I have a dumb question, but please read it through

I have a bill collector who is begging me to settle. I do agree that I made the debt and therefore I need to pay it full, even if just to ease my conscience. This bill collector keeps telling me the company needs to close the account sooner rather than later, due to the “value” of money today versus in the future, among other reasons. Can they force me to settle by taking me to court? I have already paid more than the offered settlement amount. At some point, can they send me a letter saying it is settled even if I haven’t agreed to a settlement? I’m just curious.

I’m just not sure I buy the advice in this column, much as I want to

We have an old debt that continues to haunt us. Or I should say, that my husband has an old debt from his previous marriage. However, it’s something that he truly feels that is not his debit. He was out of the country for two years, his wife opened an account without his signature, charged an item, and according to the divorce document was responsible for after the divorce.

However, it has continued to be sold, and rereported as new, to various collection agencies. They come around about every 6 months and send us a letter or two (we just got a new one this week offering 50% payment). But it keeps getting renewed on his credit report and despite having disputed it, it remains. We just get a notification from the credit bureaus that it is a valid debt. (It may be valid, but it’s not HIS.)

We’re at a loss as to how to handle it – it’s over 12 years old. On one hand, I’d just like it to go away. On the other hand, we really feel like it’s legally not his debt. I haven’t yet requested validation from any of the collection agencies because I am sure they will just give us the same runaround “it’s valid” that we’ve gotten from the credit bureau.

Anyway, no point to this rambling other than to say that in my experience, I just haven’t found that disputing a debt with a credit bureau does much of anything.


Mmmm, I don’t know. I’m pretty strict with the whole ethical aspect of debt reduction (having NOT been as a young adult) and yet if I had received a 1099c on a debt–that’s a pretty firm indication of settlement on the part of the creditor. While obviously it would have been better to have paid off the debt initially–well there’s a point at which you have to say that amends have been made and the way towards righteousness is in focusing on present and future behavior. Trying to make good on a debt that the original creditor has already written off its books and the profit on which you have already paid taxes is like calling an ex-husband five years after the divorce and offering to go to marriage counseling.

I’m not saying there’s a time and a place for making good on very old debts. I owe $1800.00 to my mother’s ex-husband–$1200.00 of which it can be convincingly argued I’d have never needed to borrow if I hadn’t gotten mixed up in his life to begin with. We haven’t spoken in well over a decade. But he’s on my list in the proper place in the snowball (most of which is on hold till my taxes are caught up). I don’t even know where to FIND him at this point, but it’s right to repay him. So this isn’t about the age of the debt. It’s about the degree to which the debt has been settled. If ex-stepfather called me tomorrow and said, “I heard you have plans to repay me, look, I’ve thought about it and here’s why I don’t want you to do that . . .” or “this would be a more reasonable amount, after all, I was the one who talked you into blah, blah, blah” then there wouldn’t be anything immoral about accepting his offer (although I’d probably want to pray about it first).

My 2 cents

While this approach may be LEGAL, ignoring old debts is far from MORAL, once you do have the means with which to make good on the contracts, which you entered into voluntarily. This is part of what’s wrong now.
People want to get off of the hook for mistakes that they have made. It makes everything cost more for everyone, at least those moral enough to pay their own obligations. Think, “What would grandma do?”

I agree about the cease and desist letter

I would hold off on sending that because once they receive your validation letter, they can’t contact you until after they validate the debt, so they will temporarily be off you back with just the validation letter. Rather than a cease and desist (which means they can’t contact you at all) you can write them and request they only contact you in writing – no phone calls.

I’m glad you found a lawyer who will talk to you free of charge. Be sure to mention you believe they are violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Discrimination probably isn’t illegal in the debt collection world, but telling you they will take your vehicle as payment for your debt is.

Keep us posted!


I plan on sending two letters on Monday, one a validation letter which I have a sample copy of and one a cease and desist letter which I also have a sample copy of. The sad part is that by the time that validate the debt I should have enough for their settlement amount as my husband is back to work and making very good money right now. I am calling a lawyer on Monday also because she mad me so mad when she suggested I shouldn’t be feeding my kids first and told me she wasn’t waiting for “tax time” just because I had gone and had all those dependents (we have 4 including my stepson). That right there to me is discrimination on top of abuse. The lawyer offers a 20 minute free consultation so I’m taking it. Thanks for all of the information.

Oh, this makes me mad!

I’ve been going through the same thing with some really awful debt collectors and it’s been a nightmare.

Whatever you do, don’t send them any money right now. They are trying to intimidate you into paying them before you take care of your “four walls.” They will say anything to make you mad and upset you. They want you to get to the point where you will pay them to get them off your back. I don’t think sending them a pro-rata letter is a good idea either. If they see you have money to pay anyone else, they will continue to try to intimidate you until they get to the top of your list.

If you do want to work out a settlement with them, you should send them a validation letter first. It can be a simple one-line letter saying, “I dispute this debt in it’s entirety and request validation.” Make sure you send it certified mail return receipt requested. Once they receive the letter from you (you will get the green postcard with a signature as proof), they cannot contact you until they have sent you proof that you owe them the money. You should never pay any debt collector anything without proof that they are collecting for a credit card you owe or that they have legitimately purchased a debt that you owe. They also have to account for the amount they say you owe them, original debt, interest, etc. If they can’t prove those things, you don’t owe them a dime.

Now about the phone calls – what they are telling you on the phone sounds like a violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
They cannot threaten to take any property, garnish your wages, or anything like that unless they are lawyers, and they are not lawyers, they are a collection agency. A real lawyer wouldn’t threaten you like that on the phone. And they definitely can’t take your car! By violating the FDCPA, the collection agency is liable to pay you $1000 per violation plus legal fees. That would probably cover a big part of the debt you owe. You may choose to fight them and try to collect that.

If you have a way to record the phone calls and the threats they’re making, then do it. If it isn’t legal in your state to record phone calls, then take detailed notes of the calls including the date and time. Check this website to see if it’s legal in your state to record phone calls: http://www.rcfp.org/taping/ It’s only illegal to record if you’re in a 2-party state. If you’re not in a 2-party state it’s OK to record because you are one of the parties consenting to record the call.

Once you have written or recorded documentation of the harrassing phone calls, find a lawyer who will take your case without you first paying a retainer fee – my experience has been that most lawyers will try to talk you into bankruptcy, but don’t go there. Maybe you know a lawyer or have a friend of a friend who can recommend a lawyer for you. If you’re in Oklahoma, I can recommend someone.

I know it’s scary to get a lawyer involved, but if you don’t settle with them (only after they have validated the debt) or if you choose to ignore the debt collector, they will either sell your debt to another debt collector who will start the collection process all over again or they can retain a lawyer who will initiate legal proceedings to sue you (some states require they get a lawyer in your state, I know Oklahoma is that way). If you get sued they can put a lien on your property or garnish your wages and it will cost you a lot more money than if you had just settled with them. Please don’t let it get to that point (I learned the hard way and have been sued and am in the process of being sued again).

Whatever you do, don’t make decisions out of fear. That’s what they want you to do. Also, don’t believe anything they’re telling you (like they don’t have to validate the debt). Part of their tactic is to lie to you and they will say anything to get your money.

None of it

1) They’ve contacted you three times, each time with a completely different amount.
2) They don’t get to determine where the money comes from. You list your assets. If this is the only asset you have the court is far more likely to garnish wages than to take the vehicle your husband uses to get to and from work.
3) You need to tell them the next time they call that you are formally requesting proof of the debt pursuant to the Fair Debt Collection Act.

Some of these collectors are legit and you really will have to settle with them. Others aren’t and it’s a scam. The higher the pressure and the more inconsistent their requests the more I smell a scam. The first ones will respond to your mention of the Fair Debt Collection Act, the second may not–but they’re not in a position to sue either.

I just got another call from the debt collector

Now I don’t have until Monday to pay this debt. I now have to pay them $1981 immediately or they will take me to court to take my husband’s vehicle. What should I do at this point since I don’t have that much money and have no way of getting it. She told me I shouldn’t be feeding my baby or putting a roof over my family’s head if I couldn’t pay them. She said dh’s car is worth over $5000 and she would get it from us. Actually, with the body damage to it, it’s not worth $1500, but she won’t believe that. She also said they could make dh miss time from work to go to court over this. How much of this should I believe?

I’m not sure if I’m doing this in the right order or not, but here goes:

I have 2 months worth of the water bill pre-paid and since I use balance billing for the electric (and hardly ever use the central heat), I’m ahead there a smidge, almost a month ahead with the gas bill. I need to get in a good supply of Kerosene though, since I think this winter will be a chilly one.

I was telling Jan that I’m damned if I know how it happened, but the water bill dropped dramatically when the ex left. Maybe he was selling it in gallon jugs on the side of the road?! And I’m talking to the tune of $50 a month! So within 3 months I was $200 ahead of the bill, so much so that the water company called and told me not to make a payment the next month. Talk about a shocker (pleasant!).

My understanding is that we are striving to ultimately get to 3 – 6 months ahead on bills or better?

Thank you all for your thoughts

We were leaning towards doing it, but wanted to make sure I’m not being totally stupid. My husband isn’t able to do any additional weekend work because of a disability, and I am already to the max with my job and some part-time consulting I pick up on weekends. We’re hoping my husband continues to move up the ladder where he is now to help us dig out. Even if we made an extra one or two hundred on the side, with the interest rates we have on our current mortgage, it will take so much longer to dig out from this horrible loan. Hoping to stay accountable here to not spend the freed up money on paying stupid taxes in other areas (like out major downfall of the past…going out to eat!!!)