luck, and bankruptcy usually does not help.

Now consider the Joneses. If the Joneses have credit card debt of $25,000 and Mrs. Jones loses her job so they can’t make payments, they could seek bankruptcy help. It would probably cost them at least a thousand dollars or more to file, require them to disclose most or all of their finances over the past year or two, and fill out a large amount of paperwork. At the end of the proceeding, at least a year later, the court would “discharge” their debts.

If they make it to the discharge, the bankruptcy will help. But it will remain as a mark against their credit record for seven years.

An Alternative: Defense

The Jones could, however, simply defend themselves against the lawsuits brought by the debt collectors. For reasons I’ve made clear elsewhere, their chances of winning the suit would be excellent. If the Jones do it right, they can eliminate the debt completely. This does not always mean completely cleaning their credit reports. But it can often mean canceling the debt and removal of the recent credit report damage. And it usually will happen in less than six months from the date the debt collector brings suit. They won’t have the bankruptcy on their credit report. They can do it themselves for almost no money at all, and if by chance it doesn’t work, then they could declare bankruptcy.

Conclusion

Better results, less cost. That’s why it’s often better to defend yourself against credit card debt than to seek bankruptcy protection. It’s also true that if for any reason the Jones lost their case against the debt collectors, they could still file for bankruptcy without having lost its protection.

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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Tricky Rule Can Screw Pro Se Defendants

tricky rule can screw pro se defendants
tricky rule can screw pro se defendants

Not All Rules of Civil Procedure Are Logical or Predictable

Tricky rules can prevent you from defending yourself.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of rules of civil procedure which present lurking danger to the pro se defendant or even a lawyer not used to litigating. One of the worst of these tricky rules, however, is one requiring objection to exhibits in advance of trial.

Tricky Rule Screws Pro Se Debt Defendants

The way this “presents” is likely to be you receiving a set of exhibits – or some sort of notice referring to exhibits – from the other side. It may even be so innocent as a statement that “Plaintiff will use the exhibits attached to the petition at trial.” If any of these things happen, or if there are a lot of exhibits in the record in any way, you should beware.

Some jurisdictions allow this list of exhibits as a pretrial submission where, if you do not object to them, they will be accepted into evidence without objection. In other words, this tricky rule will prevent you from making an objection in trial – the very time you would think you needed to object. In a debt case, this will be almost certainly fatal to your defense.

You Don’t Get Much Time!

Debt cases hinge on the ability – or not – of a debt collector to present record evidence of the alleged debt. Since debt collectors did not create those records and in most cases have no knowledge of how they arose or came into existence, one of the debt defendant’s strongest challenges is to attack the use of those records as evidence. You attack their “admissibility.” If you successfully do that, you will likely win the trial. If you fail, the debt collector almost certainly will.

Automatic Admissibility a Trap for the Inexperienced

A tricky rule which allows automatic admissibility is a dangerous poison pill for debt defendants, and you much know whether such a rule exists in your court. As we say, receiving a list of exhibits is a hint, but you should search your court’s “Local Rules” if it has them, and your state’s Rules of Civil Procedure, to find out if you must worry about this rule. If you have it, it’s easy enough to make your objections, but you will have to object prior to trial and on the schedule provided by the rule.

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 suit has yet been filed, 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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Gold Debt Defense System

Gold Debt Defense

 

Platinum Debt Defense System

Platinum Debt Defense System

 

Diamond Debt Defense System

Diamond Debt Defense

 

Pro Se Debt Defense – Easier than you Might Think

Pro Se Representation is easier than you think
Pro Se Representation is easier than you think

Should You Represent Yourself in Debt Law?


Hiring a lawyer might be the “gold standard” of defense, but lawyers are expensive. If you’re being sued by a debt collector and can’t afford a lawyer, all is not lost. 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 not designed to work against people who defend themselves intelligently. You can do it.

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 worrying about having to pay from $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 IS fun. It changes the way you look at debt and debt law forever.

Pro se legal 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.

Pro se is a Latin phrase meaning “for oneself.” You will sometimes see it called propria persona (abbreviated to “pro per”). In England and Wales, the comparable status is called “litigant in person.” Not that it matters, right?

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. In 18% of the cases both parties were pro se.  It is a growing trend in debt collection law as well .

People have long had the right to self-representation in the United States. That right predates even the ratification of the Constitution. 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 constitutional provision.

Will the Courts Protect You from Mistakes?

The California rules of Civil Procedure explicitly prefer resolving every case on the merits. This applies even if doing it requires excusing a mistake by a pro se litigant that would otherwise result in a dismissal. The Judicial Council says 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.”

Most states and the federal courts officially 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, however. Some courts explicitly will not extend favorable treatment to non-professional litigants. Our position has always been that you should know the rules. Knowing the rules means you can use them. And one secret of debt law is that it is the debt collectors who rely on leniency. You need to prevent that if possible.

Pro Se Litigants Often Do Very Well

Pro se litigants usually do not need 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, but it seems clear that there is not an “automatic penalty” for daring to represent yourself.

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. A vigorous pro se defendant can gain a significant advantage by taking energetic steps 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. But even with that bias, pro se plaintiffs have recorded some significant victories in civil courts.

Pro Se Representation in Debt Collection Cases

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. Debt collection cases tend to be document-intensive rather than witness-intensive. In the unusual case which actually goes to trial, there are not many things to prove or disprove, and the evidentiary issues are basic. Pro se defendants can argue whether the debt collector produces enough evidence. And whether that evidence is “admissible” in court for the court’s consideration. You won’t need much finesse.

This basic legal simplicity, and the fact that debt collectors drag defendants before the court against their wishes often seem to create a favorable impression on the judges.

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 you’re in a lawsuit and already know you want to defend yourself without spending a lot of money on lawyers, then get out 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 the debt collector has not filed suit, 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.

 

Gold Debt Defense System
Gold Debt Defense System

Gold Debt Defense

 

Platinum Debt Defense System

Platinum Debt Defense System

 

Diamond Debt Defense System

Diamond Debt Defense

 

Debt Defense – How NOT to Defend Yourself from the Debt Collectors

Debt defense is a learning process, but it requires effort. And if you are looking for help, common sense is helpful. I received the following email from a person with whom I had never spoken before:

Hello,

Our court trial date is [a date 5 days from the date of email] in [City], California.

We have been sued by Midland Funding LLC. We filed a general denial claim last year.

The 17th of May, fed ex delivered a package from [the debt collector plaintiff] which had a Declaration In
Lieu of Testimony in it.

First of all, in court will I be allowed to read my research?

Second, we have not received notification … like they claim and when we were served last year, I called them and tried to take care of the debt but they kept putting me off.  No one wanted to talk to me about it.  I called them many times and each time they would tell me to call another time.

Third, …

Next, …

Next, …

There are quite a few things that I have questions about.

I cannot afford an attorney or I would let one take care of this for me.

Can you give me any advice?

The above letter, which has been changed to protect identities, was actually sent to me. While I sympathize with the person sending it, it reveals many things you will want to avoid if you hope to win a lawsuit against a debt collector.

You Can’t Waste Vast Amounts of Time

First let me point out that this letter was sent on Friday night, six days before the date apparently set for trial. The lawsuit was filed last year, and this person received pretrial materials a month ago. You MUST NOT WAIT so long before taking action to protect yourself. The letter asks numerous significant questions – some of them good questions, incidentally – and the writer seems to think the answers will enable her to defend herself.

Debt Defense is a Process, not Magic Words or Questions

Debt defense is a process. As I have often explained, you want to get started early, so that the debt collector has plenty of opportunity to give up. Also, it takes time to ask for and get the facts you need, more to understand them, and yet more to make sure you can get the judge to understand. You can’t treat questions as a magical way to win the suit. Facts win suits, and you must do the work to show what the facts are.

It also takes time to learn the law and become familiar enough with it to use it.

This person wasted a solid year before looking for the easiest way out a few days before trial. At this stage, one might be able to get lucky. The debt collector might forget part of its case, might have weaknesses in it that one could show the judge and get him or her to understand. But more likely that the debt collector will be able to gloss over the weaknesses of the case, and the person sued will not have time to understand what’s happening or how to show what needs to be shown.

You can’t wait so long.

You Need to Understand, Not Get a List of Questions to Ask

One of the reasons you need to give yourself time for your case is that lawsuits and courts are different – they have different rules, different cases and precedents, and even different laws. You need to figure these out and learn how to apply them to your own case. Then, you must prepare for the things the debt collector is going to say to try to convince the judge to do something you don’t think he or she should. From the outside, court seems to go slowly. If you’re in it, it goes really fast, and it’s hard to know what to say. It’s hard to keep your head when things come up suddenly under pressure. The only way you can count on getting things right is to work on them before you’re in court.

If You’re Going to Ask for Help…

If you’re going to ask for help, you should carefully consider the situation of the person you’re asking.  You should be polite, and that would include addressing the person by name, using the word “please,” and other basic considerations. Sending a lengthy series of questions with a subject line “Need Answers…” is not considerate; doing it on Friday night with a deadline a few days later imposes too much.

Beyond that, though, is the whole question of what the person is doing. When I get a question, I’m usually willing to offer some help. If you have a lengthy series of questions that will take a considerable amount of time to address? That’s what our membership is for.

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.