Information for Debtors
If you are contacted by an attorney attempting to collect a debt please understand that he or she is a professional who is simply trying to do their job. Please also realize the attorney has no personal animosity toward you.It is the collection attorney’s duty to their client to use all proper methods to collect a legally enforceable debt. Such attorneys are held to high professional standards and must comply with rules governing debt collection practices.
If you do not owe any money to the creditor the collection attorney does not want to collect it. If you owe a different amount than the debt claimed the collection attorney only wants to collect the proper amount.
Remember that the collection attorney had nothing to do with the underlying transaction or your course of dealing with the creditor. For best results, keep your communications with the collection attorney or staff courteous, as you would expect to be treated.
The collection attorney never has the intention to trick you. His or her desire is to make sure you are not confused by the information presented, and to work with you to set up a meaningful, achievable payment plan if you cannot pay the entire debt at once.
Creditors can make mistakes and a payment may not have been credited to your account for example. This is your opportunity to present your viewpoint. You may need to help educate the collection attorney of the facts, or perhaps a judge or magistrate down the road.
If you dispute the debt, let the attorney know this, and validation of the debt will be mailed or otherwise sent to you.
Simply ignoring a letter from the attorney will not make the matter go away, and will usually result in a suit being filed.
If you engage an attorney to represent you it is very important that you have them inform the collection attorney of this fact. Once you are represented by an attorney (and they confirm it) the collection attorney must stop direct communication with you (except for legal pleadings).
If you want another (non attorney) individual (other than your spouse) to communicate with the collection attorney you must provide an authorization for them to do so. The collection attorney cannot speak about your debt with your brother, daughter, cousin, fiancé or friend, for example, without your express consent.
Realize that a billing mistake that is later rectified by the creditor does not mean you only have to pay the lower amount claimed at an earlier time. Also please understand that an enforceable contract can be established by both a verbal or written agreement or course of dealing.
Remember that if you do not receive a bill for sometime or the creditor does not immediately bring a collection lawsuit against you, it does not mean that you do not owe any money.
It is very important that you keep accurate and detailed records of bills from and payments to your creditors. If a dispute develops with a creditor over a particular charge, keep your payment records and copies of relevant correspondence. Keep copies of your checks and evidence they have cleared, such as your bank statements. Keep a history of the dates of your transactions and moves to new places of residence, for example.
If you provide this written information to the attorney, it may help resolve the issue and avoid suit being filed.
Keep your address current with the post office. Provide a forwarding address to the post office and renew the forwarding address periodically (they expire after a while). Many debtors claim they had no idea they owed a debt and the reason is later shown to be a mail delivery problem, not the creditors failure to mail bills or statements.
If you acknowledge part of the debt, but dispute part of it, not paying any money to the creditor may not be a good idea. Paying the part that you admit you owe will gain credibility for your position with the creditor (and the court) and may save you interest or finance charges, for example.
Do not make payment promises if you cannot afford them or stick with them. Do not promise to pay more than you can. If your circumstances change, do not simply stop contact with the collection attorney. If you stop making payments under a plan you have agreed to, the creditor will likely file suit or attempt post judgment garnishments, which will increase the amount you owe.
While a creditor has the right to obtain a judgment against you to secure its debt, in most cases creditors are willing to accept reasonable periodic payments (weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly) without filing suit. Creditors will often accept a lump sum one time payment (compromise) that is less than the total debt, if made promptly. An offer to pay small monthly payments at first which escalate over time may also be accepted by the creditor.
Remember that your current inability to pay is not a defense to the debt. The creditor may wish to file suit to get a judgment to secure the debt whether or not you can pay anything now.
Be advised that your divorce is not a legal shield against your creditors. Even if a divorce court says your spouse should pay a particular debt, your creditors may still be able to sue you.
If you move out of your home contact your creditors in writing to attempt to cut off your future liability for certain household debts. (Under Connecticut law you may still be liable for necessaries provided to your family members, such as medical care, heating oil, etc.)
Communication is the key to avoid problems with debts that you owe and are in legal collection. If you are sued, do not ignore the Summons or Notice of Suit, as a default judgment may enter against you.
If a trial is scheduled you must appear at the hearing to defend yourself or a judgment may be entered against you. You will need to bring any written evidence and witnesses you wish to present.
If you need a reasonable postponement (“continuance”) of a scheduled hearing in a small claims action contact the collection attorney and you will likely get such a continuance by agreement.
If you do dispute the debt provide copies of any written materials or documents which prove your position to the collection attorney before any trial. The court requires opposing parties to provide written evidence of this type to each other and does not condone “surprises” at trial.
If your written materials clearly prove you do not owe what is claimed the attorney will usually withdraw the case or offer a compromise before trial.
If a judgment is entered against you, do not ignore the notice from the court ordering you to make judgment payments. If you cannot make the court ordered payments you may contact the collection attorney to request a modification of the payment order. The collection attorney will work with you to reach a meaningful payment plan.
If a judgment is entered, the creditor has the right to file a judgment lien on your real estate whether or not you are making the court ordered payments. In Connecticut, in many cases interest will accrue on a judgment if ordered by the court (“post judgment interest”).
If you don’t pay as ordered by the court, the creditor can apply for a bank execution or wage execution (garnishment). The cost (application fee) for these garnishments is added to the judgment and the marshal is entitled to a percentage fee from the debtor’s assets or wages.
If an execution is filed on your bank account and you file an exemption or modification claim, the court will schedule a hearing on this which you will need to attend with written proof of your exemption.
However, if you have claimed an exemption you may be able to contact the collection attorney ahead of time and provide copies of proof of your exemption or request a reasonable modification and the collection attorney may very well agree to your claim or request. This may result in avoiding a trip to court.
Usually the collection attorney does not report your debt to credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, TRW) However, if a judgment is entered against you, this becomes a matter of public record and will be picked up by the reporting agencies.
Once you have paid the judgment in full (including any post judgment interest and/or allowable costs) the collection attorney will prepare and file a Satisfaction of Judgment with the court and provide you a copy. This is your proof the judgment has been paid.
If a lien was filed on your property, the attorney will provide you with a Release of Lien for recording in the land records (Town Clerk’s Office) where your property is located. It is very important that you record this document in the land records or the lien will remain on your property.