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DON'T BE HAMMERED BY YOUR DEBT

DON'T BE HAMMERED BY YOUR DEBT

Friday, November 16, 2007

THE TOUGHEST DEBT TO COLLECT - THE SELF-EMPLOYED DEBTOR

The most difficult debt to collect is the one owed by the self-employed debtor. Typically these are middle-income individuals who own their own small business, for example a general contractor, plumber, or beautician. These individuals tend to consider themselves judgment proof and that mentality is reinforced by the economic nature of their employment. They are well experienced in dealing with cash flow problems and pay all of their bills when they are flush with cash and pay none of their bills when they have no cash. They are typically not intimidated by having past due bills and are for the most part, are immune from typical judgment collection activities. The main reason that they are immune or consider themselves immune is that a standard garnishment on the employer, either themselves or the business that they own and run, results in no cash. They will typically answer the garnishment that the business either makes no money, if it’s a garnishment on the business itself or if it’s a garnishment on the owner, that he takes no salary from the business. However, there are several effective methods for collecting debts from a self-employed debtor.

First, you can garnish the cash draw. This simply means issuing a Writ of Garnishment, which is a court order authorizing the Sheriff or Law Enforcement Official to go to the business and seize any money found at the business. The garnishment may be issued for the cash draw and/or the cash register and/or any money found on the person of the business owner. The Writ of Garnishment for the cash draw will not typically result in the collection of enough cash to satisfy the debt. However, it does not take this occurring more than once or twice before the self-employed debtor will contact you and make arrangements for satisfaction of the debt.

A second effective method of collecting from the self-employed debtor is a Writ of Execution or Attachment on the work vehicle and tools of the business or business owner. Again, this is a court order issued by the court directing the Sheriff to go to the place of business and seize certain physical assets of the business. I typically file Writs of Execution for the vehicles and for the tools of the trade of that business. For example, for a plumber, the Writ of Execution would specify the work truck and all of the plumbing tools found on the premises. Again, auction of these items on the courthouse steps, will not typically generate sufficient cash to satisfy the outstanding judgment. However, before you can proceed to auction, I guarantee you will be contacted by the self-employed debtor seeking arrangements for satisfaction of the debt and return of his vehicle and tools.

A third effective method for collection of a debt from a self-employed debtor is the issuance of a Subpoena in Aid of Execution. A subpoena is a court order requiring a person to appear at a given place and time and give sword testimony. I subpoena the self-employed debtor to my office to give a post-judgment deposition regarding his or her assets, the business assets and include in the subpoena a requirement that they present the tax returns that they have filed for the previous five (5) years, copies of all bank statements, for all checking, savings accounts they and the business have, copy of any retirement account information and copy of any business records they have. The tax returns can be invaluable, especially when you discover that a self-employed debtor has not filed taxes for a given year or years. During the deposition, my primary focus is asking the self-employed debtor about current work they are performing and who those clients are and how much they are owed. I then issue a Writ of Garnishment the same day to those clients. This requires the people who owe the self-employed debtor money for work he has performed to pay that money into the registry of the court. In this case, this leaves the self-employed debtor performing work and not getting paid for it. Again, these Writs of Garnishment typically do not generate enough cash to satisfy the judgment, but get the attention of the debtor to the point that he or she will do practically anything to satisfy the judgment.

Collecting a debt from self-employed debtors is difficult. It requires going the extra mile and thinking creatively and uniquely. However, if a debt collection attorney is willing to go the extra mile, these debts can be collected.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

INTERNET DEBT MYTHS

The explosion of the internet has led to a proliferation of myths regarding the
uncollectibility of debts and defenses to debt collection. These myths have spread like wildfire across blogs and websites and they are all false and dangerous.

I haven’t heard anything about this debt for 1, 2 or 3 years and therefore you can’t sue
me for it.

The only time limitation for the collection of a debt is a state’s statute of limitations. A statute of limitation is a deadline established by the Legislature of a given state for the collection of an open account debt. The mere fact that no one has contacted you about a debt for 1, 2, or even 3 years does not render it uncollectible. You should also be aware that typically the statute of limitations for the state within which you reside will not govern your credit card debt. Credit card applications contain a choice of law provision. This is an agreement between the parties to be governed by the law of a particular state. The credit card companies typically choose a state with an extremely long statute of limitations. Rhode Island, a typical state chose by credit card companies, has a ten year statute of limitations for open accounts.

You can’t sue me because you don’t have a signed contract.

Most people fail to understand that when they sign a credit card application and send it back in they have actually signed a contract. I now advise all of my personal clients to keep copies of those applications when they sign them and send them back in. However most individuals typically do not. Regardless a credit card company will typically not issue a credit card without a signed application and therefore without a signed contract. However, even if there is no signed application, you still are parties to a contract. The contract may be an implied and equitable contract. In other words, the credit card company has extended you credit and you have taken advantage of it by purchasing things on their credit. You now have a legal obligation to repay that money and the court will construe that to be a contract.

I have never heard of the company that is contacting me or suing me and I have no agreement with them, therefore I don’t have to pay them.

There is an entire industry in this country now devoted to the purchase and collection of debt. Once you default on a credit card debt and the credit card company is unable to collect it, they will package it or bundle it with thousands of other delinquent debts and sell it to a debt buyer. The debt buyer will pay pennies on the dollar for the debt and then will attempt to collect it. This is perfectly legal. All contracts are assignable, unless there is a written provision in them barring assignment. What this means is that a credit card company can assign (sell) your debt to another company and they do not have to get your permission or even give you notice. That new company simply steps into the shoes of the original creditor.

You can’t sue me I am making payments.

Perhaps the most prevalent myth circulating on the internet is that if you are making minimal regular payments you cannot be sued. The truth is that once you default on a debt you can then be sued for the full balance at any time. Even if you recommence making the full payment, your default has rendered the full balance due and payable at any time. The mere fact that you are making minimal or nominal payments on a regular weekly, monthly or bi-monthly basis does not prevent a creditor from suing you.

There are hundreds of other myths and I will address them in future articles.

Monday, November 12, 2007

POLL REOPENED

I reopened the poll and set it to run for an entire year. Let me know what you think.

How to Stop Harassing Collection Phone Calls and Profit From Them

If you are receiving calls from a debt collector who is harassing you and violating the FDCPA,
you can take action to put an end to that illegal activity. This article is not directed toward legally compliant FDCPA calls. However, if a collector is violating the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by making improper threats or allegations such as that he is going to have you arrested if you don’t pay the debt or he is going to tell your employer that you are a deadbeat, you can take action. The simplest, cheapest and quickest action you can take to stop harassing, illegal collection calls is to purchase a voice recorder. For a minimal amount of money at Radio Shack or other similar stores you can purchase a easy to plugin device which will allow you to record your own telephone conversations. At this point, I must give you a legal warning, however. The laws regarding the legality of taping telephone conversations vary from state to state. Some states are one party states and some states are two party states. That simply means that in a one party state only one party to a telephone conversation must be aware that it is being recorded for it to legally be recorded. In a two party state, both parties to the telephone conversation must be given notice that it is being recorded for it to be recorded legally. Of course, in no state is it legal for a third party nonparticipant in the telephone conversation to record the telephone conversation without a court order. Regardless of whether you live in a one or two party state, I would highly recommend that you give the collector notice that you are recording the telephone conversation. This should have an immediate impact on the nature of the call. At the very outset of the telephone conversation, you should inform the collector that you are recording all of your telephone conversations and in a two party state, ask their permission to record the call. If a collector is prone to use illegal or harassing tactics, they will typically simply hang up rather than be recorded. If a collector is only occasionally prone to cross the line and use improper collection techniques, they will, once they know they are being recorded, mind their manners and be on their best behavior with regard to complying with the FDCPA. Therefore in the majority of cases, you will have eliminated the harassing nature of the collection calls, simply by placing the collector on notice that the call is being recorded. However, if a collector did violate FDCPA by harassing you or making illegal assertions or threats, you know have tape recorded evidence of that violation. You now need to do two things with that tape. First, you need to file a written complaint with the government authority or agency which regulates and governs debt collection agencies in your state. They typically will have a form online that you can print off, fill out and mail in. These forms typically do not carry much weight with the government agencies. However, if you make a copy of your tape and attach it to your complaint, your complaint now has instant credibility and will be given special attention. You should also copy the collection agency with the complaint and a copy of the recording. Secondly, you should file a complaint alleging violations of the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act with your local small claims court. FDCPA violation claims can be brought in any state or federal court. On the day of trial, you can give testimony that the call was received on a given date and at a given time and that you personally recorded it and then present the tape as evidence to the court. The tape should be sufficient evidence for you to recover the statutory fine or penalty of $1,000.00 as set forth in the FDCPA. In this way, you have not only put a stop to the harassing phone calls, but you can even profit from them giving yourself $1,000.00 per violation to pay your debts

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Fix It or Forget It

The biggest mistake a debtor makes is failing to plan a course of action. The majority of debtors I encounter are merely floating through life allowing their circumstances to drive their life choices. They pay the debts owed to my clients because I am actually taking the time and effort to sue them and make their lives miserable while they ignore other debts which are not being as forcefully collected. These same debtors attempt to make low monthly payments thus preserving their debts for inordinate periods of time and ultimately failing to pay off their debt and only managing to accomplish the ruination of their credit. A debtor who is facing significant amounts of debt needs to make a life choice and implement a plan based upon that life choice. That choice is as fundamental as fix it or forget it. In other words, a debtor needs to decide are they going to create and implement a plan which allows them to pay off all of their debt, avoid the creation of new debt, preserve and if necessary repair their credit or is the debtor going to make a conscious decision to not pay any of their debt and allow the passage of time to clear up their debt problem. Both of these courses of action have merit and pros and cons. Both also are extremely difficult. The easier course of action is to simply float down the debt river paying what you can, when you can but in the long run that is both devastating and permanent.

In the first course of action, the debtor should find a program that they can embrace and make their own and totally commit to. I highly recommend the Dave Ramsey Christian based program, but that is simply my opinion. If the debtor makes this life choice they will have to implement a strict budget and pay down the smallest debts first, eliminating debt as they go. The debtor will have to deny themselves the luxury of living like everyone else and will actually have to buckle down and do without. How long it will take to accomplish this program depends on the number of debts and the amount of debt the debtor has incurred. A key to this life choice is a change in life style and pattern of thought. This change is absolutely essential in order to keep the debtor of incurring new debts while you are paying off the old ones. The end result of this life choice will be the end of debt collection harassment and good credit.

The second life choice option available to the debtor is to forget about their debt. This is an extremely dangerous life choice to make. It is not recommended if you have absolutely any assets whatsoever, such as a retirement fund, savings account, luxury automobile or equity in your house. If you are truly flat broke, you can consider ignoring your unsecured debt. By unsecured debt I am specifically referring to credit card debt. Any debt that is secured with collateral such as your car loan which is secured by your car or your house note which is secured by your house must be paid or the institution to which you owe the debt will simply repossess the collateral. A debtor can under the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act inform a collection agency that he or she has no intention of paying the debt and to cease all contact. At that point the debt collection agency must cease all contact, but can proceed with a lawsuit. At some point your creditors will lose interest in pursuing you if you never make any payments and have no assets. Likewise at some point your debts are simply no longer valid based upon the statute of limitations for open accounts in your state. That time period varies from state to state. If a judgment is taken against you that judgment is good for a certain number of years. For example in my state of Tennessee a judgment is good for ten (10) years however, you should understand that at any time during that ten (10) years that judgment can be renewed by court order for an additional ten years. Using this method you are simply banking on the fact that your creditors will lose interest in attempting to get money out of a dry hole. After seven (7) years the derogatory information will age off of your credit report. The downside to this life choice is that you will have to endure credit collection attempts and the fear that whatever asset you do have will be seized or taken to satisfy the debt. At the end of this process, assuming you do not incur additional new debts, you will have decent credit as all of the derogatory information will have aged off.

I cannot recommend to you either of these life choices nor can I advise you on which would be the best for your circumstances. There are other obvious life choices, such as filing either Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which I have not discussed. However I can strongly advise you to avoid simply floating down the river of debt making minimum payments when and where you can.