IANYL, Round One

Might as well get into it. If I don’t respond to your comment, that may be because you asked about criminal law, intellectual property, or something that does not fall within the (my) definition of consumer law. I will save those for another day. (For the questions about checking receipts, I think these posts had some pretty good answers.)

FunPaul asks:

I recently received a collection notice in the mail that said, contact us within 5 days or, um well, we’ll send you more letters.

The debt isn’t mine. The last name on the letter is not my last name, it’s close though. . . . Do you have any advice for people who receive collection notices? I assume that there are a lot of people who don’t know what to do when they receive a scary sounding letter and do things that could cost them money.

As Ben said, I do have a soft spot for debt collectors. Or the opposite. Actually, my office phone number apparently used to belong to someone who owes a lot of people money, so this happens to me all the time. The message is usually something like “This is _____ calling about an important business matter. Please call 1-800-DEBT-DUE and reference number XXXXXXX.”

I am in Minnesota, so I can record phone calls. I use Skype to call, because the Pamela add-on makes recording easy. And I call back. I haven’t had any trouble getting them to stop calling, but part of that is because I introduce myself like this: “HI, this is Sam Glover, I am a consumer attorney and I sue debt collectors. The person you are looking for is not at this phone number; please do not call again.” (You can’t lie about being an attorney, however, so don’t copy this verbatim. Say you know your rights under the FDCPA or something.)

If they didn’t stop calling, though, I would have a good record that I asked, and that they didn’t comply. If you can’t record without notifying the other party or getting their consent, tell them that you are recording. You’ll have a record that they consented if it comes up.

Also, take careful notes of the time you were called, the person who called, what they said, what number they gave you, etc. Record voicemail messages, as well. You may never need them, but if you start getting harassed, all your careful records will come in handy.

idledebonair asked about the length of time a negative credit information can stay on your credit report.

First, this has nothing to do with whether or not you still owe the debt or whether the debt remains within the statute of limitations. Generally, then, the answer is seven years. You can find this in the FCRA (PDF link), section 605. There are two notable exceptions:

    1) Credit transactions where the principal amount is–or can reasonably be expected to be (in the case of credit lines, for example)–$150,000 or more.
    2) under the Higher Education Act of 1965, the seven years starts over every time you make a payment on an FFEL loan, and does not apply to Perkins loans.

In other words, it depends on the type of student loan, but you will live with Perkins loans until you pay them in full, and you will live with FFEL loans for at least seven years after your last payment, and there are a couple of other provisos to how long FFEL loans may be reported.

That’s all for now. Keep the comments coming.SAM GLOVER