Debtors Have Rights

People who owe money might find it difficult during these tough economic times. They’re not alone. Debt collectors are hurting too, and some might resort to illegal tactics to obtain payment. Some debtors may not realize that they have protection from collection abuse. Pat Hernandez has the story.

With no end to the economic crisis, more consumers trying to make ends meet are having to deal with debt collectors. It’s no wonder that the Federal Trade Commission receives more complaints about the debt collection industry than any other specific industry:

“Although the majority of the collection industry tries to do things right, there are absolutely companies out there who are rogue companies that should be put out of business. What they’re doing is just flat illegal.”

Manny Newburger is an Austin based attorney who defends debt collectors:

“You’ve got a very large industry, trying to follow very complex sets of laws. We’ve got laws at the state level, laws at the federal level, and thousands and thousands of people out there engaged in this business. Mistakes are gonna happen. The key is to separate the people who make mistakes, from the ones who are truly bad actors and should be stopped.”

Newburger says that those who owe have valid reasons—a job loss, divorce, a death or illness—something not anticipated, or even because of bad money management. Donna Karni is a Houston attorney who also teaches consumer law at the University of Houston. Her field of expertise is suing abusive debt collectors, and defending consumers who’ve been sued by debt buyers:

“My sense is, that most consumers who owe money have such an overwhelming sense of guilt, or some other negative emotion associated with the fact they are in debt, that everything else is inconsequential, and if they’re taking a beating, then they deserve that beating, when in fact that’s just not the case.”

She says whether a consumer owes a debt or not is irrelevant to how that debt is collected:

“I tell consumers in general, if you’re going to pay your debt, and it’s not to the original creditor, you have to be sure you’re paying the right party, that you’re paid on a debt that you owe, and that the amount that you pay will actually go towards your debt.”

Hernandez: “So bottom line, consumers should know their rights?”

Karni: “Absolutely. If they don’t know their rights, I think they face a huge detriment, which is really just paying out their very hard earned dollars in the direction that’s not going to benefit them at all.”

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Pat Hernandez, KUHF, Houston Public Radio News.