Minnesota debt collection defense attorney John Rossman wrote this breathless warning for debt collectors for InsideARM:
An army of Debtors—fully equipped with scripts drafted by consumer attorneys and recording devices—are using their telephones as weapons to wage war on unsuspecting Debt Collectors across our nation.
Rossman warns debt collectors that consumers are trying to “entrap” collectors and “trick” them into violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by asking the following questions:
Payoff amount is how much you would actually have to pay to satisfy the debt. It is not the same thing as the current balance that shows up on your statement, but is not necessarily the amount you owe. This is not obvious, but the difference between current balance and payoff amount is crucial when you are ready to pay off a debt.
Current balance means the amount you owe as of the date of the statement. As of the day after the statement, you owe more. In other words, if you are trying to pay off a credit card, and the statement says your balance is $514, you may not be able to bring your balance to zero by writing a check for $514. Instead, you would need to contact the lender to find out your payoff amount.
The payoff amount is really just a more-current balance number. But if you are trying to eliminate a debt, you need to pay it all off. If you just pay the current balance, you may be left with a few cents or dollars left in the account. Over time, that could become more than an irritation; it could become a significant obstacle to eliminating your debt.
So before you pay off a debt, call the lender to find out exactly how much you owe, and how much it will take to pay the debt off, in full.
This article is a list of defenses that do not work. If you would rather find out what you should do, click over to “Served By a Debt Collector? What To Do Next“.
When I worked as a collection attorney, I handled many debt collection lawsuits, and I saw the same erroneous defenses over and over again. Here are some of the most common defenses I heard:
Often, the spouse who agreed to assume the credit card debt has a hard time paying it off, which lands the exes back together in collection. Debt collectors can continue to collect from both of the names on the account, regardless of what the divorce decree says.
To prevent marital debts from haunting you after divorce, be proactive. Whoever agrees to assume the debts should get a consolidation loan in his or her name only. If possible, do this before finalizing the divorce decree. If that won’t work, get your name off any account your ex has agreed to pay. Tell the banks your ex has agreed to be liable, and demand that they remove your name from the account. Do this in writing, and before the card goes into default.
If all else fails, close the account. That way, at a minimum, you can be assured that your ex cannot continue using the card and making the debt worse.
Getting rejected sucks, but at least in the future you will know why, which means you can work to fix the problem.
I realized that if someone owes one person money, they owe a lot more people money and they really aren’t deserving of such harsh treatment.
One particularly hard story comes from Bob Cook, who called a debtor to repossess his mobile home around Christmas time. Cook says he tried to be nice, but the debtor “winded up going home and shooting himself. I quit after that.”
Done properly or not, collecting debts takes a toll on collectors and debtors alike.
LifeLock has had its troubles, but its main tool—putting a fraud alert on your account every 90 days—does not hurt your credit score. It does, however, make it more difficult to get credit, because lenders have to jump through more hoops before approving a credit application.
So if you are not planning to try to obtain credit in the next 90 days, go ahead and use a fraud alert. Otherwise, know that placing a fraud alert on your credit files will make it more difficult to get credit.
If this has you worried, read How to Avoid Ending Up in Jail for Debt!
Consumerist picked up on the article about debtors being thrown in jail, and a surprising (to me, anyway) number of commenters chimed in to support the debt collectors. For example, one commenter wrote
Not paying your debt = stealing. For stealing you go to jail. I am on the side of the little man, but there is no excuse to run up a debt and then simply choose not to pay it.
Thanks to Congress passing the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, the ads should be a more clear in the future. FreeCreditReport will now have large disclosure ads on their website that say something like “You have the right to a free credit report from AnnualCreditReport.com . . . the only authorized source under federal law . . . .”