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Ask Dave

Marine With a Mess

Matt has a brother-in-law in the military overseas, and he's in collections for not paying tuition for a class. He owes $3,500. What's the best way to help his brother-in-law settle this mess?

QUESTION: Matt in Salt Lake City has a brother-in-law in the military overseas, and he’s in collections for not paying tuition for a class. He owes $3,500. What’s the best way to help his brother-in-law settle this mess?

ANSWER: They usually don’t settle. They’re right.

You need to call the school and get an audit done on what they’re doing here because the collection agency may have taken a $500 debt and turned it into $3,500 with a bunch of ridiculous fees. Find out what he actually registered for.

What I would do is this. Just call the registration office and ask to speak to one of the executive team there and say, “Hey, listen, we’ve got a Marine here serving his country, and I need a little help walking through this because this doesn’t seem right to me. If it’s right, we’re going to pay it, but I need some help because I’m getting the runaround with these people. My brother-in-law says he only had two classes. These guys have got it at $3,500. Would you pull this up and see what is really owed for me and show me how we got to where we are? Just help me out here. This guy’s out there serving his country in the sandbox. Give us a leg up here, you know?”

Find somebody in there who actually cares about service people and military people. Somebody will help you. Dig into it that way. You’re not going to get any help from the brain- damaged collection agency. You’ve already found that out.

What you’ve got to do is get into this and figure out if your brother-in-law just immature and he had no idea and he signed up for a whole bunch of crap and it’s $3,500 and he just owes it and he screwed up because he didn’t watch what he was doing. He was being stupid. Or have they taken a $500 bill for a couple of hours of classes that weren’t properly cancelled and turned that into a $3,500 rip-off job through some collection agency? It’s probably one or the other.

It’s just going to be some detective work to call the registrar’s office at the University of Maryland. And I’ll bet if you tell them what I said—that this is a young Marine, he’s over there fighting for us, protecting us, and I’m not asking for anything special. I just need a little help and you to walk through and pull the account up and actually look at it for me, not just blow me off and show me what’s really going on—somebody will help you and then you’ll have better information to work with, because honestly, I don’t trust either one of your sources’ accuracy. I don’t trust your brother-in-law’s accuracy because I don’t think he half-knew what he was doing, and I don’t trust the collection agency with the student loan’s accuracy because they don’t know what they’re doing. Or if they do, it’s even scarier.