Free Annual Credit Report

Have you been to the doctor lately?  Had your car serviced?  Did you clean the gutters?  There are certain things you should do on a regular annual basis.  Checking your credit report is one of them.  Furthermore, it does not cost you. Consumers can check their credit report for FREE once a year at https://www.annualcreditreport.com/index.action. This website gives you access to all three credit reporting companies.  Note that while your credit report is free, there is a cost involved to get your credit score. It is a good idea to make sure the information in your credit report is accurate and up to date.  This helps monitor for blended files, where someone may have a similar name or social security number, and helps monitor for identity theft. If you do find an inaccuracy, you can dispute errors with the credit reporting agencies.  There is more information provided by the Federal Trade Commission with sample letters at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0291-disputing-errors-credit-reporting-companies.   Read More

“Free” Means Free

Gifts do not come with a price tag for the recipient, and a free offer means that you can sample the product or service without economic impact on your part. A free trial offer is a legitimate marketing technique whereby a consumer may be allowed to sample a product or service on a limited basis without obligation.  A free trial lets you decide on the merit of the product or service instead of relying on the basis of advertising. However, some free trial offers come with a caveat that the offer is only free for a specified time, after which, if you fail to cancel the promotion, you could be obligated to pay.  That is not necessarily bad because it makes it convenient for the consumer to continue receiving the product or service.  But that might not be what you want. Be careful what you sign up for…and watch your calendar. A free trial offer may lead you to discover something you really want…or something you really do not want, like a duty to pay.  To learn more about being a savvy shopper, the Federal Trade Commission has a free online video at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0101-free-trial-offers.   Read More

General Tips for Consumers

If you can avoid filing a lawsuit against a goods or services provider, that is usually easier (and less expensive) than going through the litigation.  To help you be a more savvy consumer, the Federal Trade Commission offers these general tips: (1) Know who you’re dealing with.  Do business only with companies that clearly provide their name, street address, and phone number. (2) Protect your personal information.  Share credit card or other personal information only when buying from a company you know and trust. (3) Take your time.  Resist the urge to “act now.”   Most any offer that’s good today will be good tomorrow, too. (4) Rate the risks.  Every potentially high-profit investment is a high-risk investment.  That means you could lose your investment—all of it. (5) Read the small print.  Get all promises in writing and read all paperwork before making any payments or signing any contracts.  Pay special attention to the small print. (6) “Free” means free.  Throw out any offer that says you have to pay to get a gift or a “free” gift.  If something is free or a gift, you don’t have to pay for it.  Period. To learn more about consumer rights and how […] Read More

Debt Collector Decorum

The Debt Collector Cotillion does not include calling consumers late at night, or causing their phones to ring continuously or repeatedly.  A good debt collector knows how to inspire you to pay within the law.  A bad collector strays into unfair debt collection practices. Just because you owe money does not mean you lack rights. The Federal Trade Commission has put together a two-minute video to walk you through the basics of debtors’ rights (you can view it online at http://bcove.me/t6s6l7lf); seek competent legal counsel if you need further assistance asserting your rights.   Read More

Wage Garnishment Trend

Wage garnishment used to be all the rage for child support; lately it has been trending for consumer debt collection, especially within the 35 to 44-aged set. A new study by National Public Radio and ProPublica shows that one in ten American employees between the ages of 35 and 44 have a lighter paycheck due to wage garnishment, and for those earning $25,000 to $40,000 a year, more than half that population are being garnished for consumer debt (not child support). In Florida, debt collectors can take up to 25% of your net pay for things like old credit card debt, medical bills, and/or student loans.  Debt collection is big business.  Debt-buyers purchase delinquent accounts for pennies on the dollar.  For the debt-buyer it is a numbers game—often a BIG numbers game because many consumers are not aware of their rights or how to assert them and do not defend their case at the hearing (if they attend at all). Furthermore, the debt-buyers purchase a spreadsheet of data without verification that the information is correct.  The debt-buyer does not know if the consumer owes anything or not, or how much.  They will not collect on every account, but they collect […] Read More

Time Machines in Credit Card Contracts?

There was a young lady who bought shoes in bulk, that way she got a discount and always had something to wear on her feet.  The purchase landed on her credit card statement as a big debt.  The young lady wondered how she would ever foot the bill. She took steps to pay off the debt—she got a job and put herself on a budget.  Little by little she began to reduce her debt balance, but her account went delinquent because she had other bills to pay as well, like rent and food and gas.  Then the young lady got sued in Small Claims Court on the credit card contract. The problem was that the credit card company had charged off the debt in 2004, but the credit card agreement was copyrighted in 2006.  “How are you suing on Contract?” the young lady’s attorney asked, at which point the debt collector got back in his time machine and disappeared from the lawsuit. Just because you owe money does not mean you lack rights.  Seek competent legal counsel to properly assert your consumer rights. Read More

Do’s & Don’t’s of Fair Debt Collection

Debt collection is big business in America, employing about 140,000 workers who recover roughly $50 billion each year, according to the Federal Reserve.  The debt collectors’ cotillion has an etiquette of DO’s and DON’T’s that separates the fair from those using unfair debt collection practices. Fair debt collector DO’s include: Contacting you if you are behind in your payments. Contacting you in person, by mail, email, telephone, telegram, or fax. Sending you written notice within five days after you are first contacted, informing you of the amount owed, the creditor owed, and what action you may take if you disagree. Accurately disclose their identity to whomever answers the telephone.  Fair debt collector DON’T’s include: Communicating with you or your family with such frequency as can reasonably be considered harassing. Calling you at work if the collector knows your employer does not approve. Contacting you before 8 am or after 9 pm (unless you agree) Contacting you after you have written a letter to them asking them to stop contacting you (except to tell you that there will be no further contact, or to notify you of their specific action). Harassing you or your family. Threaten violence. Use obscene or profane […] Read More

Dealing with Debt Collectors

Jacksonville was recently named as a southern city with a disproportionate number of people in debt collections.  Debt is bad enough, dealing with debt collectors can be even worse.  You can stop the debt collector calls and letters, though, while you work on repaying the debt. Debt buyers purchase debt in bulk, often paying pennies on the dollar, then they attempt to collect the full amount.  It is a numbers game.  They will not collect on every account, but they try to make enough to be profitable.  There are good collectors and bad collectors.  A good debt collector knows how to inspire you to pay within the law.  A bad collector strays into unfair debt collection practices. Just because you owe money does not mean you lack rights. You still owe the debt, but you do not have to deal with all the calls and letters.  Ask the debt collector to stop contacting you with this sample letter drafted by the Federal Trade Commission.  Download the letter at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0289-stop-calls-and-letters-debt-collector and complete the information as indicated.  You do not have to have straight A’s in English to get your message across. Read More

Do Not Call Lists for Debtors & Non-Debtors

If you owe money, but do not want to deal with all the calls and letters you can ask the debt collector to stop contacting you with a letter drafted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  The body of the letter is already worded for you and the format is set, just download from the FTC website and complete the information as indicated at http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0289-stop-calls-and-letters-debt-collector If you do not owe money and are tired of sales calls, try these free registration websites for DO NOT CALL lists at the State and National levels: National DO NOT CALL LIST registration: https://www.donotcall.gov/ Florida DO NOT CALL LIST registration: https://www.fldnc.com/   Read More

Sample Letter to Stop Debt Collector Calls

Failed typing?  Fortunately the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has done most of it for you—just fill in the blanks to stop calls from debt collectors. You still owe the debt, but you do not have to deal with all the calls and letters.  Ask the debt collector to stop contacting you with this sample letter drafted by the FTC.  Download the letter and complete the information as indicated.  The body of the letter is already worded for you and the format is set. You do not have to have straight A’s in English to get your message across.  Let the FTC do the typing.  Go to http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0289-stop-calls-and-letters-debt-collector   Read More