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Difference between Original Creditors and Debt Collectors

Debt Collector or Original Creditor

For a free copy of this article in pdf format, click here: difference between original creditors and debt collectors

We used to face a simple either/or question in debt defense. Were you being harassed or sued by the original creditor? That’s the person who allegedly lent you the money in the first place. If so, you were dealing with a person who had better rights against you – but some concerns over public perception that could help you. If it was a “debt collector” who had bought the debt from someone else and had nothing else to do with you, you had better rights and a better chance of winning.

Various things have blurred the line somewhat, but it is still worth keeping the distinctions in mind. There are now really three important categories to consider: original creditors, debt buyers, and “debt collectors,” and the last two categories overlap to some extent.

How Debt Arises

Debt can arise in a number of ways. If you buy a club membership, for example, and then stop paying on it, the club is the original creditor. If you stop paying, the club will bug you for a while, and then they may send the account to a debt collector to bug you some more. Eventually, they may sue you or sell the debt to another company. Whatever they do directly to you, however, they must worry about their reputation in the community, and harsh collections might reduce their sales.

This concern, that they needed to have – about reputation, was considered a check on their debt collection practices. The legislature thought that was enough protection against the worst abuses.

Debt Collectors

Debt collectors, by contrast, lack that relationship with the consumer. Their only client is the creditor company or, if they have purchased the debt for themselves, their only loyalty is to their own bottom line. Thus that protection from abusive collection practices was not there, and the FDCPA was designed to put it there.

The emphasis was on how the debt originated and how it came into the possession of the person bugging you. Thus for a long time we simply considered anyone who bought debts as a “debt collector.” Such people or companies had no need to protect their relationship with the public, and so the public needed protection from them.

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has made things a little tougher for debt defendants by holding that debt buyers are not, by that fact alone, now defined as “debt collectors” under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Legally, a company can be a “debt collector” under the FDCPA if its “principle business” is the collection of debts. But otherwise a debt buyer isn’t necessarily a debt collector.

This will protect some very bad people from consequences for some of their actions, and it will prevent many people from being able to get lawyers to protect themselves from debt lawsuits.

It will also complicate the way you handle your lawsuit against someone who may be a debt collector, since you will have to try to prove the company bugging or suing you is a debt collector. We have changed our model discovery to address that new reality, and if you’re being sued, you will need to take it into account.

New Reality

Unfortunate as the Supreme Court decision was, it’s now the law until and unless it gets changed. In the current political climate, that seems unlikely. So you must bear in mind some practical distinctions.

Debt buyers, whether or not they are “debt collectors” under the FDCPA, will have difficulty getting or using certain evidence in court. The distinction is very important in assessing your defenses against a lawsuit for debt. Debt buyers will likely face major hurdles from the hearsay law, and they won’t have the same records as an original creditor.

You will have more and easier counterclaims against those who are defined as “debt collectors” under the law, but you will need to conduct discovery specifically to prove that they are, in fact, debt collectors.

Original creditors will probably have fewer issues with hearsay and may or may not have many records. They seem to have fewer records and less control over their files than they used to, for whatever reason, so you will need to explore this in your discovery and defense strategy. And you will have a better chance defending against an original creditor than used to be the case.

Difficulty of Defense

It is not more difficult to defend yourself from one group than another. The legal process itself is basically the same. You have to do all the same things to defend yourself, from answering the petition to showing up in court, responding to discovery, and going to trial if necessary. But the content of the discovery as well as the process of the suit, will likely be different. The original creditors will be more reluctant to sue you, but will have more materials to support the suit. The debt buyers will be more willing to sue, but have less material to support their claim, and if you  can prove the other side is a debt collector, you’ll probably have a counterclaim.

Whichever you’re facing, you should defend yourself. We suggest our materials and membership if you’re ready to do that on your own.

Your Legal Leg Up

Your Legal Leg Up is a website and business dedicated to helping people defend themselves from debt lawsuits without having to hire a lawyer. As you can see below, we have a number of products as well as memberships that should help you wherever you are in the process. In addition to that, our website is a resource for all. Many of the articles and materials are reserved for members, but many are available to everyone.

Finding Resources

Our website is both a business and a public resource, and you can use it to find information on a wide variety of debt law-related topics. While many of our resources are restricted to members, of course, many more are free to the public. Please feel free to use it. Every page has a site search button in both the header and footer. It’s a little magnifying glass icon that looks like this:

Click on the magnifying glass icon, and a small window opens. Put in a key word – a word you think relates to what you’re looking for – and enter. You will get a page of results.

What to Do if Sued

Sued for Debt

So You’re Being Sued for Debt

You have learned, one way or another, that you are being sued for a debt. If so, you are in a club containing many millions of people, but you probably feel all alone. What do you do? And how do you do it? Where do you turn, and who can help?

Since you’re here, you know that WE can help. We help people beat the debt collectors and protect what’s theirs.

Fight

We don’t make any bones about it – we think that if you’re sued by a debt collector you have a great chance of winning. And if you lose, it hardly ever costs you anything more than not fighting would have done. If you want to settle, you always start by fighting because debt collectors never settle to make YOUR life easier, they only settle make themselves more profit, and if you fight you instantly drive the value of the suit down in their eyes. Thus you have everything to gain and little to lose in most situations. You should fight.

Lawyer or Not?

We’ve addressed this question many times in various posts, and we do in our First Response Kit, too. But for this article we’re just going to talk about the cost of a lawyer. For most of our members, the cost of a lawyer is the most important thing, and they are expensive.

The average lawyer in a city tries to make $200 per hour these days. They’re running a business, have a staff, and need to make a profit. In debt defense, they also know that not everyone is able to pay. Thus, those who do pay, have to pay more.

With $200 per hour as a target, the lawyer either has to charge you that as an hourly rate or create a flat fee that will, she hopes, bring that average return. Through it all, most people discussing legal fees with us say that lawyers are trying to get them to pay at least $2,500 for their cases. For most people, this is simply too much, and the lawyer will want much of that up-front. So lawyers are simply out of reach for most people in debt trouble.

But here’s the thing: debt law, unlike most kinds of law, is well-suited to pro se (self-representation) defense. And with a little help from us, you’ll know more than most lawyers you talk to will know about this kind of law anyway.

Debt Law is Good for Pro Se Defense

There are a few reasons debt law is good for pro se defense. First, debt law is mostly about rules of evidence. They’re going to want to get some records into evidence, and you’re going to want to stop them from doing that. If you can keep those records out and avoid a few basic mistakes, you should win. This is not the kind of law that involves extensive testimony or cross-examination – you won’t need to be brilliant. You will need to do basic things that you can learn – we can teach you.

The other main reason debt law is good for self-representation is economic. They want to make $200 per hour, but you don’t have to get that much. And the debt collector/lawyer is trying to get that from half of what he can collect from you (the debt buyer gets the other half), while you’re saving 100 percent of what you can save. Thus you can spend more time on the case. It’s your life, and it matters more to you than anyone else. Every time you do something to defend yourself the lawyer on the other side will be worried about whether she’ll get paid for working on your case – this is a big, big advantage.

What to Do?

Your defense will start with an answer or a motion. Our First Response Kit will guide you through that. We also suggest that you get right onto the process of discovery, and the First Response Kit will do as much to help make that easy for you as possible. It includes samples of all the documents you’ll probably need. You’ll have to do SOME work for sure, but it doesn’t get any easier for you than this.

Our First Response Kit

A great place to start your defense is our First Response Kit. It helps you consider your chances of winning (vs. not fighting at all) and whether to fight, whether to get a lawyer, and if you’re going to represent yourself, how to do that. We get you started with a sample Answer and sample discovery that you can modify to fit your situation. This is as easy a way to get started with your defense as is possible. Read about it here.

Debt Collector Dirty Tricks

The Debt Collection Business

For a free copy of this article in pdf form, click here: Debt Collector Dirty Tricks

Debt Collectors

At its best, debt collection is a hard business. They’re trying to force people who are already making tough choices to make different choices. To make a person give up food or insurance to pay a bill for something that’s already come and gone is hard to do. And even when the choice isn’t quite that stark, there’s always the challenge of making someone give up what they want NOW for what they used to want THEN.

On the other hand, most people do want to pay their bills, and they feel guilty and embarrassed when they don’t. The debt collectors know and use those facts regularly. You might consider efforts to trigger those feelings “dirty tricks,” but we won’t discuss them other than in certain extreme ways the debt collectors play their cards.

Debtors

People who owe money also usually feel, and are, vulnerable to various bad things, and many of the dirtiest tricks use this fact against them. From a slightly different angle, one of the things that get people into debt trouble in the first place is hope or optimism – they overestimate what they can or will do or they look for an easy way out. This can make them easy suckers for scams, from get-rich-quick scams to get-out-of-debt scams. But what concerns us most for purposes of this article is that it causes them to overestimate what they can pay or for how long they can do it. Thus there’s a tendency for people to make agreements they can’t keep.

In this article, we’ll discuss a few of the tricks the debt collectors play to use the weaknesses of people in debt against them so that you can recognize and prepare for them. We also have a report that you can get for free that has many more of the worst of the tricks.

I have found that a lot of people come to us after doing some things that hurt their rights. Part of our mission is to protect some of those rights before they get lost or damaged. We want to catch people earlier in the debt cycle, in other words. If you give the wrong person money, it’s almost impossible to get it back.

A Few Preliminary Words

There are a few things I will say before getting into the scams and tricks. First, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) makes almost all of the tricks we discuss here illegal. But some of them are not, as we will discuss.

The FDCPA generally requires fair-dealing and honesty of the debt collectors, and it makes deception and “misleading” behaviors illegal. It also gives them certain affirmative requirements. But it applies only to “debt collectors” as that term is defined, and there is currently a lot of uncertainty about exactly what the term means and just who is a debt collector even among legitimate operators, and there are a lot of crooks out there, too.

What there is really no doubt about at all is that debt collectors, whether they are within the definition of the FDCPA or not, will do almost anything to get your money. You know that. We can only list and describe a relatively few of their tricks, but you need to develop the habit of extreme caution and skepticism towards anybody who’s trying to get you to give them some money. You need PROOF of every aspect of what they’re saying, because, as we all know, paying the wrong person a bill we really owe doesn’t do any good at all – it just means we’re going to double-pay.

No legitimate debt collector will require you to act immediately the first time you hear from them. Don’t let them hurry you into lowering your standards of proof – that’s the key to all of their other tricks.

A Few of Their Tricks

The tricks here are only a few of what they have come up with, and they will constantly be coming up with more. These are merely examples. The tricks don’t all have formal names, but I have given them names to make them easier to remember.

Asking for Post-dated Checks

Sometimes a debt collector will urge you to send a post-dated check. That is, a check with a date on it that’s different than the actual date. You think the money will be there in a week, so you write the check for next week.

Debt collectors love to get you to do this. Why?

There are some legitimate reasons, and this isn’t always a scam or dirty trick. It is a fact that people get busy, have second thoughts, or simply change their minds – especially when it comes to paying money for something that doesn’t bring them pleasure. A debt collector has a legitimate interest, assuming the debt is valid and the collector is honest (which you should almost never do), in getting your money before any of that happens. He or she has talked you into doing something, and he doesn’t want it to come undone as soon as you hang up. A post-dated check is a good way to make your intention stick.

The problem is that you cannot trust the debt collector, yourself, or the world around you with this.

You can’t trust the debt collector because most debt collectors will say anything that comes to mind to get you to do what they want. They are under intense pressure to perform, and to perform quickly. Therefore, chances are good that the debt collector will not remember – and not even try to remember – that your check is post-dated check. That will be forgotten before you hang up.

So even if by chance your check goes to the debt collector who called you, she will put the check in the pile to go to the bank immediately. And it isn’t likely the person who called you will see the check – it will automatically go out for payment when it arrives in the office.

And you can’t even trust yourself on this. If you were just trying to get the debt collector to go away, or if you made a slight miscalculation, or if something unforeseen happens – as so often happens – you will be in trouble.

Attempt to Collect from Relatives of the Dead

With few exceptions, a parent or spouse’s debts do NOT transfer to anyone else. A deceased’s debts are claims against the decedent’s estate. That means, if there’s a will, that any claimants will have to make a claim against the estate in probate. If for some reason that doesn’t happen, then in some situations the “residuary” beneficiary of the will might be liable.

If the will says, “I leave $100 to Mary and the rest to John,” John is the residuary beneficiary, and John might under some circumstances be liable for a debt. But of course it almost never happens because the creditor would have to prove a variety of things that aren’t easy to prove. Most debt collectors want nothing to do with that. They’d rather try to get you to pay.

All you need to know is that if a debt collector is asking you to pay someone else’s bills it’s probably a scam.

Debt collectors know most people do not know the law and have never thought they might owe someone else’s bills.  People who are grieving are less likely to question or oppose someone who asserts that they owe something. In other words, this scam requires catching you at a vulnerable time and taking advantage of it.

The FBI’s After You

In this scam, someone calls you up “from Washington” (or wherever) to let you know you’ve been implicated in some vague crime or misdeed. They’ve tried this one on me a couple of times, as a matter of fact, only the person was supposedly calling from the Social Security Administration to tell me my account had been “frozen” because someone was using the number to launder money.

The agent spoke fast and had a number to call for verification, but things were close to a boiling point. I was supposed to act quickly or expect the FBI to show up within the next day, or possibly hours. Of course the first thing I had to do was verify a few numbers for them…

This is obviously a criminal scam, with only the barest pretense at being debt collection when there is one – sometimes the threat is that agents are on the way to pick you up for non-payment of some debt, or whatever. The critical features are the urgency, the authority, and the threat.

The people doing this one are clearly not legitimate debt collectors, they’re criminals, but it may show up as a debt collection, and chances are good you’ve been targeted because of some perceived vulnerability. Tell these guys to take a hike.

There’s more in the report

You will find many more examples of debt collector dirty tricks in our free Bestiary of Debt Collector Dirty Tricks. You can find that by clicking here: https://yourlegallegup.com/blog/debt-collector-dirty-tricks/.

 






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They’re Suing Me for A Lot – Won’t they Fight Harder?

For a copy of this article in pdf form, click here: why amount does not matter

Why the Amount the Debt Collector is Suing You For (Almost) Doesn’t Matter

From a normal consumer’s point of view, the threat posed by a suit for $500 or $1,000 is very, very different from one for $25,000 or $50,000. But the difference in amounts to the debt collector is much less significant than you might think. There are several reasons for this, from the way they view risk to something called “opportunity cost.” We’ll discuss both of those things here.

Our observation is that debt collectors do NOT treat cases for large amounts any differently than they treat cases for small amounts. They follow a set of standard procedures.

Sued by a Debt Collector

If you’re being sued by a debt collector on a debt for $500, the lawsuit itself probably scares you in that it’s pulling you into a hostile and alien world – the world of litigation – where you expect people to frown at you a lot and make you pay. And for most people being sued by debt collectors, $500 is not a negligible amount – actually having to pay it could be a significant hardship. On the other hand, a suit for five or ten thousand dollars is a different, and much scarier, thing. You’d get over a $500 judgment, but you might never be able to pay off $10,000.

There’s a tendency to project. Because ten thousand is such a hurtle for you, you think it’s a large amount of money for a debt collector. You might think they’d do a lot more for this larger amount.

For the most part, however, you’d be wrong in thinking that. This is because of the way they assess the various risks associated with collecting debt.

Risk

Debt collectors look at three primary factors in evaluating their cases. These are risk of losing, price of winning, and chance of collecting. To put it all in terms of “risk,” you might put the factors this way: the risk of losing, what you risk in order to win, and the risk of not collecting what you win.

Risk of Losing

Debt collectors regard the risk of losing a debt suit as negligible. Their business model, which involves bringing suit without ever even looking at the evidence that might support their suit, shows how confident they are. They know most lawsuits they file won’t ever be disputed at all, and the price of losing is trivial to them. They’re dealing in the hundreds of millions of dollars of nominal debt – your suit for $25,000 doesn’t even register as a risk worthy of concern.

Of course the lawyers who will eventually be involved in your suit take a somewhat different view. They don’t want to lose because of their pride and reputation, but at the end of the day the amount at stake is trivial to them, too.

Price of Winning

Debt collectors take the price of winning far more seriously. For one thing, the cost of buying the debt and filing suit are “sunk” costs. That is, they paid that up front as a minimal cost of doing business for any law suit. Every time you do anything that requires them to take action, it’s costing them new money, and it’s not the basic cost of doing business in the courts, it’s money you’re making them pay.

They can see that, and they know the money they spend on your case may be going away for good. Thus our materials aim to emphasize and increase this risk, and we are usually quite successful in doing so. Taking action that increases the cost of winning will have a significant impact on the way the debt collector values your case – it lowers the value of the case in the debt collector’s mind dramatically.

Of course if they’re suing you for $50,000, your actions wouldn’t seem likely to reduce the value of the case very much, right?

Wrong, and that brings us to the final risk factor, chance of collection – or you might call it the risk of not collecting (we often refer to it as “collection risk.”

Collection Risk

Have you heard the expression that if you owe the bank a thousand dollars, they own you, but if you owe them a million dollars you own them? This is related to the collection risk factor. Banks know, and collectors know, that collecting $1,000 is usually possible against an unwilling defendant. But collecting ten thousand? Not going to happen. You probably won’t have it, and if you do, you’ll hide it.

That sets up a dynamic: the more you owe, the greater the collection risk discount. If they’re suing you for $25,000, nobody expects to collect anything like that. They might get a little more from you with a $25,000 judgment than a $1,000 judgment, but not enough to matter.

And there is a good possibility in both high and low dollar cases that they won’t be able to collect a cent.

Thus debt collectors do not consider high dollar cases particularly valuable. They don’t like spending money on them any more than on low dollar cases.

Now look at the larger picture of the world in which debt collectors live.

Opportunity Cost

Opportunity cost is the cost of doing one thing rather than another.

Remember that the amount of debt in the U.S. is essentially unlimited. That means the opportunity for suing (other) people is equally unlimited.

Now remember that debt collectors get judgments approximately 80% of the time by default. That means they can file suit in 100 cases and get 80 judgments in about an hour. If those judgments, conservatively speaking, are for $5,000 apiece, that’s $400,000 in an hour. And these numbers are not only theoretically possible, but I have seen them happen many times.

Now consider your case for $50,000. Even if they thought they could get that – which they almost definitely do not – if they have to spend five hours working for it, they’ll lose perhaps two million dollars in default judgments in that time. Does that sound like a wise business decision?

Of Course They Aren’t Machines

You might think the debt collectors are cold-blooded opportunists, and you might think they would only do what makes them the most money. And usually you’d be right, but they are human, and sometimes other factors work their ways into cases. They won’t always do what you might expect.

But the odds are strongly in your favor, and that means that it makes sense to defend yourself as much in big-dollar cases as little dollar cases.

Your Legal Leg Up

Your Legal Leg Up is a website and business dedicated to helping people defend themselves from debt lawsuits without having to hire a lawyer. As you can see below, we have a number of products as well as memberships that should help you wherever you are in the process. In addition to that, our website is a resource for all. Many of the articles and materials are reserved for members, but many are available to everyone.

Finding Resources

Our website is both a business and a public resource, and you can use it to find information on a wide variety of debt law-related topics. While many of our resources are restricted to members, of course, many more are free to the public. Please feel free to use it. Every page has a site search button in both the header and footer. It’s a little magnifying glass icon that looks like this:

Click on the magnifying glass icon, and a small window opens. Put in a key word – a word you think relates to what you’re looking for – and enter. You will get a page of results.

Memberships

We have quite a few products that will help you with specific issues (you can find them by clicking on the “products” button in the top menu of every page on the site), but most people should consider starting with a membership.

Members get discounts on all products as well as unlimited opportunities to join our regularly scheduled teleconferences. This gives invaluable real-time assistance, answers to questions, help with strategies, and encouragement. You also get the Litigation Manual for free with membership. Find out about memberships by clicking the “About Memberships” link in the menu at the top of any page on the site.

Sign Up for Free Information

You can sign up to receive free information from us by clicking on this link and following the instructions: https://yourlegallegup.com/blog/sign-up-for-free-information/

What you’ll receive if you sign up is a series of several videos and articles spread out over several days, and then you will occasionally hear from us as we add information to the site. We don’t always announce that information, though.

If They Never Have Evidence Why Do Discovery

People ask me why they should do discovery in debt cases when everybody knows the debt collectors don’t have any evidence. The answer to that question might seem obvious once you’ve been around, but it’s a critical part of defending yourself from the debt collectors.

As we point out in The Most Dangerous Myth, you can’t depend on anybody to do anything for you. You can’t depend on the courts to get rid of debt cases that don’t have evidence. If they did that, they’d get rid of most of them, but that isn’t their job. It’s going to be up to you.

There are a couple of fundamental reasons to do discovery as soon as possible. You have to make them show you what they have or admit what they don’t have. And the process of discovery costs the debt collectors money and often drives them away by itself. In addition, conducting discovery will likely make the judge and the other side take you more seriously and be more cooperative when you need it.

Make them Admit what they Have or Don’t Have

The first, legally-based reason, for pushing discovery despite all their objections and BS is that to win the case you must PROVE they have nothing. Or rather, you must prove that what they have, if anything, is not enough for them to win.

Ideally you could do that by motion for summary judgment, which would spare you the risk and effort of trial.

If you can’t do that, then you must prepare to win at trial.

On the other hand if they do have things, you need to know about it so you can prepare for them.

Now, to be clear, debt collectors, who are always represented by lawyers (they have to be), start with the advantage of the court’s attention and respect. You, on the other hand, as a non-lawyer, will have to earn the court’s respect. Maybe it’s not fair, but that’s just the way it is.

And one result of this is that you simply cannot count on the court to pay close enough attention to any arguments you make unless you give it time. A motion for summary judgment – win or lose – is the best way to present your arguments about the debt collector’s evidence to the court.

In order to do that, you must know, in detail, what that evidence is and where it comes from.

Discovery is Expensive for Debt Collectors

The debt collector is almost certainly going to object to every single request or interrogatory you give it. They can’t help themselves, and it’s usually a good tactic because it drives so many defendants into submission. But it’s a two-edged sword, and when you’re pro se and determined, their objections will be a large advantage for you.

Part of filing a motion to compel answers is an “informal conference” and attempt to negotiate discovery disputes. You will have to call the other side’s lawyer up, ask him or her why she objects to each item of discovery, tell her why you want it, and argue each objection. And their objections will be numerous, absurd, and repetitive. They’ll object, for example, to your request for information about the alleged purchase of your debt on the basis of attorney-client privilege. In all likelihood no lawyer will have been involved – or it will be strictly in an arms-length transaction where no attorney-client privilege ever applies. And they’ll make many other absurd arguments.

Take your time. Take their time. And know that it’s costing them about $200 per hour for you to do so.

Find out whether they actually have anything they aren’t giving you. If they say they don’t, then once you confirm the message you’ll have what you need for the summary judgment motion. If they say they do, keep fighting until you know exactly what it is. Again, all this is costing them a LOT of money.

And nothing makes a debt collector rethink the wisdom of suing you more than having to spend money. Not even it looking like you can win the case outright.

Conclusion

So go through the process. Chances are good that they’ll either give up or you will have what you need to win by the time you get through. And there’s no other way to get to that point.

 

Who can use FDCPA and Who follows it

Who Can Use, and Who Must Follow, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act only applies to consumer debts and, by and large, the actions of debt collectors (or original creditors pretending to be debt collectors). This is broken down into the questions of the type of debt for which collection is sought and the type of entity seeking the debt. In this article we will first discuss what the FDCPA covers, and then what that means to you.

Consumer Debts only

The FDCPA applies to “consumer debts,” or debts incurred primarily for personal, family, or household purposes. 15 U.S.C. Sections 1692a(3) and (5), Creighton v. Emporia Credit Service, Inc., 981 F.Supp. 411 (E.D.Va. 1997). When the debt is rung up on a corporate or business credit card, the courts will look into the nature of the debt – and not simply the name on the card. As I have pointed out elsewhere, however, making this argument can be dangerous to the “corporate shield” since it suggests a merging of assets which is sometimes used to defeat the corporate shield and allow a creditor to pursue an owner of the corporation.

Natural Persons Only

The act also only protects “natural” persons, which means it applies only to actual people and not corporations or separate associations. Again, since debt collectors never actually speak to corporations or businesses, but only to human individuals, this simply means that if a debt collector is calling on a debt rung up for business purposes, or calling a business regarding its debt (and harassing whoever picks up the phone, for example), the FDCPA does not apply.

Transactions Only

Because the FDCPA applies to only consumer debt, it applies only to “transactions” engaged in primarily for personal, family, or household debt. In other words, it does not apply to debts generated by child support obligations, tort claims (lawsuits against you for harming another person), or personal taxes, for example. Mabe v. G.C. Services Limited Partnership, 32 F.3d 86 (4th Cir. 1994); Zimmerman v. HBO Affiliate Group, 834 F. 2d 1163 (3rd Cir. 1987); Hawthorne v. Mac Adjustment, Inc., 140 F.3d 1367 (11th Cir. 1998).

On the other hand, the term “transaction” can be fairly broad, and would include things like condominium fees or other fees or debts incurred as part of a transaction that might, in fact, have occurred years before the debt in question arose. Because the FDCPA applies to debts arising out of transactions, it has applied to condo fees for a house the consumer once lived in but later (at the time of the FDCPA violation) was renting out to others for the purpose of generating income. This would suggest the reverse might also be true – a condo originally purchased for business purposes but later converted to personal use might not be covered by the FDCPA, but I have not seen a case with that holding.

The Act does apply to things you might consider “non-credit” obligations, such as bad check debts, condominium assessment fees, residential rental payments, municipal water and sewer service, and other non-credit consumer obligations – Bass v. Stolper, Koritzinsky,Brewster & Neider, S.C., 111 F.3d 1322 (7th Cir. 1997); FTC v. Check Investors, 502 F.3d 159 (3d Cir. 2007).

Debt Collectors Only

In general, the FDCPA applies only to “debt collectors.” What that means used to be a lot clearer than it is now.

The Supreme Court confused the question of who was a debt collector in some decisions in 2018. Primarily, it determined that when a company buys a debt – regardless of its status at the time of purchase – it is a “creditor” under the part of the law debt defendants had been using to sue junk debt buyers.

Instead, a person buying a debt might be a debt collector if its “principle business” is the collection of debts. It is not clear HOW MUCH of a company’s business must be collection of debts for that to be its “principle business.” I would guess a sizable majority – perhaps 90% or more – but the term has rarely been litigated, and has never been quantified to my knowledge. It would seem clear that a bank with a sizable business providing credit cards would not be a debt collector if it happened to buy someone else’s debts and bring suit on them. Likewise, law firms buying debt and suing on them would probably not be debt collectors if they do anything else – a truly unfortunate result, in my opinion.

But classic debt collectors (i.e., those working for someone else) would still be debt collectors, and so, probably, are the largest junk debt buyers.

What the FDCPA does not cover is actions by an “original creditor” (i.e., the company or person who claims you borrowed from it) unless it is pretending to be another entity. Sometimes original creditors seek to exert additional pressure on delinquent bill payers by pretending to be a debt collector, and when they do this they are not only covered by the FDCPA but also often in violation of it, since the Act prohibits deception and unfair collection methods. The Act will also not cover the actions of loan “servicers,” which are financial companies that buy debt not in default and manage it as if they had extended credit in the first place.

What It Means to Be Covered by the FDCPA or Not

As I am sure you know, the FDCPA requires and prohibits certain actions, giving you defenses and the right to counterclaim or file suit against a debt collector. If the FDCPA does not apply, you simply cannot claim any rights under it – cannot require verification, bring claims for deception or abusive conduct, or seek to enforce any other rights under the FDCPA against non-debt collectors or against debt collectors for their actions in pursuit of non-covered debt.

Making such a claim could damage your ability to defend against these debts, so you should carefully consider whether the Act applies before attempting to assert rights under it.

If your debt or bill collector is not covered under the FDCPA, that does not necessarily mean that you have no rights worth asserting. It just means that you must look somewhere else for them. Many states have their own debt collection laws, and these may apply to situations the FDCPA does not. Also, more generally, most states have laws regarding how “outrageous” a person – including a debt collector – is allowed to be.

One of the great things about the FDCPA is that it gives some specific rules – debt collectors cannot call before 8 in the morning, for example, whereas a few calls by an original creditor early in the morning will probably not be illegal. As the behavior becomes more and more extreme, however, the more likely it is to be “outrageous” enough to give you the right to sue. Threats of physical harm or police activity probably go over this line, for example; cussing you out a time or two? – maybe not. It is simply not clear what non-debt collectors are allowed to do in many instances. Courts have been pretty tolerant of some surprisingly bad or extreme actions by original creditors.

Who or What is a Debt Collector

The definition of “debt collector” became a lot less clear in 2018 when the Supreme Court ruled that owning a debt made one a “creditor” regardless of the status of the debt at the time of purchase. But there are still ways to prove that the company suing you is a debt collector. Doing so means they have to follow the FDCPA – or more particularly it means that if they don’t obey it you can counterclaim against them or file suit yourself.

The Company Suing You

The company suing you, if it’s one of the big debt collectors, probably still is a debt collector. As far as I’ve heard, these companies don’t really do anything other than buy debts and collect on them. But I doubt this situation will persist. After there is some litigation quantifying what makes an activity a “principle purpose” of the business, the debt collectors will likely buy subsidiaries or engage in some other business to an extent necessary to exempt them from the FDCPA. I would, and in this area of business and law, these guys are more knowledgeable and smarter than I am. Expect them to take steps to reduce their liability.

What Is a “Debt Collector?”and When Are You being Sued by One?

So who is a debt collector? Well, there is the classic debt collector – the company that a creditor hires to hassle debtors to pay bills to the creditor. In that situation, the debt collector is an agent of the original creditor and is supposed to follow certain rules (the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act).

There’s another kind of debt collector, though. This is a business or person whose “principle business” is the collection of debts. Just what percentage of business makes the activity the “principle purpose” of the business is not clear – I would suggest it is very significant, at least 90%. But that’s just a guess at this point, as there has been very little litigation on the point. It seems clear that a bank that makes lots of money on regular banking services and also has a junk debt buying subsidiary is probably NOT a debt collector.

There is a tremendous amount of confusion of who is suing you. People will tell me that they are “being sued by a debt collector, but the name on the suit is Capital One,” for example. They think that because the lawyer signs the pleadings, or a lawfirm shows up in court, that it is the lawyer who is suing them.

And in a very limited sense – but only in a limited sense – that is correct. For most purposes, the entity suing them is the one named as “plaintiff” in the lawsuit

Lawyers who Regularly Collect Debts Are Debt Collectors

The lawyer and law firm representing the company suing you are probably debt collectors within the meaning of the FDCPA. That means that their personal actions may bring them within the law, but it isn’t always clear when they will, though. It appears that if the pleading asks for something, the lawyer signing it will be liable (on the hook) personally (and his or her lawfirm, also) for the violation. But the company won’t always be liable for the actions of the lawyer – its agent – as would normally be the case for most things.

If the company was an original creditor, and the lawyer threatened you with suit, and you sought verification of the debt, would the company be unable to sue you using the same lawyer? Not likely. Because the company – not a debt collector – has no obligations to you under the FDCPA, and that’s where the right to verification comes from. If you filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit based on the company’s failure to verify the debt, it should be denied.

The Name on the Lawsuit Is the Important Name

If your lawsuit says “Cap One vs. You,” you are being sued by an original creditor and not a debt collector. They don’t have to play by the rules that apply to debt collectors. That means they don’t have to verify the debt, and they can do some of the things debt collectors are not allowed to do. You need to direct you Answer, Defenses, and any Counterclaims with the awareness that the other party is the original creditor and not a debt collector. It means, for example, that they needn’t verify the debt before or after suit, and that an attack by you on the ownership of the debt is not going to work – their name is on the debt. There’s no “chain of title” issue where title has never passed to another company.

But how they act when they sue you may bring the lawyers within the FDCPA.

Do Your Legal Leg Up Materials work against Original Creditors?

Do the YourLegalLegUp Litigation materials work on cases brought by original creditors as opposed to debt collectors? Yes–but watch this video to see how lawsuits by original creditors are different from those brought by debt collectors.

I used to think the difference between debt collectors and original creditors meant more than it does now. Perhaps it’s because there is such a huge amount of debt out there that even creditors lose track of it. Perhaps all the debt makes any one debt cheap. But in any event, the difference between original creditors is less than it used to be. The original creditors often do not have the records they need to prove the debt, and even more often than that they don’t have the will to pursue it if you fight.

In any case, you will pretty much always be better off it you do fight the lawsuit and go through the discovery process – especially if that means filing a motion to compel. It’s work, but if you can prove they don’t have what they need, you can make them drop the case. And if you find that they DO have what they need, your making them work so hard will make them settle for much less than they would have. Or if you can’t settle, you’ll take your best shot – and you’ll have put off the result for quite a while even if you lose.

Our materials will guide you through that process. You need to know how the system works in order to use it, and our materials give you what you need to understand the system.

Original Creditor or Debt Collector?

The question of the month has to do with a petition brought in the name of the original creditor – is that who is suing you?

Member question is, if the summons and complaint list the original creditor but at the bottom of the summons and complaint it has “this communication is from a debt collector” am I dealing with the original creditor through their attorneys or is this a debt that they have transferred/sold?

My answer to this question used to be, always, that if the case was brought in the name of the original creditor, that’s who you should think actually was suing you, but my answer has changed somewhat. Now I would say that if you have any doubt about who is suing you, you should pursue the question in discovery. Specifically, that means asking interrogatories regarding whether the debt has ever been sold, and if so, to whom.

It Can Be Hard to Know Who Is Suing You

My new-found skepticism on this issue comes from talking with an ex debt collector who reports to me that debt collectors do (often, he says) sue in the name of the original creditor.

As I pointed out in In the Shoes of the Original Debt Collector, it is deceptive for the debt collector to pose as an original creditor. While certain of the rights of the debt collector are the same as, and are derived from, the rights of the original creditor, the law very definitely and explicitly regards debt collectors are different from original creditors. And original creditors are treated more favorably in the law than debt collectors. So it is a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) for debt collectors to bring suit pretending to be the original creditors. That is so obvious, and bringing suit in the name of the original creditor would be such a blatant violation of the law, that I have always doubted that any debt collectors would dare to do it.

I, of all people, should know better! However, it is still true that the mere fact that the petition says “this is a communication from a debt collector…” does not mean you are being sued by a debt collector and not the original creditor when the original creditor’s name is on the suit. Lawyers are often cautious, and do a lot of things by routine and with forms, and so they could have put the warning on there unnecessarily.

However, if you have any suspicion that your debt has changed hands, but you’re being sued in the name of the original creditor, you should explore the question in discovery. And if you find out you are, in fact, being sued by a debt collector, I suggest you very strongly consider bringing a counterclaim under the FDCPA for deceptive and unfair debt collection practices. It should be a winner.

Talking with Debt Collectors

If you have debt troubles at all, you’re probably going to be getting calls from debt collectors. Should you answer them and speak to the debt collectors? If so, what should you say? Usually you should not say anything at all, but if you have something you need to say, say it and then hang up.

Most of the Time, Silence Is Golden

Most of the time you should not be talking to debt collectors unless you have a specific, well-defined reason to do so. Otherwise, you can end up making their life a lot easier – and yours a lot harder.

There is almost no reason to talk to a debt collector. If you HAVE all the money they want, and you want to pay it, then it would make sense to negotiate. If you think you have enough to make a deal, you might also negotiate, but you should remember not to admit anything. YOU CAN ALWAYS NEGOTIATE A SETTLEMENT WITHOUT ADMITTING THAT YOU OWE THE MONEY.  People ask me that all the time – and yet everybody knows that companies settle lawsuits all the time without admitting they did anything wrong. You can do it because the assertion of a claim, or the threat (or existence) of a lawsuit is a threat. You settle to make that threat go away.

If you don’t have enough money to make a deal for at least 70% of the debt, it’s usually a bad idea to attempt to negotiate beyond a very preliminary stage. The person you’re talking to doesn’t have authority to make such a deal. So you can say you might pay 10% of the debt, but it would make no sense in attempting to negotiate beyond that. You will need to talk to someone higher in authority. You could ask to speak to that person.

Beyond that, anything you say will likely just be wasting your energy and time and may lead to other trouble. Remember that your dispute, in order to force verification, needs to be in writing, so you can tell the debt collector you dispute the debt but don’t forget the dispute letter.