Bankruptcy Attorney: Dealing with Creditor Harassment

By Dorothy Bunce

One great fear many people have is the threat of creditor harassment. As a Las Vegas area bankruptcy attorney, one of the first questions people want me to answer is what to do when a creditor calls them asking for payment.

1. A call from a creditor demanding that you pay a debt can be upsetting but may not be harassment! People often ask me if they can take legal action for this type of harassment. When I ask them to describe the harassment, they tell me that the creditor called them several times. Simply calling someone who owes a debt and demanding that they pay is not, by itself, harassment. If you haven’t got the emotional strength to deal with calls from your creditors, you are going to see yourself as a victim over and over. “A coward dies a thousand deaths” will end up being your motto. Who wants to live like this? If you don’t owe the debt, it may be harassment. If the creditor contacts family, friends and your employer, it may be harassment. But it is not harassment just because a creditor calls someone.  Harassment is something that is “over the top” in what is legal and professional business conduct.

2. Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it! Many people react to debt collectors’ calls by cursing and yelling at the caller and then pretend to be horrified that the caller curses and yells back. Once you establish a hostile tone to your conversation with a debt collector, don’t expect to demand that the debt collector treat you with courtesy. Oh, and by the way, debt collectors almost always record their conversations with you, so if it comes to a court case involving a claim of creditor harassment, expect any fowl mouthed or angry language from you to be played in court. You can’t throw the first punch and expect to be treated with respect.

3. Laws protecting you from creditors usually apply to collectors that do not directly work for the creditor. Federal laws such as the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act mostly regulate the actions of debt collection companies, not the original creditor. So if you have a payday loan, the collector employed by the Payday lender does NOT have to comply with the same laws the XYZ Collection Agency must obey. Because of this important distinction, when speaking with someone who is trying to collect a debt, always determine whether the caller is an employee of the creditor or works for an independent debt collecting company.

4. Your personal problems are your problems, not your creditor’s problems! If you have personal problems, your creditors have no obligation to be sympathetic or offer you any accommodation. Whether you have medical issues, are going through a divorce, have lost your job. or have any other type of personal problems, it is not a legal defense to a debt collector taking action against you. You might as well retain your privacy as to tell a debt collector about your problems! Debt collectors aren’t obligated to care about you.

5. Debt collectors are regulated by state law as well as by federal law. If you have a problem with a debt collection company, the State of Nevada Financial Institutions Division may be able to help you with this. Contact the main telephone number for the State of Nevada and the helpful and friendly State telephone operators can connect you to the person who can investigate your complaint.

6.  You have the right to tell the debt collector not to call you again.  If you choose to make this request, be sure to send the debt collector a letter repeating your demand in writing, and send the letter by certified mail to the collector.

7. A debt collector that is ignored has the right to use the legal system to collect the money you owe. By the time legal fees and interest are added onto the amount of the original debt, in some instances, it is not a surprise if the size of the debt doubles. By refusing to answer the door to a process server, you are playing with fire and may get burned when a court issues a judgment against you and you only find out about it when your bank account is frozen or your wages are garnished.

8. Face reality! If your debts are overwhelming or if you are unable to pay even a small portion of your debts, you may need to make a painful decision to use the law to end creditor harassment by filing bankruptcy. Bankruptcy offers programs to allow someone to eliminate their debts based on the person’s unique and individual circumstances. Someone who can’t afford to pay anything can get their debts eliminated, while someone who can afford to pay part, but not all of their debt, can enter into a debt settlement program monitored by a federal Trustee. Part of the process of bankruptcy includes complete protection from any contact by the creditor to try to collect the debt.

9. Santa Claus is a mythical figure! Any steps you take to solve your debt problems, other than paying the creditors 100 percent of what you owe them, will involve a negative repercussion. Both bankruptcy and debt settlement will damage your credit, and anyone who suggests otherwise is lying to you.

10. You do have rights to stop creditor harassment, but enforcing your rights is not simple or easy. If you need to bring in a lawyer, it isn’t cheap either. Debt collectors know they can get away with a lot before they will have to face any repercussions. Reporting genuine harassment to the authorities is one way those who have been victimized by creditor harassment can help each other.

Although being in debt and not being able to afford to pay is never something anyone wants to face, you can use the experience of facing hard times to learn what is important to you. For too long, many of us have made money our God, and relied on money to solve our problems and to protect us. If money has turned on you, reassessing your values may make this hard time the most important time of your life.

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