Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some initial questions many clients have when they first contact The Consumer Law Group, P.C.. The questions below can address many initial concerns you may have. If you don't find the answers here, you may contact us for answers to more complex questions or questions specific to your case.
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Who is a debt collector?
A debt collector is not the original creditor. It refers to anyone who regularly collects or tries to collect debts owed to others.
What laws protect me from abusive debt collectors or harassment from a debt collector?
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) protects consumers from deceptive, abusive and unfair debt collection practices.
Is it worth it for me to look into debt settlement for just one card?
Debt settlement can work for multiple unsecured debts or just one or two unsecured debts. We need to review your information before determining what can be done as every situation is different. The review of your financial situation is FREE. Call us at 804-282-7900.
How do creditors get paid with this program?
We will help you set up a special debt settlement account in your name. You will make payments into this account. As soon as there is enough funds, we will use that to negotiate a payment plan with your creditors.
Do I really need a debt settlement attorney?
Debtors who retain a debt settlement attorney are usually able to get lower balances to pay off and in a shorter amount of time. Also, attorneys know state and federal consumer legislation and will protect your consumer rights. The process can be complicated, and an experienced attorney can help settle your debts faster and with less hassle.
What types of debts can be settled with debt settlement?
Debt settlement applies to unsecured loans. These loans are credit card bills, both current and past, medical bills, repossesions and personal loans. Secured debts, which are student loans, car loans and mortgages cannot be settled with debt settlement.
How long does debt settlement take?
The debt settlement process time frame varies depending on your circumstances. It depends on the amount of your debt and how much you can pay per month. Negotiations can take several months, and it typically takes from 12 months to 36 months to pay off your reduced debt. Once again, the time frame can be longer or shorter depending on your situation.
What should I do if a debt collector contacts me?
You should gather and organize all the information you can about the debt, as well as the collection efforts of any past or current collectors who contacted you. The past correspondence provides important information about the kinds of charges and interest that have been added to the debt.
If you have copies of your credit reports, you will need those also. The credit reports contain the history of the debt, including the time it was incurred, when it was defaulted, and who may have collected it previously.
If you have any notes about the debt or any taped conversations, threatening letters, or any communication whatsoever with the collector, these can be extremely valuable in reconstructing the collection efforts and any abuse. Whenever you are contacted by a collector, you should note the date, time, person you are speaking to and the content of the call including any abusive language or threats. If at all possible, you should keep these notes together in one central spot. Keep a piece of paper near your telephone so you can keep a log of when the debt collector contacts you.
If you have any witnesses who can corroborate that you were abused, you should get a brief statement from that witness in their own words. These statements will help to refresh the witnesses' memories when you get to trial and provide information to your attorney.
What are my rights if a debt collector contacts me?
Federal and state laws give you rights against bill collector harassment. Collection agencies and debt collectors are required to provide you with a notice of your rights within 5 days of the first communication with you.
You have the right to demand that a debt collector cease communication. You just have to write a letter setting forth your demand. (See our Cease & Desist Letter.) If you notify the collector that you refuse to pay the debt, that notice also serves as a cease communications notice. In either event, the debt collector may no longer communicate with you except to notify you that he is exercising specific rights.
Debt collectors are prohibited from collecting debts that are not owed. You have the right to demand that the debt collector prove you owe the money. This process is known as "validation" of the debt. (See our Debt Validation Letter.) Debt collectors must notify you of this right, and if you request validation in writing within 30 days of receiving your notice of rights, the debt collector must either validate the debt to you or cease collection efforts.
What should I do if I think a debt collector has violated the law?
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prohibits debt collectors (not creditors) from engaging in abusive, deceptive, and unfair practices. The FDCPA does not apply to your original creditor. It regulates only debt collectors’ conduct. Before we can fully evaluate your situation, and thus determine if you have a valid claim, we would like you to print off the worksheet attached titled “Fair Debt Questionnaire.” Please fill out the questionnaire and fax it or to us at 804-673-0316.
Where do I report a debt collector for an alleged violation?
Report any problems you have with a debt collector to your state Attorney General’s office (www.naag.org) and the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov). Many states have their own debt collection laws that are different from the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Your Attorney General’s office can help you determine your rights under your state’s law.
What should I do if a debt collector sues me?
If a debt collector files a lawsuit against you to collect a debt, respond to the lawsuit, either personally or through your lawyer, by the date specified in the court papers to preserve your rights. If you dispute the debt or the amount, advise the debt collector of this. You should appear in court and advise the court that it is disputed and argue your case. Make sure you bring all corresponding paperwork to back up your claim.
Do I have any recourse if I think a debt collector has violated the law?
You have the right to sue a collector in a state or federal court within one year from the date the law was violated. If you win, the judge can require the collector to pay you for any damages you can prove you suffered because of the illegal collection practices, like lost wages and medical bills. The judge can require the debt collector to pay you up to $1,000, even if you can’t prove that you suffered actual damages. You also can be reimbursed for your attorney’s fees and court costs. A group of people also may sue a debt collector as part of a class action lawsuit and recover money for damages up to $500,000, or one percent of the collector’s net worth, whichever amount is lower. Even if a debt collector violates the FDCPA in trying to collect a debt, the debt does not go away if you owe it.
If you feel like a debt collector has violated the law in reference to your situation, please fill out our Free Fair Debt Questionnaire.
Can federal benefits be garnished?
Many federal benefits are exempt from garnishment, including:
Social Security Benefits
Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits
Civil Service and Federal Retirement and Disability Benefits
Service Members’ Pay
Military Annuities and Survivors’ Benefits
Railroad Retirement Benefits
Merchant Seamen Wages
Longshoremen’s and Harbor Workers’ Death and Disability Benefits
Foreign Service Retirement and Disability Benefits
Compensation for Injury, Death, or Detention of Employees of U.S. Contractors Outside the U.S.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Federal Disaster Assistance
But federal benefits may be garnished under certain circumstances, including to pay delinquent taxes, alimony, child support, or student loans.
Make sure these exempt funds are in a separate bank account. If they are co-mingled with non-exempt funds, they lose their "exempt" status.
Can I control which debts my payments apply to?
Yes. If a debt collector is trying to collect more than one debt from you, the debt collector must apply any payment you make to the debt you select. But, what is equally important, a debt collector may not apply a payment to a debt you don’t think you owe or to a debt that you dispute.
Can a debt collector garnish my bank account or my wages?
If you don’t pay a debt, a creditor or its debt collector generally can sue you to collect. If they win, the court will enter a judgment against you. The judgment states the amount of money you owe, and allows the creditor or collector to get a garnishment order against you, directing a third party, like your bank, to turn over funds from your account to pay the debt.
Wage garnishment happens when your employer withholds part of your compensation to pay your debts. Your wages usually can be garnished only as the result of a court order. Don’t ignore a lawsuit summons. If you do, you lose the opportunity to fight a wage garnishment. The maximum amount that can be garnished is 25% of your net pay.
Ask your bank or employer for copies of the garnishment papers. Contact the court on the garnishment papers and ask them for copies of their paperwork. You should also ask how the lawsuit was served on you.
What practices are off limits for debt collectors?
Harassment. Debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse you or any third parties they contact. For example, they may not:
- use threats of violence or harm;
- publish a list of names of people who refuse to pay their debts (but they can give this information to the credit reporting companies);
- use obscene or profane language; or
- repeatedly use the phone to annoy someone.
False statements. Debt collectors may not lie when they are trying to collect a debt. For example, they may not:
- falsely claim that they are attorneys or government representatives;
- falsely claim that you have committed a crime;
- falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit reporting company;
- misrepresent the amount you owe;
- indicate that papers they send you are legal forms if they aren’t; or
- indicate that papers they send to you aren’t legal forms if they are.
Debt collectors also are prohibited from saying that:
- you will be arrested if you don’t pay your debt;
- they’ll seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages unless they are permitted by law to take the action and intend to do so; or
- legal action will be taken against you, if doing so would be illegal or if they don’t intend to take the action.
Debt collectors may not:
- give false credit information about you to anyone, including a credit reporting company;
- send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency if it isn’t; or
- use a false company name.
Unfair practices. Debt collectors may not engage in unfair practices when they try to collect a debt. For example, they may not:
- try to collect any interest, fee, or other charge on top of the amount you owe unless the contract that created your debt (or your state law) allows the charge;
- deposit a post-dated check early;
- take or threaten to take your property unless it can be done legally; or
- contact you by postcard.
Please fill out our Free Fair Debt Case Review if you feel the debt collector has violated the law.
Can a debt collector keep contacting me if I dont think I owe any money?
If you send the debt collector a letter stating that you don’t owe any or all of the money or asking for verification of the debt, that collector must stop contacting you. You have to send that letter within 30 days after the debt collector first contacts you, either by phone or by letter as the first contact. But a collector can begin contacting you again if it sends you written verification of the debt, like a copy of a bill for the amount you owe. (See our Letter for Debt Validation)
What does the debt collector have to tell me about the debt?
Every collector must send you a written "validation notice" telling you how much money you owe within five days after they first contact you. This notice also must include the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money, and how to proceed if you don’t think you owe the money. (See Debt Validation Letter)
Can a debt collector contact anyone else about my debt?
If an attorney is representing you about the debt, the debt collector must contact the attorney, rather than you. If you don’t have an attorney, a collector may contact other people – but only to find out your address, your home phone number, and where you work. Collectors usually are prohibited from contacting third parties more than once. Other than to obtain this location information about you, a debt collector generally is not permitted to discuss your debt with anyone other than you, your spouse, or your attorney. The debt collector cannot disclose the call is about a debt.