Commentary

January 18, 2013

Legal Assistance Tip #13: Fair debt collection

Air Force photograph by Kenji Thuloweit

Millions of Americans carry some amount of debt, and people that fail to manage their debt appropriately face collection actions.

This can be an intimidating and overwhelming process, but knowing a little about the debt collection industry and federal law may help you through the process.

Debt collection in the United States is a multi-billion dollar industry.

Debt is bought and sold by collection agencies for pennies on the dollar. Debt buyers then use various methods to attempt to collect the debt.

Typically, if your debt is being pursued by a collection agency you can expect to receive letters and phone calls. These agencies, unlike the institution you actually had the debt with, oftentimes will have no historical information regarding the alleged debt.

Normally, an agent for a collections company will have the amount of the debt, the price their company purchased it for and a settlement range. Their ultimate goal is to collect an amount of the debt greater than the amount they paid for it.

When working with a collection agency there is some flexibility and room for negotiation. Since they likely did not pay full price for the debt they are trying to collect they can settle the debt at a price below what you actually owed.

In addition, they might be willing to create a payment plan. This allows them to meet their goal of collecting the debt and the installment payments may allow you to better handle paying it off. Remember, their ultimate goal is to collect an amount above what they paid for your debt. Usually, debt collection agencies will be willing to work with you because they would rather find a way to collect the debt than collect nothing.

In addition to knowing a little bit about the debt collection industry, knowing a little bit about federal law and the protections they afford you will also help you better manage the debt collection process.

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act offers some protection for consumers from abusive debt collection practices. This federal law broadly defines a consumer as any natural person and debt as any obligation for money, goods, or services incurred primarily for personal, family, or household purposes.

It prohibits collection calls during unusual or inconvenient times and places (calls between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. are allowed). It prohibits contact with a consumer represented by counsel. It prevents calls to your place of employment if they have reason to know calls are not allowed.

In addition, it stops debt collectors from contacting third parties like your friends and family (unless it is to obtain location information).

Most importantly, debt collectors cannot engage in conduct, which in nature, is to harass, oppress or abuse any person. This means no threats of violence or harming your property or reputation. It also means no abusive or obscene language and misusing the phone (constant ringing). These are just some of the protections offered by the act. It is important to know your rights and not let debt collection companies engage in illegal and abusive conduct.

 

If you are entitled to legal assistance (generally active duty, retirees and dependents with ID cards) and have a question about debt collection or any other personal, civil legal matter, the Base Legal Office is here to help.

 

For more information, contact the Base Legal Office at (661) 277-4310.

Legal assistance attorneys are available to assist eligible clients 10-11 a.m., Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and 3-4 p.m., Tuesdays and Thursdays. Paralegals can provide power of attorney and notary services 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Monday through Thursday, and 8 a.m.-1 p.m., Fridays. A will or power of attorney will be completed the same day a client walks-in. Expedite the process of getting a will, advance medical directive, health care power of attorney, or any other power of attorney drafted by utilizing the worksheets on the Air Force Legal Assistance website: https://aflegalassistance.law.af.mil/.

 

In addition to our walk-in services, the legal office now offers an additional way to expedite drafting a will. You may now schedule an appointment between 9 and 10 a.m., Fridays. to have your will pre-drafted. If you choose to use this process, an attorney will have your will drafted and ready for your review when you arrive for your appointment.

 




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