Getting contacted and bombarded by debt collectors can be a scary, stressful, and overwhelming experience. Debt collection letters often demand large sums of money, come from a company that you have never heard of, and have lots of technical language that may be difficult to understand. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take, and some information you can use, to successfully navigate this process.
Verify the Debt in Writing
It’s your right to require the debt collector to validate the debt they are attempting to collect. After all, it’s them claiming that you owe money! To be enforceable, your validation request must be made, in writing, within 30 days of receiving a debt validation notice.
A debt validation notice will include language that if you write to dispute the debt or request more information within 30 days, the debt collector will verify the debt by mail. In your letter to the debt collector, ask for the following:
- The name of the original creditor for whom the debt collector is working;
- What the debt is for and when it was created; and
- The amount of the debt, including interest rates
Again, this letter is time sensitive. If you do not send this letter within 30 days, the debt collector is not obligated to respond to your verification letter. If you do properly request verification, federal law requires the debt collector must cease collection activity until they properly validate your debt.
Don’t Put Your Head in the Sand
A major mistake many consumers make when facing debt collection is that they ignore the communications from the debt collector and don’t respond to any of their correspondence. This is a bad idea for several reasons: (1) it waives your right to validate the debt; (2) delaying communication only increases the amount of money you’re paying in interest and fees; and (3) you lose valuable opportunities to negotiate a payment plan.
Debt collection companies are like other companies: they’re incentivized to resolve issues as quickly and efficiently as possible. Many debt collection companies will take lump sum payments for less than the amount owed, and they’re often amicable to a payment plan if a lump sum doesn’t suit your current financial situation.
Not engaging the debt collector and attempting to reach a resolution can lead to missed opportunities and more expensive and credit damaging problems. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing your debt collection matter with the collector itself, we recommend retaining a licensed attorney to do so for you. If you’re afraid you can’t afford an attorney, there are many social programs available that provide legal work for the less fortunate.
Beware of Debt Consolidation Scams
Some consumers with lots of debt collection activity may consider employing a debt consolidation service to help manage their payments. These companies advertise that you make one payment to them, and they disburse the payment to all your creditors. They handle negotiations, settlements, and everything in between, of course for a fee.
These companies often run afoul of Ohio law. The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that corporations that advise and counsel consumers, negotiate and draft settlement agreements on behalf of consumers, and advising consumers on the extent and enforceability of those settlement agreements is the practice of law. Corporations cannot practice law; therefore, any debt consolidation company that provides these services on behalf of consumers is engaging in the unauthorized practice of law.
The Supreme Court has also ruled that lawyers cannot work through these entities if a nonlawyer owner or office can control the lawyer’s judgment. Therefore, Lardiere McNair recommends that you retain licensed legal counsel through reputable law firms, not large corporations, to assist in your debt collection matter.
If you’re sent a debt collection notice and are uncertain how to handle moving forward, be proactive about reaching a resolution. Lardiere McNair has attorneys capable of helping you navigate this difficult process and can be a tool in your debt collection matter.