Student loans, credit cards, medical expenses, bank loans—a staggering number of Americans are struggling with debt to some extent, and this struggle has only gotten worse in recent years. Today, U.S. households that have credit card debt average close to $17,000 in debt. Among households with outstanding student loans, they average more than $50,000 in debt. No matter how one looks at the numbers, it’s clear that accruing debt has become inextricably part of being American.
And that puts millions of people in a precarious, stressful position every year. More and more people are having difficulty addressing their debts and find themselves on the receiving end of lawsuit threats, threats of wage garnishment or harassing phone calls from collectors.
An experienced debt defense attorney can resolve most of the potentially-life-altering concerns that come with debt collection and lawsuits. And reputable attorneys will often review cases for no charge, so there is no reason for people to contend with debt collection and lawsuits alone.
Who can a debt attorney help?
In short, any household facing debt payment or collection issues, no matter what those debts are. Credit card debt, student loan debt, medical debt, business loans, payday loans, personal guarantees, debts left over following divorce, homeowner’s association fees, even debts picked up by scavengers can be addressed with attorney assistance. An attorney can help before or after a judgment lien has been issued, so no matter where someone is in the debt collection process, there is usually an answer.
Some of the ways that debt defense attorneys can help include:
1. Collector harassment – All attempts to collect debt are regulated under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, or FDCPA. This includes attempts by debt collection agencies, banks, credit card companies, debt buyers and scavengers. Some common violations of the FDCPA include calls in the early morning or after 9 p.m., use of abusive language or threats during correspondence, threats to notify employers or others of the debt, making in-person visits to the debtor’s home or place of employment, or lying about legal action being taken.
These are tactics that many collectors rely on to scare people into paying them. An attorney can put a stop to them and ensure they are logged for future reference. If need be, an attorney can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission on behalf of their client and even sue the collector if it is clearly out of line.
2. Garnishment – Collectors often threaten to garnish if payment is not made immediately, but this is frequently an empty threat. The federal or state governments can garnish wages without a court judgement, usually for unpaid child support or alimony, student loans or back taxes. All other collectors, though, first have to sue, obtain a judgement and secure a court order prior to beginning garnishment.
Many collectors, and especially debt buyers and scavengers, won’t bother going through that process before they start making threats. An attorney will keep their clients informed as to their likelihood of facing wage garnishment, and take steps to prevent it from happening.
3. Debt lawsuit – Facing a lawsuit is a monumental task, but even if the lawsuit concerns a debt that is truly outstanding, there are still options. Even just responding to the summons with a short note denying liability will usually improve the defendant’s chances at a negotiated settlement. But an attorney can build more sophisticated and more effective means of defense.
For example, an attorney can directly challenge a collector’s right to sue the defendant or challenge them to prove how much the defendant owes. An attorney can invoke statute of limitations or use FDCPA regulations to mount a countersuit. Collectors will often pursue a negotiated settlement as soon as they realize an attorney is representing the defendant, as many do not have the proper paperwork and credentials to pursue a lawsuit.
That’s just a brief look into what a debt defense attorney can do, but it’s better to think of them as an advisor. Someone who can explain the legal ramifications regarding debt collection practices, and help their clients avoid a tough spot.
What to Bring to the Attorney
During an initial consultation, the best thing to bring is information and a willingness to answer questions. The attorney’s strategy will hinge on the information they gather during the first few meetings, so honesty and thoroughness or crucial.
Bring any documentation that details the debt’s terms. When the debt was first acquired, payment schedules and the like are important. Information regarding all creditors is a must as well. Who exactly are they? How can the attorney reach them? Have they attempted any aggressive collection tactics? Finally, information detailing income will also be pertinent to the attorney, like federal tax returns, W-2s and bank account information.
By the end of the initial consultation, an attorney will have a clear idea of how to approach the case and can offer valuable advice on how to proceed. That alone is worth the time speaking to a debt defense attorney, as tackling debt concerns requires experience, planning and resolve.