Why You Can Probably Beat the Debt Collectors

(Even If You Couldn’t Win the Lawsuit!)

If you will stand up for yourself, you can probably make the debt collectors go away even if they could win the suit against you. (Which they usually can’t.)


Follow the Money

It’s all about money, right? They want to make money. That’s why they’re suing you. If you will defend yourself it becomes too expensive for the company to pursue the litigation against you.

Let’s Do the Math

Consider the question from the point of view of the debt collectors. They buy debt cheaply (very, very cheaply), file sut in large numbers, and win the vast majority of cases without a fight. In St. Louis County, the “call dockets” often have 300-600 defendants, most of whom are being sued by a handful of debt collectors represented by two or three lawyers. If it takes an hour or two for the lawyers to get one hundred judgments totaling (by my guess) approximately $400,000 to $1,000,000 dollars, that’s a pretty good hour’s work.

Now look at the Petition in your lawsuit, down at the last paragraph near the end (where it says “wherefore, plaintiff prays…”). If the company is asking for attorney’s fees against you at all, they’ll usually say so right in the “wherefore clause,” and you may be surprised at how small the number is. In Missouri, the number is typically 15% of what they’re suing you for. If the company is suing you for $5,000, the attorney’s fees might be around $750, but that’s only if they are suing on a contract that allows attorney’s fees. In fact there is often no request for attorney fees at all in the suit.

They ask for the same amount whether or not you fight.

If you don’t fight the case, they get a windfall. If you do fight the case, they usually don’t get any more money even if they win. Instead of hoping for several hundred thousand dollars per hour of work, they’re trying to get $150 per hour-if that. That’s a lot less fun.

And if they are not suing you on a contract that specifically provides for attorney’s fees, they don’t get any fees for fighting no matter how long it takes. Every second you make them spend fighting with you costs them money that they will not get back. Everybody on the other side knows all this, and they never forget it. Neither should you.

What Would You Do…

What would you do if you were a debt collector who was bogged down in a suit for a few hundred (or even thousand) dollars-but which could cost just as much in attorneys fees. And on the other hand you could make a hundred thousand dollars in an hour of work by picking out other people to sue instead? Debt collectors are practical people. If you stand up for yourself in a way that shows them they will have a real fight on their hands, they will usually drop the suit. It isn’t worth it with so many other people around who will not fight.

Isn’t that what you would do?

Should you Go Pro Se in Debt Defense

If you’re being sued for debt, do you need a lawyer? Or can you defend yourself? Obviously lawyers can be very expensive, but there are times when the expense is well worth it. Here are some pros and cons of going pro se in debt law. We think it can make sense for a lot of people.

Some Pros and Cons of Pro Se when You’re Sued for Debt

Pro Se means “for or by yourself” and refers to representing yourself in a lawsuit. If you are being sued by a debt collector this can be a good choice because lawyers are expensive and often would either cost more than the amount in dispute or are in any event unaffordable for ordinary people. So it may be practically necessary, and it can also be effective because the same thing that makes hiring a lawyer to defend yourself uneconomical also makes hiring a lawyer to sue you uneconomical once your defense requires individual attention by the debt collector’s lawyers. The fact that debt suits are for small amounts of money (considering typical lawsuits) and that people owing money may not (or usually do not) have the money to pay makes it unwise for a company to spend a lot of money trying to obtain the right to try to collect that money from you.

If you are suing the debt collector under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) or other statute that includes a right to attorney fees if you win, it may be more practical and possible to find a lawyer to represent you. This is because, if there is a chance the lawyer can force the debt collector to pay, the lawyer can spend more time on the case without worrying so much about not being paid. That is the purpose of “fee-shifting” statutes, and it reduces the pressure to keep attorney fees to an absolute minimum. On the other hand, even where you are suing the debt collector it isn’t always possible to find a lawyer who will represent you for an amount you can afford, and that can make going pro se the practical choice.

Representing Yourself

When debt collectors file cases they usually do so “in bulk,” filing many cases at the same time – this allows them to divide the cost and risks of the cases among all the cases. The first trick to representing yourself pro se, therefore, is to do it in a way which forces the debt collection lawyers to spend time specifically and exclusively on your case. I call this “intelligent” defense because it raises the price of suing you and increases the chance that any money spent will be lost even if the debt collector wins the case. That makes walking away and leaving you alone the best economic choice for the debt collector.

And then the second trick, of course, is to do the things that give you a chance to win the case if it goes to trial.

Debt collection cases tend to be “document-intensive,” meaning that the evidence of the case is much more likely to be documents than anybody’s testimony, provided you do not admit owing the money. This means that the case has a better chance of ending before trial, but that if it goes to trial there will be less emphasis on managing witnesses or testimony, reducing the advantage of having a lawyer.

A Warning

In lawsuits, the only person who can actually speak for any other person is a lawyer, and so this means, for example, that spouses cannot speak for each other (even when they are both parties to the suit), and parents and children cannot speak for each other. Non-lawyers are not allowed to address the court on behalf of any other person, and “person” includes separate business entities.

Making excuses loses cases

No Free Lunches, Ever

For a free copy of this article in pdf form, click here: Making Excuses

There is, in the world, what some people call the “iron law of cause and effect.” What this means is that, for every action, something always happens as a result. No matter why it happened, if it does happen, there are consequences. In plain English, you say it this way: There are no free lunches, ever.

In reality, all of life is like this, even when we don’t think about it.

We pretend the iron law of cause and effect does not apply to us all the time. If we’re late, we apologize, and that’s usually enough to get past the other person’s anger or hurt feelings. If we apologize sincerely enough or give enough good reasons for something we did, it seems like we get away with it. But it isn’t called the “iron law” for nothing. Even if the other person excuses us, he or she thinks we are less dependable. And even if the other person doesn’t think that, we think of it ourselves. We know it. No free lunches.

Sincerity vs. Integrity

Sincerity means not intending to do harm – trying to do the right thing. Integrity means not doing harm, and doing the right thing. Naturally, it is much, much harder to have integrity than to be sincere.

Defending yourself pro se requires integrity.

Substantive Law of Debt

If a debt collector can prove (or if you don’t make them prove) that you borrowed money and didn’t pay it back, it will be entitled to a judgment against you. It’s as simple as that, no ifs, ands or buts. There are events that can destroy the debt – showing payment, that it was based on fraud, or settlement to name a few. But if the debt isn’t destroyed, no amount of sincerity (desire to pay or legitimate inability to pay) will get you off the hook. You will still owe the money, and the judge will still give the debt collector its judgment if it proves its case.

It’s surprising how often people get mad at debt collectors for trying to collect debts they (the people involved) owe but can’t afford to pay. They often feel like the debt collector has done them wrong to think they should pay. But remember this: just because the debt collector has a ton of money and you’re poor, that doesn’t mean they won’t get a judgment against you. Don’t think that way. And a judgment gives them the power to take from you. They will use that power.

Instead, fight and make them prove their case if they can. Require them to prove the debt and their right to it. Luckily, they aren’t so good at that, and if you fight, you have an excellent chance to win – that’s why we’re here, after all.

Excuses in Litigation

We’ve been talking about the substantive law of debt, which is almost absolute. It’s a little murkier in litigation, where excuses CAN make a difference – sometimes. If you make a mistake in doing something, or if you fail to do something you should have done, this can sometimes be excused. If you do make a mistake, you should certainly try to get it excused. The sincerity of your excuse will matter then, so make it good and say it with feeling. And you might get away with it.

But even if you do “get away with it,” every mistake has consequences. As a pro se defendant, you work mighty hard to get the judge to take you and your words seriously. You want the judge to apply the law fairly and consistently – that’s really all you need in most debt cases to win. Any time you ask the judge for something special or make some kind of excuse, you will hurt your chances of that. And all too often, the court will not give you the break it probably should.

Always work your hardest and do your very best to understand the law and rules of your court. As much as possible, you NEVER want to ask the judge for anything she isn’t supposed to do. If possible, you never want to ask the judge to excuse some failure or to cut you any sort of unusual break.

And to get your best, you must give your best. Never make excuses for yourself, and never accept them from yourself. It’s impossible to be perfect, but try not to make any mistakes you don’t have to make. And that is not a “platitude” or boring old saying – it’s encouragement to you to work very hard. The only way to avoid making mistakes is by figuring out things ahead of time and always going the extra mile. You can get away with less in some parts of your life, but you often cannot in litigation.

We have a rule at Your Legal Leg Up. When you’re faced with a question (which happens almost constantly), you must ask yourself whether it’s possible to get a clear, certain answer. If that isn’t clear, then find out – with certainty – whether it is possible to get a clear, certain answer. If it is, FIND that answer. Nothing less will do when certainty is possible. If it is NOT possible, then find out with certainty all the things that matter in determining the issue. You understand? Wherever it is possible to know a thing, you must know it. Never ever guess when you could know.

That’s the difference between sincerity and integrity in debt defense.

Research is Key

Maybe it sounds easy to find certainty when it’s there. If it sounds easy to you, you probably haven’t been working on your case very long, or you’ve been taking shortcuts without even realizing it. You would be amazed, maybe, at how often people do take shortcuts. It is a rare teleconference where someone doesn’t admit to not knowing something they need to know but don’t. And they always have a good reason for it, too. It’s hard – but remember the iron rule of cause and effect. You know something or you don’t; you know you’re doing what you should, or you’re guessing and hoping either that you are or that it won’t matter. And it always matters.

Do your research and find out for sure the things you need to know. Then do the work and make sure you’re doing the thing you must do.

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.


Self-Representation in Debt Litigation – Pro Se is Easier than you Think

Although hiring a lawyer might be the “gold standard” of defense, lawyers are always expensive. If you’re being sued by a debt collector and can’t afford a lawyer, all is not lost. You CAN represent yourself. This is not complicated law, debt collectors are not innovative or particularly energetic, and the debt collection system is a “factory” approach not designed to work against people who defend themselves intelligently. You can do it.

Okay – maybe debt defense isn’t always very fun. In fact, most of the time it isn’t exactly fun, but it is easier than you expect, and winning is great. Going from the threat of having to pay (somehow) from $1,000 to $50,000 to some debt collector, to having them drop the case – or to settling with you for pennies on the dollar… that’s fun, and it changes the way you look at debt and debt law forever.

Pro se legal representation means representing yourself rather than hiring a lawyer to do it for you. You have the right to do that in essentially any court proceeding, whether as defendant or plaintiff, and whether the matter is civil (for money) or criminal. Pro se is a Latin phrase meaning “for oneself,” and you will sometimes see it called propria persona (abbreviated to “pro per”). In England and Wales, the comparable status is called “litigant in person.”

Some Think It’s Scary

Although many people fear the thought of representing themselves in court, pro se representation is not rare. According to National Center on State Courts in 1991-92 71% of domestic relations (family law) cases had at least one unrepresented party, and in 18% of the cases both parties were pro se.  It is a growing trend in debt collection law as well as family law and other matters.

The right of self-representation has long been established in the United States. It predates even the ratification of the Constitution, as Section 35 of the Judiciary Act of 1789—enacted by the first Congress and signed by President Washington, states that, “in all the courts of the United States, the parties may plead and manage their own causes personally or by the assistance of counsel.” Most states have a similar constitution provision.

Will the Courts Protect You from Mistakes?

The California rules of Civil Procedure explicitly express a preference for resolution of every case on the merits, even if resolution requires excusing inadvertence by a pro se litigant that would otherwise result in a dismissal. The Judicial Council justifies this rule with the argument that “Judges are charged with ascertaining the truth, not just playing referee.” And the Council suggests “the court should take whatever measures may be reasonable and necessary to insure a fair trial.”

Although most states and the federal courts share this bias in favor of hearing courts on “their merits,” (based on what is actually fair), pro se litigants cannot rely on any special treatment. Some courts explicitly will not extend favorable treatment to non-professional litigants.

Pro Se Litigants Often Do Very Well

They may not need any extra help. According to Erica J. Hashimoto, an assistant professor at the Georgia School of Law, criminal defendants are “not necessarily ill-served” by the decision to represent themselves. In state court, pro se defendants charged with felonies probably fared much better than represented defendants. Of the 234 pro se defendants studied by Ms. Hashimoto, “just under 50 percent of them were convicted on any charge….for represented state court defendants, by contrast, a total of 75 percent were convicted of some charge.” And just 26 percent of the pro se defendants ended up with felony convictions, whereas 63 percent of represented defendants in Ms. Hashimoto’s study did. In federal court…the acquittal rate for pro se defendants is virtually identical to the acquittal rate for represented defendants.

Of course there could well be other important variables that the Hashimoto study did not include, but it seems clear that there is nothing like an “automatic penalty” for daring to represent yourself. And as I have pointed out many times elsewhere, there are certain types of cases and situations where pro se representation may actually be an advantage. In debt collection cases, for example, the economic factors often outweigh legal issues, and a vigorous pro se defendant can gain a significant advantage by being able to take energetic steps in his or her favor that a lawyer—always on the clock—would pragmatically be unable to take.

Courts are not always favorable to self-represented people for various reasons, but even with that bias, pro se plaintiffs have recorded some significant victories in civil courts. For example, Robert Kearns, inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper who won more than $10 million from Ford for patent infringement; Reginald and Roxanna Bailey, a married couple, together won $140,000 from Allstate Insurance in a federal jury trial in Missouri, and George Cofield, a janitor, won $30,000 from the City of Atlanta in 1980. Among others. Pro se defendants encounter fewer prejudices and have many more victories. These victories often occur in less easily reportable fashion, being simply the unheralded dismissal of a debt collection action.

Pro Se Representation in Debt Collection Cases

As pointed out above, defendants in debt collection cases have some significant economic advantages in conducting their cases. They also have fewer of the disadvantages that many other types of cases have. This may simply be because debt collection cases tend to be document-intensive rather than witness-intensive. In the somewhat unusual case which actually goes to trial, the court is confronted with basic evidentiary questions: can the debt collector produce enough evidence? And is it “admissible” in court for the court’s consideration? Little finesse is required.

This basic legal simplicity, the fact that debt defendants were obviously brought before the court against their wishes, and the general economic difference between typical debt defendants and plaintiffs often seem to create a favorable impression on the judges.

Get Help

If you would like us to take a look at your case and give you a sort of roadmap to what you need to do and how, take a look at our Personalized Evaluation product. If you’re being sued and already know you want to defend yourself without spending a lot of money on lawyers, then get out Debt Defense System.

Protect Your Rights

If you are being contacted by debt collectors, you need to be alert to protect your rights. These calls are often a prelude to their suing you. You might consider membership with our site, which gets you our ecourses for free, plus gives you many other benefits.Check out some of our e-courses. Or consider our prepaid legal plan to protect you from future possible litigation. With that, if you get sued, you’ll get a lawyer to defend you for free.

beat the debt collectors

Defending Yourself when Sued for Debt

What do you do if you’re sued for debt?

Hiring a lawyer sometimes costs more than just giving up, but how can you know the person suing you has a right to do it? And if they don’t, you might have to pay twice.

This video discusses your options and shows you how you can defend yourself and avoid paying unless you absolutely have to. It isn’t “wrong” to protect yourself. In fact, it’s not good if you don’t. The system usually works if you stand up for yourself, but you will lose for sure if you do not. And one thing is for sure: if you don’t protect yourself, no one else will.

The debt collectors want your money, and there isn’t much they won’t do to get it. Don’t let them.

Defending Yourself and Protecting What’s Yours

Why You Will (Probably) Win if you Defend Yourself

A lot of people worry about defending themselves from the debt collector. They’re afraid they’ll have to talk in court and won’t say the right thing, they’re worried they’ll be embarrassed, or they’re worried that the debt collector will have what it needs, and they’ll end up paying more. Actually, none of these things are likely.

Talking in Court

Well, you very well may need to talk in court, at least some, but not as much as you think, and it isn’t as hard as you may imagine either. How can I say that? Because debt law, unlike most other types of law, does not typically involve many, or even any, witnesses. You won’t be called on to make fabulous arguments, either, or go through complicated and amazing thought processes. Most debt cases boil down to just a few issues with only a few arguments. You can make those arguments – helping you do that is why we’re here. Then once that’s done, most of the rest is actually pretty easy and obvious. For a much more detailed discussion of these things, click on the Fast Track link below. That does show you how you can join us, but before that it will tell you much about the process of debt collection (and of course clicking on the article certainly does not obligate you in any way – we’ll never know you did).

You Won’t be Embarrassed

Debt defense is not embarrassing. Again, because the issues are so limited, there won’t be embarrassing questions about your spending habits or whether you owe anybody else money, or anything like that. The questions will be limited almost completely to whether they own the debt and whether the evidence they’re trying to use is “admissible” (allowed in the case). There aren’t many arguments to be made, and we show people how to make them.

Collectors Rarely Have What they Need

Debt collectors rarely DO have the evidence they need in a form that is legitimate, and you can usually keep them from getting it “into evidence.” That means you should win the case. If you don’t, though, the fact that you defended yourself will almost certainly not affect what you owe. That’s because the debt collectors normally ask for attorney’s fees – if they’re going to – in the petition. They have a specific amount in mind, and they plan to try to get that whether or not you defend yourself. So you have nothing to lose by trying to defend yourself in that situation. If you lose, you’ll just pay what you would have if you hadn’t defended, but if you win – as you should – you won’t pay anything at all.

Some Good News

Our mission is to protect people from the debt collection process. If you are being sued by debt collectors, or if you are being harassed for money, you need to take action to defend what’s yours. For much more information on defending yourself, go to Fast Track to Debt Defense.