I mentioned the mini-Miranda right in Part 1 of this article, and I have already spoken several times about the importance of silence. Why do I keep mentioning this? That’s right – because people forget it so often. Debt trouble erodes our confidence and makes us self-conscious. Debt collectors like to use your sense that you are failing in some important, moral way, when you don’t pay, to push you around. And people like to “tell their story” and make themselves understood.
Save it for the jury
Nothing you can say to the debt collector will help you in any way. You won’t persuade them you are good, that your debts are unreasonable or unmanageable, you can’t hurt their feelings in any way that helps you. You can’t cause them to delay or decide against taking any significant action.
And almost everything you do can, by contrast, be used against you one way or another. Asking for a little extra time to pay the debt? That’s an admission the debt is yours to pay. Asking them to reduce the interest rates? That’s a form of negotiation which may eliminate their need to prove any specifics of the debt and may extend the statute of limitations significantly. Say something to try to hurt the feelings of the debt collector who has been calling you several times per day? That’ll be something you hear back at trial.
If your debt troubles are going to persist in any significant way, you need to close your mouth.
Don’t Talk to the Debt Collection Lawyer
And you need to keep it closed if they sue you. Talking to the debt collector’s lawyer only magnifies the chance that you’ll say something that hurts you. In that situation, not only can you say something that damages your case, you can make an admission that kills it. I can’t tell you how many people have told me that they “told the lawyer the debt was there’s but…”
If you admit the debt to the lawyer – or to anyone on the debt collection team – you may be letting them off the hook of proving they own the debt or that you owe it. Once that happens, you will find their willingness to reduce the amount they want you to pay much harder. That’s because until they prove that you owe them the money, they must consider the risk that they cannot prove these things and, further, consider the cost it would take to prove them. These are major risks for debt collectors who do not have any original records and only the sketchiest information on the supposed debt. Solve these problems for them and you triple the value of the debt. Now they only have to worry about the expense and delay of forcing you to pay.
And you must also keep your mouth shut to the judge
In many ways, this is the toughest. Judges are stern, and they’re accustomed to having almost complete control over the people in their courts. This makes it extremely difficult and even risky to refuse to answer a judge’s question. Instead, you must be a master of double speak. If the judge asks you if this was your account you’re being sued for, you have to say something like, you’re not sure, but you don’t think the plaintiff has or can prove it. And then you say you’re not sure they can prove they own the debt or how it was accumulated. If the judge asks whether you dispute the amount of the debt, again you point to the debt collector’s duty to prove it. “I’m not sure what the debt, if any, was,” you say. “But it’s the debt collector’s job to prove it, and they can’t use hearsay…” It is your right to dispute the debt and require the debt collector to prove its case. Don’t let the judge’s desire for an early lunch hour keep you from insisting on that right.