I.O.U.

Posted on November 29, 2011 1:42 pm under General
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A few years back, I was visiting a cousin during the holiday season. Our conversation was continually interrupted by his incessantly ringing phone.

“Peace on earth? I’d settle for a little peace at home.”

He’d lost his job over a year before. That stroke of bad luck had been followed by illness and a lengthy hospitalization. When the hospital bills arrived, he couldn’t pay. His savings were gone and he’d maxed his credit cards to pay for food and utilities. His application for Social Security disability had finally been approved, but it barely covered basic living expenses. Soon bill collectors were his most frequent callers. He was considering filing bankruptcy, just to stop collection calls. Some collectors would call him several times a day and ask the same questions repeatedly.

“As though my financial situation might have dramatically improved in the last hour.”

At least he still had his sense of humor. He certainly needed it to deal with the collectors, who were generally unpleasant and frequently threatening or abusive. I didn’t know how to stop collection calls, but I did purchase a caller id for him. After that, he only answered calls from family and friends. The phone still rang, of course, sometimes in the middle of the night. He started turning off the ringer before going to bed. He eventually filed for bankruptcy. It was probably the best solution, considering his poor health and limited income.

At the time, I didn’t know much about the rights of debtors. I’ve since learned that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act forbids abusiveness, deception, threats and calls that are harassingly frequent. I certainly didn’t know that a collector must cease calling, if the debtor sends them a written request to do so. The debtor can also request a stop to written or in person contact. This may be all that is needed to stop collection calls. If a collector continues to call after written notification, it’s time to contact a lawyer. A notice from a lawyer maybe be all that’s needed. If not, they can take further action. Debt collectors who violate the Fair Practices Act can be required to pay the debtor’s attorney fees. They may even be required to eliminate or reduce the debt. In an economy that is causing financial devastation for so many, I think that’s a good thing to know.

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