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Ask Dave

Too Late to Fight Collector Pressure?

Dasha has a debt collector pursuing her for $1,800 and trying to garnish her wages. Are they within their legal rights, and how can she contest what they're claiming?

QUESTION: Dasha in New Jersey has a debt collector pursuing her for $1,800 and trying to garnish her wages. She bought a computer from Dell in 2006 but when the bills stopped being sent to her, she forgot about them and didn’t pay. Are they within their legal rights, and how can she contest what they’re claiming?

ANSWER: You’ve got two choices. One is to go to the collections organization that got the judgment lien against you and settle the debt. As a part of the settlement process, tell them to provide you with proof of where this debt came from, then you can discuss a reasonable settlement with them. If they tell you it was a Dell account and give you the right account number, tell them you only owe $400 on it.

If they tell you they added another $400 in gotcha fees, then offer them $500 as settlement in full on this $1,800 account, and you can clear it up. That’s probably your best route to go. If you don’t do that, they are going to take your wages.

The legality is that they’ve got you. They sued you and they won. If you had dealt with this before it happened, you might have been able to deal with them under the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. It’s too late for that now. They have a judgment lien.

You are down to two options. Hire an attorney and sue their butt off to get this judgment removed, which is probably going to cost you $5,000. You can get their attention that way or continue to try on your own by way of pounding them in the face until they give you some kind of answer and you work out a deal.

If they refuse to show up in court, then see if you can get the judgment thrown out. You may be able to pull that off without an attorney. The fact that you didn’t get notice or they won’t reveal any information about the debt doesn’t matter because it’s gone to judgment. It would have mattered early in the game.

You are trying to stand on two positions here, about not getting notice and them not giving you proof of the original debt, but it’s too late to stand on those two bricks. They are already under water. You have to go back and undo the judgment or settle it.

When you get the judgment undone, you’ve got their attention. They’ll start responding. I’d work both sides of that. I’d keep hammering away trying to get someone other than an idiot at this collections company, and they will settle that $1,800 for $500 in a heartbeat in this situation because they know they’re not going to get it.

However, you are past that now. I would keep throwing that in people’s faces but I don’t want you to be under the illusion that you’ve really got anything to stand on. At this stage, we are just practically trying to get rid of this mess. If the judge throws it out, you’ve got their attention and you can start negotiating it with them and settle it, or you just keep beating on them and negotiate it and settle it before you end up in court in April.

Either way, we need to keep them out of your pocket with the garnishment before that happens. You just continue to be in people’s faces with these certified letters and emails and phone calls. This is your new hobby.

In the future, remember that this big mess is what happens when you don’t deal with it when it’s a little mess. People who sweep things under the rug forget that it will grow into a monster. You’ve got to learn to nip things in the bud before it gets to this stage.