Posts Tagged ‘DIY legal defense’

What difference is there with an attorney or DIY?

Sunday, February 22nd, 2015

There are plenty of sound reasons to hire a seasoned professional, who has the knowledge, tools, and experience to do the job correctly through to completion. Clearly, others agree with me by their referrals of folks in need of debt collection lawsuit defense or debt settlement. Superior Court dockets around California are flush with money judgments against people who had no legal representation, though the debtor filed documents in the case that he or she believed would prevent a money judgment.

A few people assume that lawyers simply type their new client’s name and case number on a standardized legal form, then pay the court’s fee to file it. Trial could be many months off, so what happens now? Next is the discovery phase, in which both sides get to ask the other for their documents and evidence of the case, to prepare for trial. Lawyers who do these cases are ready, so expect to receive those requests from the debt collection lawyers soon after your response is filed. They can also ask to have you appear in their law office to answer questions under oath at a deposition. Is this something you can handle without an attorney present? You may also expect the debt collection lawyers to file a “motion” stating that you did something incorrectly, which can result in your papers being stricken or you may be ordered to pay more money, known as “monetary sanctions,” to the collection lawyers. If you are fortunate to get to trial, what do you say when the debt collection attorney asks you if this was your debt and if you disputed any of the credit card statements that the judge is reviewing? The knowledge of how to deal with each of these experiences is not learned in school, it is learned by handling these types of cases every day.

Some people believe that they have the same tools as a debt collection defense lawyer uses for taking on a debt collection law firm: a computer, a printer, and the internet. As anyone with a new computer can remind those people, a computer is useless without certain programs and the information those apps require. Even MS Word is a blank slate that needs legal forms in document files, before a lawyer can file it in court. There is also the challenge of representing yourself, when it comes time to serve a document. Serving a legal document must be done by someone who is not party to the lawsuit, which is why a process server, a lawyer and anyone in the law firm can serve legal documents.  Anyone but a party, who is at least age 18.

I cannot imagine someone believing that they have the experience of an attorney who every day represents consumers against debt collection attorneys. Lawyers who rarely handle debt collection cases don’t have the experience to know how much these cases often settle for and which debt collection agencies and creditors settle for less and which demand more. That is why many lawyers who do not handle these cases quote astronomical fees to prospective clients, because they don’t have any idea how much time the case requires and they’d rather not deal in unfamiliar territory. Also, because those lawyers don’t routinely handle debt collect cases, they will take much longer getting papers together and making sure, from start to finish, that key areas have been covered.

When you hire an attorney with the experience handling debt collection cases, you benefit from his or her knowledge, tools and experience, which ends up saving money and reducing the risk of bad outcomes posed by such lawsuits.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler
Facebook: www.facebook.com/SoCalConsumerLawyer

Living Below Radar, Best Time for Hardship Settlement Offer

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

Question: I am living below the radar, not paying off any debts. I believe that several debt collection lawsuits have been filed against me, which I have ignored. I am not sure if they have gotten judgments against me or not, but there is nothing in my name and all my transactions are in cash, even my income is entirely cash-based. Is there a good time to come out of the shadows and deal with this and, if there is a good time, when and how? Thanks.

My response:
You appear to be following a mish-mash of (a) my “Don’t Pay a Dime Strategy” in which the debtor does not pay the debts in the hope that the creditor or debt buyer will miss the statute of limitations and (b) some other advice you found somewhere commonly referred to as “Judgment Proof.” I am not a fan of your current strategy, because anyone with a house, bank account, or a job that pays more than the minimum wage in California, would not be judgment proof or would be subjected to massive judgments once they get a job, bank account, or real property.

The result is the debtor ends up overpaying to resolve old debts, because the judgment creditor (the person or entity who has a judgment for money) gets a judgment for the full balance, plus accrued interest, court costs, and sometimes attorney’s fees. Defending my clients from debt collection lawsuits has saved my clients so much in most cases. If you’ve ever experienced a small bulb growing into a large flower, you can relate to how these debts blossom and bloom from a simple credit card balance to a default judgment. For the judgment creditor, it’s a sweet smelling, colorful flower. To the judgment debtor, it’s a Venus fly trap!

I have posted several blogs about timely responding when served with a debt collection lawsuit. I have also explained how default judgments are obtained without the debtor knowing about it and what can be done to resolve those old default judgments. I have blogs and legal guides on Avvo.com that explain how to settle and what documentation is essential. Please review my postings, which are organized by several categories.

Great question on when is a good time to settle old debts, including old default judgments. Of course, right now is a great time to settle old debts, especially if the debtor has no assets and very low or no income. When the judgment creditor is unable to collect most or all of the judgment and the debtor could be a candidate for Bankruptcy Chapter 7, that’s when the debtor can propose a “hardship settlement offer,” because they have an actual financial hardship. The offer works best if the debtor has access to additional funds to make an offer that is greater than what their assets and income can provide. For example, since retirement funds are beyond reach of civil judgments, borrowing from a 401-k, a family member, or on an open line of credit, are ways to get the funds for a hardship settlement offer.

How you come out is up to you, but this can be done between the debtor and the debt collection agency directly or the debtor may want to use outside resources. Perhaps there is a family member who is comfortable doing this or hire a debt collection DEFENSE attorney to negotiate. The key is not paying too much for the settlement process, to leave enough to propose an attractive settlement amount. Too little and the debt collector will reject the offer and wait.
Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler
Facebook: www.facebook.com/SoCalConsumerLawyer

I was just served with a credit card collection lawsuit. Now what?

Monday, March 4th, 2013

Question: I stopped paying on my credit card a while back, because I was tired of paying a high interest rate and I did not have enough money to pay it all off. I sort of suspected that this debt would be sold to a debt collection agency for pennies on the dollar, but the papers are asking for me to pay the full balance, plus the high interest rate that I thought I was going to avoid. I contacted the company and they are holding firm on that number. I don’t have the money for this and my income is too high to qualify for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

My response:
First, please check out the short videos on my home page. The first video is a quick overview of all options that are possible to the situation of being served with a debt collection lawsuit. That will help you narrow down your options to the one or two that suit your situation and your own preferences. Your posting did not specify what bank had the original credit card or when you last paid it, which will help determine if they filed the lawsuit after the statute of limitations period had expired. That is very important in these cases and makes a big difference.

I’d then suggest reading my blog posting on the defendant’s Next Steps when the consumer has been sued in a debt collection lawsuit on a defaulted credit card. That blog explains how much time is appropriate to avoid a default judgment, as some people confuse a hearing date with the due date for a proper, written response. If you want to defend this lawsuit and have a good chance to settle for much less or possibly get the case dismissed, do not miss the deadline for filing a response or having a lawyer do this for you. It is usually 30 days from the date of being personally served, but please don’t wait for the last minute.

I don’t suggest that consumers or non-litigation attorneys try to handle the lawsuit defense for themselves, as I have seen too many people either pay way more than they should to settle with the debt collection law firm or they file papers with the court, which get stricken as being defective or improperly admit most or all of the debt collection lawsuit. Almost as bad, is when the debt collection lawyers press the case very hard against the defendant, using court procedures and formal discovery requests to overcome the defendant’s attempt to get the case to trial. I have some of these as PDFs on my website, in the Case Examples tab.

To avoid the risk of losing a money judgment for the full balance in the lawsuit plus accrued interest, I urge you to contact an experienced consumer attorney, who regularly handles debt collection lawsuit defense. An experienced attorney should be able to help negotiate a satisfactory settlement or get the case dismissed, depending on the admissible evidence that the debt collection law firm can obtain or not obtain.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler

Facebook: www.facebook.com/SoCalConsumerLawyer

DIY Collection Lawsuit Defense: Key Pitfalls

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Question: I am not attorney, but I want to represent myself in a debt collection lawsuit. What are the major pitfalls that I should study at the law library or online, so that I am ready to take the case to trial?

My response: There are so many books on the web that brag about having had one or two victories in court against debt collection lawyers. While I have gotten many collection cases dismissed for my clients and settled many others, when an individual expects to prevail in court on an unpaid debt, probably they have read too many web sites selling books and other materials that probably will do nothing, other than get a money judgment entered against them for the full balance, plus interest, costs and attorney’s fees.

Here are several of the major pitfalls, which is why it takes years of law school and experience defending debt collection cases, to really be able to have a sound strategy to help the client reach the outcome they desire for the case:
a. If the answer to complaint contains errors, the court may disregard it and enter a money judgment, if the Plaintiff’s attorney files a motion to strike or demurrer to the answer to complaint. Sometimes, the Defendant does not pay the court’s appearance fee.
b. The Plaintiff’s attorney sends written discovery to the Defendant or sets their deposition to answer questions under oath. If the defendant fails to respond timely and in proper form, the Plaintiff’s attorney can seek sanctions of more money or limit the important facts at trial.
c. The Plaintiff’s attorney can file a motion for summary judgment, which adds more costs to the case ($500). If granted, there is no trial, only a judgment.
d. The Plaintiff’s attorney can ask questions at trial of the Defendant, many of which might result in the court entering a judgment.
e. The court can set hearings and conferences that require both sides to attend. Missing these can cause the court to strike the answer to complaint.
f. The Plaintiff’s attorney offers evidence at trial that is hearsay or unreliable, but the defendant does not object properly or fails to explain why the evidence should be rejected, so the evidence is admitted and a money judgment entered.
g. The Defendant does not understand the rules that apply to the debt lawsuit, such as the Statute of Limitations, so they expend their efforts on incorrect views of the law and don’t pursue legitimate defenses that an experienced attorney would have found.

I have had many clients come to me after they try to represent themselves. They typically received papers from the Plaintiff’s attorney or from the court, but didn’t know how to respond, so that they are facing sanctions or have been sanctioned by the court for noncompliance. Or, even worse, a judgment has been entered at trial, but the defendant still believes that they should spend more time and money on an appeal.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler

Facebook: www.facebook.com/SoCalConsumerLawyer

Virtual Law Firm Prepared Legal Papers for Debtor Pro Per, Money Judgment Now Imminent

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Question:
I found an attorney online and used my only good credit card to have his firm prepare and file the legal forms for me to prevent a default judgment in Superior Court. This was a lawsuit on an old credit card which hired debt collection lawyers in San Diego, California. I read that the collection agency paid pennies on the dollar for my account.  My attorney said they did great paperwork, and that I can handle the rest of this myself, since their papers were so thorough, and that I should win a dismissal at trial.   Now the collection lawyers filed papers for a full money judgment, plus they want their attorney’s fees, too.  I don’t know how to respond to this and my lawyer now wants more money to prepare the papers, otherwise it will become a money judgment. No trial, just a judgment. This is very upsetting and no one told me this might happen and now I may need to explain this to the judge.  Help!

My response:
Virtual law firms preparing legal papers, without representing the debtor consumer, is a new low for lawyers.  In my 19 years as a lawyer, I understand why you should be upset. Lawyers are supposed to take responsibility for handling the case, not dump a bunch of papers onto their client without any guidance.  When a lawyer prepare the legal forms for someone as a “pro per,” then the client is 100% responsible for what happens next and for dealing with the debt collection lawyers and their debt collectors.

Did you know that the collection lawyers still call you and file papers in court to get a money judgment without trial?  Who would be comfortable with that. If you have a lawyer on the case, then you should not need to deal with debt collection calls. Filing the initial papers and sending some written requests is the tip of the iceberg, it does not win the case, without an attorney backing up those documents with actual, legal representation and efforts.

Also, what happens if the case goes to trial?  Do you know how to object to improper evidence, when to object, and what are proper objections? These are legal skills that lawyers take years to develop, even after several years studying at law school and passing the bar exam. I have read trial transcripts of a debtor who represented himself at trial, and he objected at all the wrong times and did not object to the evidence that resulted in a full money judgment against him.

I agree with you. Filing the documents for you and then leaving you to defend this lawsuit is shocking. Perhaps I am too old school, but if a judgment for the debt is entered against you, then I don’t see how this lawyer helped one bit. They charged you money and gave you some sheets of paper that looked really nice, but now you must hire an attorney to see if the case can be salvaged, before the court enters a judgment for the full balance against you. You should call me or another experienced lawyer to oppose this motion and take the immediate steps, before the trial date and to prepare for trial.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler

Never Served, but Now Something Came by Mail, a Request for Entry of Default Judgment

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

Question:
What does it mean when the collection lawyers sent me a Request for Entry of Default Judgment? The only thing that I received from this law firm before now were a couple of letters, which I did not call back, because I didn’t have money to settle.  The papers show they have filed a lawsuit in the courthouse near me, which the online case summary shows they claim they served the summons and complaint by mail on me a couple of months ago. I thought that the law requires personal service of lawsuits, something called “due process”?

My response:
You are correct, there is a Constitutional principle known as Due Process, which requires that a defendant be given notice of a pending lawsuit, preferably by personal service on the defendant. However, California civil procedure permits alternative forms of service, if the process server declares that they tried several times to serve you personally at home or at work, but you were never present.  This is known as due diligence.  After due diligence, they can hand the summons and complaint to someone who is an adult at the defendant’s house or apparently in charge at your workplace and then mail a copy to you at that address.  This is known a substitute service.

If you have been substitute served, rather than the usual 30 days to respond in writing to the lawsuit, California civil procedure adds 10 days from the date of mailing, giving you or your defense attorney a total of 40 days from date of mailing to file in court your response.  One point about substitute service: it must be delivered to someone at your residence or work address, or it is invalid and can be challenged, but act promptly and consult with experienced counsel on that, as there is no standard DIY form to set aside a default judgment.

Now that a couple of months have passed since the process server said he or she substitute served you, the debt collection lawyers have sent you a copy of the Request for Entry of Default, which they have also probably sent to the Clerk of the Court to be filed.  If the Clerk files it, then it becomes an enforceable judgment against you, unless you set aside the default judgment, satisfy the default judgment by paying money to settle in full with the plaintiff, or file bankruptcy to have it discharged.

A California judgment must be renewed every 10 years, or it expires, but many collection agencies keep track of judgment expiration dates and renew it until satisfied in full or discharged in bankruptcy.  Thus, I would suggest you deal with it now, if possible, as it can remain out there forever and pop up and be very annoying and vexing at the most inconvenient times.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler

Three Common Mistakes to Avoid when Negotiating a Settlement of a Collection Lawsuit

Friday, August 17th, 2012

Consumers routinely try to settle a debt collection lawsuit, which is something that I believe should be explored, before deciding which option is best (see the first video on my web site’s home page, “Understanding Your Options”)).  Below are the three most common mistakes that consumers make in the settlement process.  There are plenty of others, but from the horror stories that I have reviewed after the fact, these are the most common regarding settlement.   Often, these pitfall prevent a settlement and risk a money judgment for the full balance and other charges by the debt collection law firm, which then shows up on consumer credit reports.

Mistake 1.  Whatever settlement you negotiate and accept, be sure that you can comply with the payment terms, or you may probably end up with a judgment for the full amount (less credit for payments), if you miss a payment or are late.  I often caution people to look carefully at their finances before entering into a settlement discussion.  I also warn against very long term payments, even if the seem affordable. This is not a car that you can at least drive around for several years.  If anything happens financially, such as unemployment or illness in the family, and you are unable to make the monthly payments, the collection attorney can enter a judgment on the full unpaid balance, which is almost back to square one for this lawsuit, but now there will be a money judgment on your credit reports.

Mistake 2.  Be aware of the little things that can add up to an enormous settlement, if agreeing to make payments over time.  In particular, the rate of interest on the unpaid balance.  The current legal rate in California on a money judgment is 10%, which is what money judgments earn, even if the debt was originally at a higher rate.  Not only that, but many creditors and debt collectors will not charge any interest (0%) on a long-term payment settlement agreement, provided that the agreed payments are timely received and don’t bounce.  Consider the rate of interest and try to get interest waived (0%), before agreeing to make long-term payments, as an interest rate  adds many payments to the settlement.

Mistake 3. A few people believe that they can negotiate a lower settlement of a debt collection lawsuit by misstating their income or other financial information, or not providing it at all.  Debtors must be accurate and avoid misleading statements when negotiating. Debt collection agencies and their lawyers often have a copy of the debtor’s credit report and other available information to help root out inaccurate statements.  For instance, if the debtor claims to be swimming under a load of debt, but their credit report shows only two low balance credit cards, then that will be viewed as a bad faith settlement tactic, and probably be rejected.  Another example is to claim that the house has no equity, which is easy to verify using free online databases of housing values.

Please also be aware that credit reports contain inaccurate information or are missing key data, which the debtor may need to clarify or explain, if aware of that.  For instance, some credit reports show the debtor at a different address in a good area, but if you have moved or it is only a private mail box, perhaps the debtor should clarify, so they understand your circumstances are more dire than once assumed.  Some credit reports also show employment information, which can also make a big difference in negotiating a settlement.

Hiring an attorney to negotiate and defend against a debt collection can make a difference, but I try to encourage consumers to try this for themselves, to see if they can save the legal fees and courts costs.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com
Twitter @RStempler

Tips to a Former Small Business Owner, Now Trying to Settle Remaining Debts

Friday, December 30th, 2011

Question:
I had a small construction business that went under a couple of years ago when housing took a nose dive.  Some business debts remain and I am getting calls from a manager of one of my suppliers, who wants me to settle up on a $2500 account, but I have nothing to pay them. They are now threatening to sue me for the debt.  Any suggestions? Should I call the manager?

My response:
If you can borrow the funds from family and friends to settle the entire debt for less than the full balance due, then that is a good reason to negotiate with the manager.  I would not propose that you simply borrow the full amount from your friends and family, so that you would owe the same amount of debt to them. When your pockets are empty, that is the time to negotiate with your creditors to settle for much less than the full amount, such that you reduce your debts to something that you can pay off quickly to your friends, when things turn around for you.

In settling any debts, be sure that you have written confirmation that the amount you are paying will settle the full balance.  It is not unusual for a debtor to believe that they have negotiated a very good settlement, then learn later that the money paid was applied merely as a credit towards the balance, and the creditor still demands payment on the rest (or files a debt collection lawsuit) or has assigned the unpaid balance to a debt collection agency.

I have posted on Avvo.com three legal guides on how to negotiate a debt, including specific information on the documentation that should be prepared to ensure that the debt is considered fully satisfied by both sides.  Link to Avvo.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com

Protection of Homeowner Equity for Declared Homesteads from Debt Collection Judgments

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

Question:
I tried to represent myself against a professional debt collection law firm on a debt that I thought would be easy to defeat at trial, when I could tell my side of the story. A few days ago, the court allowed a summary judgment against me on the debt, plus interest and attorney’s fees.  There is no trial anymore, the case is over.  Is there anything that I can do to protect my home, which has about $50,000 in equity, based on current market values?

My response:
Sorry to hear about the court ruling against you and awarding a judgment for all the items sought in the complaint by the debt collection law firm.  Most debt collection cases are decided without trial.  See my prior blog on this at this blog link.

Protecting the equity in your home from a money judgment (other than for child or spousal support) is pretty easy.  A homestead declaration is available online for FREE at Los Angeles County Government’s web site.  Form Link Declaration Otherwise, you can get one at the local law library or many mailbox stores with legal forms.  Prepare the form and take it to a notary public who will notarize your signature on the form, then you must record the original with the county recorder or county clerk’s office. Record the declaration as soon as possible, preferably before the debt collection law firm records its judgment in your county of residence.

The homestead declaration will protect the equity in your home, up to the statutory amounts.  For example, a single individual may keep up to $75,000 in homeowner’s equity.  Low income families can protect even more equity.  The funds must be applied towards another home, with a homestead declaration, purchased within six months of the sale of the former home.

There are other advantages to having the homestead declaration recorded. For instance, if the creditor attempts to sell the property of the judgment debtor, when a homestead declaration has been recorded, the court must presume that the homestead exemption applies.

I have other blog postings and a legal guide on Avvo.com to help you deal with other aspects of a money judgment, such as wage garnishment. Wage Garnishment Legal Guide. Please do this immediately, as it may only be a few days before the debt collection lawfirm records the abstract of judgment in your county.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com

What is a Charged-Off Debt?

Monday, November 21st, 2011

Question:
I was told by the debt collector that the bank charged off or wrote off my balance. Does this mean that I no longer owe this debt?  Can the bank or its debt collection agency continue to call me to pay this debt or sue me in court?

My response:

The terms “written off,” “charged off,” and “charged-off to bad debt” are used by accountants to comply with various accounting rules that banks and other financial institutions must follow.  The terms may be used interchangeably, as they have the same meaning and legal effect.  Accountants and bookkeepers of the creditor must consider a debt as “written off,” after the required period of time has expired, without receiving the required payment.  For banks, this period is typically six months of no payments. Other institutions have periods, sometimes longer and sometimes shorter, depending on the applicable rules.

My firm’s web site, StopCollectionLawsuits.com, has an article entitled, “Understanding why you were sued,” which explains the steps of going from an credit card account which was in good standing to an account that the bank has written off as uncollectible to being sued in court in a debt collection lawsuit. Sometimes the bank hires a debt collection lawfirm to sue you in its own name. Other times, the bank sells the debt to another debt collector, which sues you in its name. Bad debts are often sold by large creditors as a “portfolio” to a large debt collection agency.

Either way, the credit card debt that was charged off is still legally enforceable in court by the current owner of the debt. One caveat would be that the debt collection lawsuit must be filed in a California court within the statute of limitations period that applies to the debt.  The statute of limitations is discussed in my blog posting called the “Don’t Pay a Dime Strategy,” at this link: Not One Dime Blog.

One other caveat is that the debt collector or creditor not have sent an IRS 1099-C for the balance of the debt. If this was received, give the tax form to your taxpreparer, but there are court cases stating that if the owner of a debt issues and files with IRS a Form 1099-C, the debt is no longer enforceable. Unless the 1099-C was issued in error and corrected, then the debt is thereafter unenforceable in court and perhaps collection calls would be illegal.

Robert Stempler
www.StopCollectionLawsuits.com