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Protect Yourself Against Unscrupulous Debt Collectors

Federal Trade Commission reports rise in complaints

Are you being harassed for unpaid bills? You may have gotten behind in your payments, or the bills may not even be yours! Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), you have the right to protect yourself against debt collectors who use abusive, unfair or deceptive practices. Reports of illegal debt collection actions are growing. In fact, the Federal Trade Commission’s 2011 report noted an amazing 76 percent increase in complaints of debt collectors using false threats of arrest or property seizure, and a 66 percent increase in complaints of their use or threat of violence.

The first step in protecting yourself against unscrupulous debt collectors is to know your rights under federal law.

You may want to talk with the debt collector once to be sure the debt involved is yours or to discuss a way to resolve it, but you can refuse contact. If you inform the collector you are represented by a bankruptcy attorney or other counsel, the collector must contact your lawyer rather than you. Whether you have a lawyer or not, you may state in writing that you do not want to be contacted again. Send the letter by certified mail so you can prove the collection agency received the notice. Other than notifying you of an action such as a lawsuit, the collection agency is prohibited from contacting you again. Insist the collection agency send you a description of the debt, and your rights, in writing.

It is illegal for a debt collector make harassing phone calls, including calling repeatedly or continuously, to call you before 8 am or after 9 pm, or to call you at work, if you have told them you are not allowed to take calls there. The debt collector may talk to you, your spouse and your attorney about your debt. Other forms of illegal harassment include threats, swearing, obscenities, repeated calls and publishing your name (except to a credit reporting agency). A debt collector may not misrepresent the amount or status of your debt, or the collector’s identity or employer, including any implication the collector is a government agent. The collector may not talk to neighbors, relatives or others about your debt, but may ask them (once) for your address, home phone and place of employment. The debt collector must honor your wish not to be contacted at inconvenient times and a statement that you are not allowed to take calls at work. You must be given written notice of a lawsuit.

You do not have to deal with the debt collector, but it will then be wise to hire an attorney. Provide your lawyer’s contact information and you should not be contacted again. Complaints of illegal debt collection tactics should be filed with the Federal Trade Commission.

If you would like to obtain additional information about Texas bankruptcy, explore your options, learn about the bankruptcy process or discuss your particular situation with an experienced Texas Bankruptcy Attorney, please contact Bailey & Galyen today.

 

Abuse of the Homeowner


In this article I explore how the mortgage industry abuses the homeowners before and then after a bankruptcy case is filed. Our homes are supposed to be our castles, yet if we are not careful, the mortgage companies can quickly dethrone us.

During these rough economic times, many of us can find ourselves facing financial difficulties at some point. It could be that there were unexpected medical bills, a business downturn or a loss of income. Sometimes, the mortgage “momentarily” takes a backseat to the emergencies in our life.

What we have seen practiced by some mortgage servicers is that, when a homeowner gets behind in payments, the servicer begins two processes aimed at protecting its interest in the property. On one hand, it may offer the owner an opportunity to refinance/restructure the note, and on the other hand, it may initiate foreclosure proceedings.

The difficulty for the homeowner is to understand that the loan servicer could be executing both processes in parallel. This confusion is due to misrepresentations or misunderstandings occurring during the frantic phone calls between the homeowner and the different service personnel in the servicer’s customer service department. The difficulty is made worse when the homeowner does not seek legal advice early in the process for a myriad of reasons, often involving pride in being able to handle one’s own problems.

Fortunate few, however, at some point before the foreclosure make themselves get legal advice that can save their homes. For others who try to work it out on their own, they sometimes learn after the fact that their homes were foreclosed on during the time that they were sending in the piles and piles of the paperwork required for refinancing, paperwork that the mortgage company conveniently loses.

Consulting with a bankruptcy attorney early in the process when a homeowner gets into financial distress can be beneficial more often than not. Bankruptcy attorneys can quickly develop insights into your situation and can plan actions to take so that an orderly bankruptcy process is undertaken. Most people do not like the stigma of filing for bankruptcy; however, those who truly consider all options will be more likely to come up with a better plan for getting a fresh start in life while keeping their home.

Review your cash flow situation months ahead if possible. However, if you foresee a negative cash flow situation, consider talking to a bankruptcy attorney prior to using up your savings and other resources that you and your family may need to meet your basic needs. The consultation is free and there may be other options. Until you sit down with an experienced attorney, you will not know if bankruptcy can help. Come see us.

A Cruel Retirement, Part One: Medical Crises


Retirement is supposed to be a great time of our lives. Everything is paid for, the kids are grown and you are ready to travel. Unfortunately, this image is more ideal than real. The truth is that retirement for many people is difficult. Whether this fact impacts you or an elderly loved one, it is important to understand that the dynamics of filing for bankruptcy are very different when we are older.

A recent article in a London publication documented that there has been a dramatic shift in England of the number of elderly people who have financial troubles. Bankruptcy attorneys are seeing a similar shift in the United States and, particularly, in Texas. There are so many causes of this problem that it is hard to focus on any one reason.

Part of the problem is health care. We tend to have more health problems in our later years. While insurance sometimes pays a majority of these costs, even the deductible can be devastating to someone on a fixed income. I have found that many people really do not have a feel for how difficult it is to live on a fixed income. Yet, those same people often live check to check themselves. Imagine living on an income that does not adjust for rapid inflation. Even gasoline costs have increased. And medical creditors are among the most vicious creditors of all. They do not take “no” for an answer. The days when you could pay just $10 a month to a medical creditor are gone. Hospitals often turn people over to a collection agency soon after their hospital visit, and the phone calls begin immediately. Elderly people are often not able to withstand the intense pressure of collection professionals, who will ask questions such as, “don’t you believe in paying your bills?”

People in their later years are very proud. They have worked all of their lives, paid all of their bills and done quite well for themselves. Suddenly, they are faced not only with little income but with little or no prospects for generating enough income to be able to dig themselves out of a hole. When a bill collector begins the harassment, it is not simply an annoyance for most people in their mature years. People who have always been able to write a check and make that payment suddenly have their honor and their worth challenged.

Even if an elderly person can get past the simple embarrassment and emotional end of being harassed by a medical bill collector, a real fear is that more such creditors may be on the way. The sad truth is that when both spouses are suffering from health issues, there is no escape. The fear that you may not be able to get treatment for your spouse if you do not pay current medical bill is one most of us can relate to. We would do anything for our loved ones. Don’t forget, bill collectors know this and use it extensively when dealing with those who have medical debt. Such collectors often suggest helpful hints for paying the medical debt — all you have to do is pull out that credit card that has had a zero balance for years and pay the bill. When you do that, the calls will stop, the bill is gone and you can feel good about yourself again. An instant solution. Unfortunately, far too many people succumb to that suggestion.

If you or a loved one is facing a medical debt situation, consider talking to a bankruptcy attorney PRIOR to depleting the resources that may be needed to sustain your years of retirement. The consultation is free and there may be other options. However, until you sit down with an experienced attorney, you will not know if bankruptcy can help.

Vehicles in Bankruptcy


We all love our cars and, more importantly, we need our cars. A common question for those considering bankruptcy is can I keep my car, and if I have a payment, how do I pay for it?

The answer depends on several factors.

In a Chapter 7 liquidation case, cars used for personal and household purposes are exempt from the claims of creditors — you can keep them. This exemption is usually limited to one vehicle per driving-age member of the household. Keeping the vehicle is subject to any valid financing agreements, however — there are no free cars in bankruptcy! If you choose to keep the vehicle and have a car note, you can reaffirm (retain) the debt and it will survive the bankruptcy, and you will be bound to the original terms of the note.

In a Chapter 13 case, cars are also exempt as in Chapter 7. However, a Chapter 13 payment plan can be used to pay the car note under different terms than under the original contract. If you have owned a vehicle for 910 days (two and a half years), then you can pay the value of the vehicle through your bankruptcy rather than the amount of the debt. Due to the depreciation of cars, this can be a substantial savings. In most cases we can also alter the interest rate paid to the creditor, another source of savings. Lastly, the payment itself can be stretched over a 60-month term. You can see how in Chapter 13, we can essentially “refinance” the car note to reduce your payment — and at the end of the case, you get clear title to the vehicle!

It should be pointed out that, in either type of bankruptcy, if you would like to be free from your car note, you can surrender the vehicle to the creditor and discharge (eliminate) the debt.

Lastly, note that motorcycles “count” as vehicles in all respects. If you have two driving-age members in your household and own two cars and a motorcycle, the motorcycle would typically not be an exempt asset and the creditors would be entitled to the net value of the motorcycle.

As in all legal matters, it is important that you get legal advice specific to your situation. Give us a call at your convenience to set up a free appointment to discuss your legal situation.

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