Kirby Law Office, PLLC

   Consumer and Technology Law
   1312 N. Monroe Street
   Spokane, WA 99203

Debt Collection

Help! I’m being sued. Will I go to jail?

If you are being sued for not paying a debt, rest assured, you will not be arrested or put in jail.  The civil law suit is intended to collect money from you. When you have been served with a lawsuit, the citation tells you how long you have to answer the petition. If you fail to answer the petition in the time allowed then the Plaintiff can take a judgment against you by default.

What happens if I let them take a judgment against me?

If you allow a judgment to be taken against you, that doesn’t necessarily end the proceeding. They can send our written questions (Interrogatories) to you and take your oral deposition (Supplemetnal Hearings)to find out information about your assets for purpose of collection their judgment. This can continue until they collect the judgment. 

If you fail to answer the questions or show up for a deposition, then they can ask the judge to hold you in contempt of court and to put you in jail until you answer their questions or give your deposition.  They can have a receiver appointed in a turnover action to take charge of your non-exempt assets and sell them to pay the judgment.

In Washington a creditor may have your wages garnished as well as your bank accounts to get your money to satisfy their judgment.

If you try to put your assets in someone else’s name they can bring a suit against you and them for fraudulent transfer of assets. The creditor can register their judgment in the county records where you have assets and renew the registration again in ten (10) years.  This can make it difficult to transfer you property even your homestead.  If you transfer non-homestead property the title companies will make you pay the judgment before they will insure the title. If you are selling your homestead they will make you get a release of the judgment against your homestead or pay the debt before they will insure title.

The amount you owe on a judgment will continue to rise until it is paid.  Creditors are allowed to collect interest on their judgment until it is paid at a rate of 12%.

Should I file for bankruptcy?

Bankruptcy may be an option, but typically should not be your first choice. It can stop most lawsuits and collections.  If this is the only debt you owe or the statute of limitations is about to run on the collection of your other debts, then bankruptcy should not be your first answer.  Bankruptcy goes on your credit record for ten (10) years, while the collection of a debt can only stay on your record seven (7) years from the time it went into default. The default occurred when you first stopped paying on the debt.  Also, if you file bankruptcy the court may determine that you have enough income to pay at least a portion of your debts and require you to do a reorganization plan with a part of your income used to pay your debts. A reorganization plan can last up to five (5) years.  The courts will make you live on a very tight budget during the time you are in reorganization.

Should I defend myself?

You have the right to defend yourself in any court, but defending yourself, unless you are familiar with tha law, is a very unwise choice. Even lawyers have a saying that the lawyer who represents himself in court has a fool for a client.  The laws regarding the collection of debts and procedure can be very difficult for an individual to understand.  You will have a skilled attorney on the other side that knows the laws and procedure to obtain a judgment against you.  The creditor’s lawyer will perform all the legal procedures they can to win.  They will take default judgments against you if you don’t answer. They will use discovery procedures which are very difficult for lay person to answer. Any slip-up may end with a judgment against you. If you go to court the creditor’s attorney can call you to the stand and use your testimony to prove their case against you.

Should I hire an Attorney?

This is by far your best choice.  Most attorneys do not handle debt collection case on a regular basis because the cases can require a lot of their time. They are not skilled in consumer law, but rather other areas of law.  A skilled consumer lawyer can handle all the day-to-day issues that come up in your case. Usually your attorneys can obtain a dismissal of your case or at least a practical settlement.  They know what defenses you can use.  They will handle the matters that are used against you in court and will prepare the necessary document to help you obtain a dismissal of the case, or at least make a practical settlement for you.  That alone is a savings in time, money and frustration.  Consumer lawyers win a lot of these cases for their clients by obtaining a dismissal of the case. Often they will recognize unfair debt collection practices or other violations of law and sue the creditor to collect damages, attorney’s fees and court cost for you.  They will make every effort to minimize the damage to your credit.  They probably have been in previous lawsuit with the same creditor and their lawyers. They have a good knowledge of what can be done to win your case or at least make a practical settlement.

We can help you to defend debt collection suits. We handle them on a regular day-to-day basis and have previous litigation experience with many creditors and their attorneys.

About Debt Collection

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act requires that debt collectors treat debtors fairly by prohibiting certain methods of debt collection. The law does not forgive any legitimate debt. To help you better understand debt collection, we offer the following answers to commonly asked questions about creditors and debtors rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

Who is a debt collector?

A debt collector is any person, other than the creditor, who regularly collects debts owed to others. Under a 1986 amendment to the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, this includes attorneys who collect debts on a regular basis.

What debts are covered?

Personal, family, and household debts are covered under the Act. This includes money owed for the purchase of an automobile, for medical care, or for charge accounts. Business account are not covered.

How may a debt collector contact a debtor?

A collector may contact a debtor in person, by mail, telephone, telegram, or FAX. However, a debt collector may not contact you at unreasonable times or places, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9p.m., unless the debtor agrees. A debt collector also may not contact a debtor at work if the collector knows that the employer disapproves.

Can you stop a debt collector from contacting you?

You can stop a collector from contacting you by writing a letter to the collection agency telling them to stop. Once the agency receives your letter, they may not contact you again except to say there will be no further contact. The agency may notify you if the debt collector or the creditor intends to take specific action.

May a debt collector contact anyone else about a debt?

If you have an attorney, the debt collector may not contact anyone other than your attorney. If you do not have an attorney, a collector may contact other people, but only to find out where you live and work. Collectors usually are prohibited from contacting such third parties more than once. In most cases, the collector may not tell anyone other than you and your attorney that you owe money.

What must the debt collector tell the debtor about the debt?

Within five days after you are first contacted, the collector must send you a written notice telling you the amount of money you owe, the name of the creditor to whom you owe the money, and what action to take if you believe you do not owe the money.

May a debt collector continue to contact a debtor if the debtor believes he does not owe money?

A collector may not contact you if, within 30 days after you are first contacted, you send the collection agency a letter stating you do not owe money. However, a collector can renew collection activities if you are sent proof of the debt, such as a copy of a bill for the amount owed and your signature on the original contract..

What types of debt collection practices are prohibited?

Harassment. Debt collectors may not harass, oppress, or abuse anyone. For example, debt collectors may not:

  • Use threats of violence or harm against the person, property, or reputation;
  • Publish a list of consumers who refuse to pay their debts (except to a Credit Reporting Agency);
  • Use obscene or profane language;
  • Repeatedly use the telephone to  annoy someone;
  • Telephone people without identifying themselves;
  • Advertise your debt.

False Statements. Debt collectors may not use any false statements when collecting a debt. For example, debt collectors may not:

  • Falsely imply that they are attorneys or government representatives;
  • Falsely imply that you have committed a crime;
  • Falsely represent that they operate or work for a credit bureau;
  • Misrepresent the amount of your debt;
  • Misrepresent the involvement of an attorney in collecting a debt;
  • Indicate that papers being sent to you are legal forms when they are not;
  • Indicate that papers being sent to you are not legal forms when they are.

Debt collectors also may not state that:

  • You will be arrested if you do not pay your debt;
  • They will seize, garnish, attach, or sell your property or wages, unless the collection agency or creditor intends to do so, and it is legal to do so;
  • Actions, such as a lawsuit, will be taken against you, which legally may not be taken, or which they do not intend to take.

Debt collectors may not:

  • Give false credit information about you to anyone;
  • Send you anything that looks like an official document from a court or government agency when it is not;
  • Use a false name.

Unfair Practices. Debt collectors may not engage in unfair practices when they try to collect a debt. For example, collectors may not:

  • Collect any amount greater that your debt, unless allowed by law;
  • Deposit a post-dated check prematurely;
  • Make you accept collect calls or pay for telegrams;
  • Take or threaten to take your property unless this can be done legally;
  • Contact you by postcard.

What can you do if you believe a debt collector violated the law?

You have the right to sue a collector in a state or federal court within one year from the date you believe the law was violated. If you win, you may recover money for the damages you suffered. Court costs and attorneys fees also can be recovered. A group of people (class action) also may sue a debt collector and recover money for damages up to $500,000.00, or one percent of the collectors net worth, whichever is less.

Where can you report a debt collector for an alleged violation?

Report any problems you have with a debt collector to your state Attorney General's Office and the Federal Trade Commission.  Many states have their own debt collection laws and your Attorney General's office can help you determine your rights.

How can we help you?

We can assist you in obtaining damages against a creditor who has violated your rights. Often the damages recovered can assist you to pay your debts off or at least significantly reduce them to a reasonable level.