I Don’t Owe You Anything!, Not A Dime!
The Fed’s Say You Had Better Know What This Means, And It Can Ruin Your Day!
If you are in business you probably don’t know that your breaking the law. Not just any law, but a Federal law. Good old Title 15.
How about by the name “Fair Debt Collection Act”. Ring a bell? No, and you don’t care because you’re not in the collection business… Wrong. You are in the collection business… if, as a regular part of your business, you ”engage in the collection of debts”.
Under this law anyone that regularly engages in the act of collecting money due their business or the business of others, must follow the law. Let me make this clear. If you send out invoices or billing; Call customers to remind them that their bill is due, send out late notices, etc… You are engaging in the act of debt collection. And you must follow the law.
Still don’t think they mean you? Let me tell you. They mean everyone. Recent court rulings have even held that Home Owner Associations, that collect HOA fee’s are even subject to the law.
If you know the rules of the game, you can play it without running afoul.
Now, you should take some time to familiarize yourself with the in’s and out’s of this law. Here is a good link for information.
In addition to the federal law most states have their own version of the law. But for the most part if you stay in compliance with the federal law, you will be safe under the state law.
The most important thing to know is why you should never violate the law. MONEY.
If you violate the law, with someone that knows about it, it’s going to cost you. At the very least you can forget about any money they owe you. At the worst you can be looking at the financial devastation of your business.
Most of the law is what I would call common sense. No yelling or screaming at folks. No foul or offensive language. And no lying.
No lying? If you say it… You better have been planning on doing it. In other words you can not threaten to take any action you’re not planning on taking, but that you are legally entitled to take.
For example if you’re not going to sue the person, no matter what you can’t tell them that you are going to. You can however say something like “ I would like to work this out with you, and avoid taking this to court”. But you can’t say “ If you don’t work this out with me I will take you to court”. Why can you say one and not the other? Because the first one is only expressing what you would like to do. Not what you will or plan to do. The second one states what you will do. And under the law, if you say you will do it, you have to be able to show the intent of doing it. So be careful how you say things.
Is, this all there is? No like I said there is a lot to know, but for the most it’s kind of a common sense type of thing with one big exception.
The law states “no additional action can be taken to collect a debt, once it is disputed, until the dispute is resolved, with the acceptation of litigation, or litigation related actions”.
What does that mean? It means that if you hear words to the effect of “ I don’t owe you anything”. You can NOT take any action to collect that debt, other then suing that person, until the dispute is resolved.
Please understand. The person that owes you the money can be totally crazy. Off their rocker. Full of you know what, but if they dispute the debt. That’s it. You have only 3 things you can do. Forget about it and walk away. Sue them (or try arbitration), or settle the dispute. The law does not care if the dispute is fair, reasonable, or based in good faith. It only recognizes if there is a dispute or not.
A dispute. That’s right. If you say yes, and they say no. That is a dispute.
First it does not get them out of the debt. It just makes it much harder for you to collect. Because now for the most part you can only sue them or leave them alone. Remember, the law states no additional action can be taken. So, once disputed, you can not make anymore calls, send any more letters, send any more bills, or even forward the account to a collection agency. The only thing you can do is. Walk away, sue, or resolve the dispute.
If you do anything after the account is disputed, you have now given the debtor a cause of action, and a claim against you. In some states the statutory damages are a minimum of $1000.00. So play it smart. Obey the law.
In closing this is not the disaster you think it is. The consumer must clearly state that they dispute owing you anything. If they are only claiming not to owe the amount you are asking for, you are still free to send documentation to them to prove the amount of the claim. You are also free to try to work out a settlement with them. The door is still open. It only closes when they claim they owe you nothing.
Now if they are just refusing to pay, but not claiming that they don’t owe the debt, then you can still pursue them. So, think about it. When was the last time a debtor flat out told you they owed you nothing? It’s not that common of an occurrence.
If it does not happen often, they why care about it? Because, like we said. Get the wrong consumer on the other end and you now have someone with a cause of action against you.
If you have any questions about the way you handle your past due accounts, check with an attorney in your area that is knowledgeable in the area of consumer rights and debt collection.
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Last modified: November 08, 2002