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Difference between Original Creditors and Debt Collectors

Debt Collector or Original Creditor

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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.

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.

In the Shoes of the Original Creditor

Debt collectors often masquerade as the original creditors both to make you think they have more evidence than they have and to make you feel guilty if you fight them. Here’s how to figure out if they’re trying this trick on you and what to do about it if they are.

Debt Collectors Make Their Money by Getting People to Give Up

Debt collectors often claim that they stand “in the shoes” of the original creditor. They do this as part of an attempt—illegal in my opinion—to intimidate the people they are harassing into believing they have more information than they do. You should make them pay.

How the “in the Shoes of the Original Creditor” Argument Comes up

There are various ways the “in the shoes” argument comes up, often beginning with the petition, in which the debt collector (a company you may never have heard of) claims to have extended credit to you, to have sought repayment, and to have been refused payment. You know it never happened that way if you think about it, but they’re hoping you won’t think about it at all.

What typically happens is that some debt collector bought the debt from somebody claiming you owed them money. As part of that purchase, they may have obtained a few electronic copies of statements and a computer record claiming you owe the money. This isn’t nearly enough to prove you owe them the money, and they want you to think that they have all the records because “they” lent you the money. They will often take it another step and actually submit affidavits claiming that you borrowed money from them (they say, “plaintiff” rather than their name, since that would reveal the deception). Or they will send you requests for admissions asking you to admit borrowing money from them—again, they say “plaintiff,” to hide the fact that they’re asking you to admit you borrowed money directly from them.

This is outright deceit, and it ought to offend anyone’s sense of fair play. But when you claim, rightly in my opinion, that this is an unfair debt collection practice under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), the debt collector argues vehemently that it has a right to make these claims because when it bought the debt it “stepped into the shoes” of the original creditor.

Nonsense.

The Grain of Truth behind Debt Collector’s Deception

The grain of truth behind the debt collectors’ deception is that a company collecting another’s debt generally has all the same rights to collect the money as the original creditor did. Debts are transferable in most cases, in other words, and the person assigned the debt has the same right to collect as the person transferring the debt.

But debt collectors do not “become” the original creditor (their buying the debt, after all, is what made them a “debt collector”), and claiming to be the original creditor is patently deceptive. Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, a person (including companies) that routinely buys debts for the purposes of collecting on them is considered a “debt collector.” Essentially all of the provisions of the FDCPA apply to debt collectors, and foremost among these are the provisions against “deceptive” or unfair debt collection practices. These provisions apply to debt collectors but in general do not apply to original creditors. Thus the debt collector’s claim to stand in the shoes of the original creditor is, regarding their collection efforts, absolutely untrue.

Make them Pay with the FDCPA

As mentioned above, the debt collectors often send you discovery materials (i.e., requests for admissions, interrogatories, requests for documents) which use the word “plaintiff” instead of the company that you theoretically borrowed money from. What would prevent you from reading the word literally? They ask you to admit borrowing money from them—and you know you never did. Or they ask you for all the documents reflecting your account with them, and you know you never had an account with them. Why not simply deny it? That would be the literal truth, and in the legal process you are held to the literal truth.

As I have argued above, the claim that the debts were originally owed to the debt collector are false and deceptive. They misstate the law and are designed to make you believe that the debt collector is more able to collect the debt than it actually is. If you are looking for a counterclaim—and I have often pointed out that counterclaims can give you important power in a lawsuit by a debt collector—you might consider this an opportunity to make a counterclaim. You  might consider this tactic, regardless of where it comes up in the litigation, as an unfair debt collection practice.