Tag Archives: pro se

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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

Partial Payment to Debt Collectors a Terrible Idea

partial payment can destroy your rights
Never Make a Partial Payment

Making Partial Payment Can Kill Your Right to Defend

Partial payment can seem like such a good way to make a debt collector go away, but don’t do it.

Debt collectors love getting people to make “partial payments” on debts – on any debts, but especially old ones. It isn’t just that they want some money, any money. If you give them the money you will probably be subjecting yourself to a lot of problems. And that is especially true if the debt is very old, even if it is beyond statutes of limitations.

Partial Payments Revive Dead Debts

If your debt is beyond the statute of limitations – that is, if it is too late for the debt collector to sue you – making a partial payment will revive the debt and start the life of the debt again. This is because of an odd thing about the law – it distinguishes between the life of the debt (forever unless paid) and enforceability of a debt (the right to sue to collect, controlled by statutes of limitations). To put that into plain English, the law regards a debt as continuing to exist until it is either paid or excused in some way even if it is long past the statute of limitations. And this little bit of B.S. allows for all kinds of unethical mischief by debt collectors.

It allows debt collectors in some jurisdictions to raid bankruptcy claims even though the debts would be illegal to try to collect, and it allows for the revival of debts by a debtor making a simple mistake. If you offer a gift, for example, that promise is not enforceable because there is nothing paid for it. Giving a debt collector partial payment will put you back on the hook for the entire amount.

Unless you make a signed written agreement that you are settling the claim for the amount paid, partial payments are a terrible idea. But of course what the debt collectors tell you is that you can pay a little now and then a little later if you get a chance. Wrong. Make that payment and they’ll be after you as hard as they can go.

Partial Payments Restart the Clock

Similarly, if the debt is old and you make a payment, it restarts the statute of limitations. I do not think it should do that if the payment does not, at least, take the debt out of default, but the courts haven’t listened to me on that one. Make a payment on an old debt and, voila, you have a new debt.

Don’t Pay Unless You Have a Plan

So with all that in mind, what do you do? I would suggest that there’s never a moral reason to pay a debt collector – it’s like feeding rats, and do you really want them to multiply? But there could be times when you might want to either for moral or practical reasons. If so, you must know what you’re doing. Your payment will revive the debt. Do you know how you will pay it? Do you have a reason to pay the whole thing? I would be extremely cautious in this as you are subjecting yourself to liability to a group of people more willing to destroy you than almost any other group.

I’d say don’t do it 99.99% of the time.

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.

 

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

 

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.

 

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

 

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

 

Help Evaluating Your Situation

Get Some Help Dealing with Debt Collectors
Get Some Help Dealing with Debt Collectors

Many visitors to our site are facing dramatic new situations:

  1. You may have just found out you’re being sued; or
  2. You have either received a debt collection letter or some other “threat.”

We can help. We can take a look at your situation and the material you were sent – whether it’s a letter or a lawsuit – and give you a roadmap of what to do. It isn’t legal advice, but think of it as a sort of “guided tour” of where you need to go and what you need to do. It will save you a lot of time, wasted energy, and anxiety. And you’ll come out of it with a good idea of what you’ll need to do to set things straight.

Being Sued?

If you are being sued, we can help you get oriented to the case. People ask us all the time whether they should file a motion to dismiss or Answer, and whether or not there are any potential counterclaims to the lawsuit. If those are the sorts of questions YOU have, this is a way to get a head start on figuring out the answers.

Being Harassed or Called or “Dunned”

But what if you aren’t being sued and have just received a phone call or two, or letter?  We do have a lot of information on the site to help you evaluate your situation yourself and figure out how to protect your rights, but if you’d like something a little more specific, you can now use this service, too.

Get Help

We have products and information you will need in the earlier stages of debt problems. The most important thing to remember is this: anything you do that makes it easier for them to sue and win also makes it more likely that they WILL sue you. What does that mean? It means that if you admit owing the debt, having made payments or anything like that, and if you tell them where you work or bank, you make it more likely you will be sued. You might think you are being “responsible” and appropriately cooperative, but it works differently in law and debt.

You will find materials on site that will help you navigate this stage of the problem, but if you want some more specific guidance on what to do given the things they are telling and send you, this product is for you.

If You Need Help

If you need one of these services, just click on this link and select the service you need. Note that clicking on the link will take you to our “home” site, Your Legal Leg Up. If you need a “rush” job (service in under 72 hours), be sure to go to the products page and order that as well. You will be given instructions with your receipt on what to send and how to do it – we will need images of the documents you have received as well as answers to certain questions. After you give us that information, we will have an analysis back to you within 72 hours (three days). If you need faster than that, you can order the “rush” service, although we do ask that you NOT do this unless you need it.

Verification or Validation – Using Both FDCPA and FCRA to Protect Your Rights

A smart person disputes and requires verification
A smart person disputes and requires verification

Verification under the FDCPA and FCRA – Use Both to Protect Your Rights

Three are two kinds of verification. Knowing and using them both can help protect your rights. Both the FDCPA and the Credit Reporting Act give you rights of verification. They are different, though, and you can use both. You probably should.

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. What we have usually meant 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, in defending yourself from the debt collectors and in repairing your credit.

Verification under FDCPA and FCRA are Different

The two kinds of verification are different rights. They apply in different circumstances, to possibly different “persons” under different circumstances. They also 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 you need to make sure that the response you get is appropriate for the specific right you invoke.

Rights under the FDCPA

Under the FDCPA, when a debt collector first contacts you it is required by law to notify you of your right to dispute the debt and require “validation.”  The two words (validation and verification) are used interchangeably, and the requirement is quite simple in general.

  • First, the debt collector must notify you within five days of your right to dispute within 30 days. It must also give the “mini-Miranda” warning – that anything you say may be used for collection of a debt.
  • 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. However, 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. 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 for the debt collector. 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. You can still can use it to fight debt collectors, thought. It is the validation provided for by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

This is your right to “dispute” a harmful 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 the Credit Reporting Act 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 telling credit reporting agencies is true.

What FCRA Accomplishes

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, so that may be good for you. 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. If the debt collector does not verify under the FCRA,  you can clear your credit report.

FCRA Dispute May be Helpful to Debt Defense

If a debt collector  DOES try to validate, it will probably give you information that it would object to having to provide in a law suit. So it’s a shortcut to some discovery in that situation.

Using FDCPA and FCRA

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.