Part of being a lawyer who practices in the Susquehanna Valley all the way to the Lehigh Valley involves driving.  A lot of driving.  York, where my main office is located, is an hour and a half to my other office in Allentown on a good day, and you all know how rare good traffic days are lately.

Fortunately, I have a satellite radio in my car and one of my guilty pleasures is the Blue Collar Comedy Station (Sirius/XM station 97).  It keeps me laughing when I’m wishing I had a rocket launcher on the hood of my Kia.

military_rocket_launcher_truck_by_reika7

The other day I heard comedian Don Friesen for the first time.  His bit, “You got the money?” had me laughing.  Don suggested doing things that have crossed my mind when dealing with debt collectors, something that I do every day for my clients.  His perspective, though, was that of a debtor and not a debtor’s attorney with a big mallet to whack misbehaving debt collectors.

The bit is truly hilarious, and there is a link to it right here.

The first thing Don mentioned is that the collection agencies intimidated him, as if they worked for the mob.  Don’t let them intimidate you!  There is a specific set of laws called
the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) that debt collectors must follow or they will be subjected to civil penalties that start at $1000 per violation (if you think you have been harassed by a debt collector, please email jim@padebt911.com and we can discuss it further) plus attorneys fees and court costs.  Acting like a dirtbag can sometimes cost the debt collector more than the balance they are trying to collect, don’t let the debt collectors intimidate you, they are bullies behind a telephone, not the mob.  

phone-angry1The next thing that pops up is that the debt collector spoke with Don and then said they’d call back in an hour.  Unless you give the debt collector permission, such as offering a call back time, a debt collector is only allowed one contact per day.  It is a grey area whether or not a voice-mail is considered contact, but in this scenario, the debt collector called and asked if Don had the money, then told him they would call back in an hour but called back in 10 minutes.  What could have changed in 10 minutes?

If a debt collector says they are going to call back in an hour, you should explicitly tell them not to call back the rest of the day, if you don’t, they may be able to get around the one contact per day policy.  This is another grey area, I think it is a violation of the FDCPA to bully a consumer by telling them you are going to call back in an hour rather than ask permission, but there is certainly room for debate on that one.

The next question the debt collector asks is “can you borrow it from someone.”  I don’t ever recommend borrowing from Peter to pay Paul.  Let’s face it, owing anyone money sucks, I’d rather owe money to Mastercard than mom.  You can hang up on Mastercard, how did it go the last time you hung up on your mom? (For the record my mother is Italian, and I’m not saying Italian mothers are world-class experts at guilt, but I’m not not saying it either.)  Did you not regret it in under 30 seconds and call her back and apologize profusely?  I didn’t feel bad hanging up on Pete from Comcast the other day (and you were in India, not Indiana, do you think I’m stupid?).  Don’t borrow money to pay a debt, it would be like cutting the top of a blanket off and sewing it to the bottom in an attempt to make the blanket longer.  Asking you to borrow money to pay a balance is a favorite tactic of debt collectors, don’t get suckered into it.

A bit later into the bit, Don puts the debt collector on speaker-phone so his roommate can hear.  If you put the phone on speakerphone or allow a debt collector to speak to someone else about the account, that is fine, but if the debt collector speaks to a third party about your account without your permission, they have violated the FDCPA.  There is a possible exception about speaking to your spouse, but if a debt collector called my wife looking for me and mentioned that I was behind on a bill, that would tick me off.  I call that harassment, because they are setting me up to hear about it for eternity (I’m not really qualified to give marital advice, so don’t ask, but I can tell you what not to do.)  I don’t get these calls personally at this point in my life, but if it ever happened and they called my wife and disclosed information, they would have a lawsuit that would cause their eyes to bleed just by reading it.  If you give your roommate, spouse, dog the telephone and the debt collector discloses information, they are in the clear, but if they do it without your permission, that is an FDCPA violation.

Rats

Further along, Don pulls his credit report and lo and behold, its in rough shape.  He comments that even if he could he isn’t paying them now, he’s just going bankrupt.  Going bankrupt is a big decision, and a bad credit report usually isn’t a good enough reason in and of itself to file bankruptcy.  (For more information on what to think about when considering bankruptcy, click here).

Close to the end, Don joked that he got so mad at one guy he wrote him a check for nothing.  He probably was OK doing this, but tendering any payment can revive a time-barred debt, so be careful that your joke doesn’t revive an old account.  In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations on debt is four years, which means if there hasn’t been a payment for fourt years, the creditor loses the right to sue to collect the account, but there is a dirty tactic that is being employed by debt-buyers.  They will call a debtor and say that for as little of a payment of $5, they can keep the account from going to the legal department.  What the debtor doesn’t know that the debt is already time-barred, and by making that $5 payment, they have revived the debt.

If even the tiniest payment is made on a time-barred account, it restarts the statute of limitations timer to four years, even if the first timer had run out.  

Sending a check for $0 or even a penny might seem like sweet revenge, but that revenge might cost you.

If you find yourself getting calls from debt collectors and it seems overwhelming, you don’t have to deal with them alone, call the Allentown office at 610-928-1233 or the York office at 717-855-2309 or email jim@padebt911.com for a free consultation.   You don’t have to do this alone.  

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Recently I had a client come into my York, PA office with a credit card lawsuit.  He had been sued for a credit card that he stopped paying on a little more than three years ago.  Thirty-eight months to be exact.

In PennsylvaniaPast Due Bill, the statute of limitations on debt is four years (42 Pa. C.S. 5525(a)), and the complaint was served with a copy of the signed credit card agreement (I hadn’t seen a hard-signed agreement in years).  

My client thought he was sunk.  There were a couple of problems with this.  First of all, it wasn’t the original credit card, Aria, suing him.  Secondly, the contract was very difficult to read, with most of it in four-point font.  Always check the fine print!

The first thing I looked at was the sales agreement from Aria to the debt-buyer.  The agreement was proper and unlike a lot of other agreements, it actually indicated the account number as one of the accounts sold.  There was no debate that the account had been properly sold to the debt buyer.

These guys are getting better, I thought as I got a magnifying glass out to read the agreement.  I was looking for a choice of law clause which is a tactic that I have used in court before.  

Most of the time, the choice of law clause indicates that South Dakota or Ohio law is the body of law that governs the credit card agreement, but on this particular Aria credit card, the law of the Commonwealth of Virginia is what governs the agreement.Game Over

Virginia’s statute of limitations on debt is three years, so if Virginia’s law is applied, the debt is time-barred.

So did the judge buy it?  Yes, the judge bought that argument and the case was dismissed.  Sometimes the fine print works in the consumer’s favor.  Most of the time it doesn’t though, so if you find yourself being sued by a debt-buyer or a credit card company, feel free to email me at jim@padebt911.com or call 610-928-1233 for a free consultation.

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Debt Collectors Make New Year’s Resolutions Too and It Could Cost You Your Tax Refund!

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Another year has come and gone.  It is time for reflection and for some, a time of redemption, but for most it is a time of resolutions. This is the year I’m finally going to lose forty pounds.  This is the year I’m finally going to learn to speak Klingon.  This is the year I’m […]

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