If you’ve been in debt for awhile, you’ve gotten a letter or phone call from a debt buyer.
The companies purchase uncollectible debts from credit card companies, banks and student loan lenders in the hopes that they’ll be able to convince you to pay them a few bucks.
They pay so little for the account that even a steep settlement is considered a profitable victory.
But what of the collection letter that shows up out of nowhere, demanding payment for a debt you’ve never heard of?
Welcome to the world of zombie debt. Though it’s as scary as the shuffling, brain-eating, undead there are ways to defend a lawsuit brought against you by a zombie debt collector.
Here are the simple rules I follow for my clients.
If you got a collection letter from a company you’ve never heard of, you need to make sure they’ve got a right to payment.
Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, you’ve got the right to demand validation of the debt. That means the collection agency should provide you with:
- the name of the original creditor;
- the amount claimed to be due;
- a copy of the agreement between you and the original creditor; and
- proof that the current creditor, if different from the original one, has the right to payment.
Send a letter to the debt collector, keep a copy, and refuse to pay them a dime unless and until they provide you with proof of the debt.
Make Sure They Can Collect
There’s a limit to the amount of time a creditor can take to demand payment. In New York, that’s six years. In California, that’s four years.
Make sure to verify the date of last payment, and do the math. If it’s too late to collect, they can’t force you to pay.
If You’re Sued
Just because a creditor or debt collector sues you, that doesn’t mean they win.
You get a limited amount of time to file an Answer to a Complaint. If you don’t, they win.
Call a lawyer or, if you can’t afford one, go down to the courthouse and tell the clerk you need to file an Answer. Most courts have forms that people can use to do it on their own.
Make the debt collector prove the case, including ownership of the debt and the amount due. Admit nothing – that’s their job.
Above all else, remember that you can’t win the case if you don’t fight it.
Image credit: Eric.Parker
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