5 tips for negotiating a settlement with a debt collector

October 27, 2011 by Todd Murray · Leave a Comment 

1.  If possible, negotiate a lump sum settlement. The best way to get a good deal from a debt collector is to offer a lump sum settlement. Debt collectors usually have blanket authority to settle debts for between 40% and 80% of the full balance if you pay the settlement in a one-time payment. If you’re unable to afford a lump sum payment, the debt collector usually has the authority to agree to smaller monthly payments, often over a couple of years. But in exchange for the flexibility of a low monthly payment, you’re probably going to have to pay the full account balance.

2.  The last day of a month is the best day to get a great deal. Debt collectors have monthly goals that they must meet and there are significant consequences if they don’t meet those goals. If a collector is short of their goal on the last day of the month, they may be willing to accept a lower settlement amount than they normally would. To take advantage of this, however, you’ll probably have to make the settlement payment that day. So plan accordingly.

3.  Insist that the debt collector confirms any agreement in writing, before sending them any money. Once you’ve reached a verbal agreement with the collector, ask them to send you confirmation of the agreement in writing before turning over your money. Read the agreement carefully to be sure that it actually contains the terms that you agreed to. Any reputable debt collector will be willing to confirm a payment arrangement in writing, so be wary of one who won’t.

4.  Keep a record of your payment. If you’re paying with a personal check, get a copy of the canceled check from your bank. If you’re paying with a money order or cashier’s check, make a copy of the check and either note the date that you mailed it or, better yet, use certified mail. If you pay in cash or make the payment in person, be sure to get a receipt. Along with the collector’s written confirmation, your proof of payment may be needed in the future to prove that you settled the account.

5.  Be sure to get the proper follow-up documents. The appropriate follow-up documents vary depending on what point in the legal process you are when you settle the debt:

  • If you settle the debt before you get sued, the collector’s written confirmation of the agreement, plus your proof of payment, should be sufficient.
  • If you settle the account after you’ve been sued, but before a judgment is entered, the collector should send you (and the court if the case has been filed) a dismissal WITH prejudice. A dismissal with prejudice means that the claim is fully resolved and can’t be brought against you again. Don’t accept a dismissal without prejudice if you’ve settled the account in full because there’s a possibility that you could get sued again for the same claim.
  • If you settle the account after you’ve been sued and after a judgment has been entered, the collector should send you and the court a satisfaction of judgment. And if your wages were being garnished at the time you settled the account, the debt collector should quash the garnishment.

How to respond to a debt collector’s request for admissions

January 25, 2011 by Todd Murray · Leave a Comment 

A favorite litigation tactic used by debt collectors is to serve an unsuspecting consumer with requests for admission. These are typically a series of statements that you are asked to admit or deny. In other forms of litigation, admissions are typically used to figure out what facts are disputed in the case. But debt collectors don’t use requests for admission to learn more about what facts you dispute. In fact, they could probably care less about your answers to the admissions and would prefer that you didn’t answer them at all.

284894404_cef7f3e0471Why? Because if you don’t answer the admissions within 30 days, every statement in them is then considered to be true. So debt collectors structure them in a way that if you don’t answer, you’ve admitted each element of their case. And debt collectors are well-aware that the majority of people will not answer the admissions because they don’t understand the serious consequences of not doing so.

This is just another example of debt collectors using a court rule for something other than its intended purpose. I’ve seen debt collectors ask judges to rule in their favor based only on the consumer’s failure to respond to the requests for admission. They didn’t produce any billing statements, applications, terms and conditions–any evidence. And though I suspect that most judges know exactly what the debt collector is up to, their hands are tied to a certain degree by the court rules.

So the lesson here is to respond to every request for admission within 30 days. You only have to admit the statement if you know for a fact that its true. For example, if the statement asks you to admit having a credit card with a specific 16-digit account number, unless you know for sure that is your account number, you can probably deny the request. Of course, if you have copies of your billing statements with that account number on them, you’ll probably have to admit that request.

If you live in Minnesota and want help responding to a debt collector’s discovery requests, feel free to contact me by using the contact form in the upper right corner of this page. I offer a number of flexible representation options, so even if you can only afford to pay a few hundred dollars, I might be able to help you.

(photo: David Micheal Morris)

Can a debt collector call my family and friends about my debt?

January 11, 2011 by Todd Murray · Leave a Comment 

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from calling third-parties, such as family members or friends, about your debts. In passing the FDCPA, Congress recognized your right to privacy in your finances. There’s one very limited exception to this rule, though. Debt collectors may contact third-parties to find your address or phone number. Once he has this information, however, the debt collector can’t contact the third-party again. And during his conversation with the third-party, the debt collector can’t tell the third party that you owe a debt, can’t discuss the details of your debt, and can only identify himself and his company if asked.

Although it violates the FDCPA, many debt collectors use this tactic because it’s profitable. If you’re like most people, you’re understandably embarrassed by not being able to make ends meet. It’s stressful enough to suffer this embarrassment privately. But when a debt collector tells your friend or family member that you aren’t paying your bills, your private embarrassment quickly turns into semi-public humiliation. Debt collectors know this and use the third-party calls to put pressure on you to make a payment. Debt collectors also know that most consumers don’t know about their rights under the FDCPA, so there is little chance that the consumer will do anything about the illegal third party calls. Rather than paying the debt collector to make the third party calls stop, it may be best to discuss your situation with a consumer lawyer. Paying the shady debt collector will only encourage him to keep breaking the law. But a consumer lawyer can help you hold the debt collector accountable by bringing a FDCPA lawsuit on your behalf. After being sued for violating the FDCPA, most debt collectors will think twice about violating it again.

If you’re dealing with debt collectors, make sure to download and use my free debt collection call log so that you can document all of the debt collectors’ communications. And if the debt collector does anything that you think was unfair; untrue; or harassing, oppressive, or abusive, please contact me to discuss the situation further. I offer a free case review for all FDCPA cases and if I agree to handle your case, you won’t have to pay me any money up front. My fees come from the money I recover from you if you win your case or accept a negotiated settlement.

(photo: JonJon2k8)

Can a debt collector call my parents about my debt?

January 4, 2011 by Todd Murray · Leave a Comment 

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, debt collectors can only communicate with you or your attorney about your debt. There’s a very narrow exception that allows debt collectors to contact third parties, such as your parents, but only to obtain location information. Location information means your address and telephone number. During this conversation, the debt collector must tell your parents that he is attempting to confirm your location information, he can’t tell them that you owe a debt, and he is only allowed to identify his employer if asked. Of course, your parents have no obligation to give the debt collector your address and telephone number. And once the debt collector has your location information, there is no permissible reason under the FDCPA to contact your parents, or any third party for that matter. In other words, if you’ve already talked to a debt collector and he knows how to contact you, it’s a violation of the FDCPA for him to call a third party because he already knows your location information.

It’s fairly common for debt collectors to contact people’s parents about their debt. And it’s not just college students and recent college graduates. I’ve had clients in their 40’s and 50’s whose elderly parents were called by debt collectors. I suppose it’s possible that some debt collectors contact consumers’ parents by mistake. But I also think that some debt collectors call people’s parents as a collection tactic to put pressure on the consumer to pay the debt. Either way, its a violation of the FDCPA, unless it falls under the very narrow “location information” exception described above.

If you’re dealing with debt collectors, make sure to download and use my free debt collection call log so that you can document all of the debt collectors’ communications. And if the debt collector does anything that you think was unfair; untrue; or harassing, oppressive, or abusive, please contact me to discuss the situation further. I offer a free case review for all FDCPA cases and if I agree to handle your case, you won’t have to pay me any money up front. My fees come from the money I recover from you if you win your case or accept a negotiated settlement.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/randya38/3151772326/

Can a debt collector call me at work?

March 17, 2010 by Todd Murray · Leave a Comment 

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a debt collector can’t call you at work if they know or should know that your employer prohibits you from receiving calls at work. The issues under this section are whether your employer prohibits personal calls at work and whether the collector knows about those provisions. Generally, if you tell the collector that you can’t take calls at work, that is enough to put them on notice. And some jobs–such as manufacturing, health care, and teaching–so obviously do not permit the employee to take personal calls at work that a debt collector should know that calls are prohibited without being told.

Other parts of the FDCPA, while not specifically related to collection calls at work, may also protect your job. For example, a debt collector can’t call you at inconvenient times or places. For many people, this includes their workplace. And you always have the right under the FDCPA to tell the debt collector to cease all contact with you, whether at your job or otherwise. It’s also important to note that a debt collector can’t call your co-workers or boss about your debt, except for location information in some situations.

If you live in Minnesota and want to stop the harassing debt collection calls at work, feel free to contact me for a free case evaluation.

If you’re dealing with debt collectors, make sure to download and use my free debt collection call log so that you can document all of the debt collectors’ communications. And if the debt collector does anything that you think was unfair; untrue; or harassing, oppressive, or abusive, please contact me to discuss the situation further. I offer a free case review for all FDCPA cases and if I agree to handle your case, you won’t have to pay me any money up front. My fees come from the money I recover from you if you win your case or accept a negotiated settlement.

(phote: Apreche)