Sunday, July 31, 2011

Charged Off, Zombie Debts and Bankruptcy

Someone recently wrote me and asked whether he had to pay a debt that was charged off years ago and sold to a debt collector. Of course, the answer is it depends, but this is what it depends on. The key points:
1. The tough news is that after a debt is charged off, you still owe it. Charging off a debt is an accounting practice meant to give a fair picture of the value of a business (by taking bad debt off its books). Charging off an account does not affect the legal obligation to pay it, and the business must account for money they earn once they sell the debt to a debt buyer to collect the defaulted debt. Often there will be a gap between when the debt is charged off and when a debt buyer emerges to contact you for payment. This is where the "zombie debt" term comes in, i.e. you think the debt is dead, but then it resurrects and attacks you.
2. The (possible) good news is that the gap is sometimes too long, and the debt too old, to make it collectible in court. Just because a debt is sold to a zombie debt buyer, it doesn't mean that the statute of limitations is revived if it already has lapsed. Generally, the statute if limitations in Massachusetts for debt collection is six years from the date of the original default. If you make any partial payments later, this will usually re-start the clock, but if you don't the six-year rule usually applies.
3. If the debt is still good once it's in the hands of a debt buyer, you must pay it, settle it, or file bankruptcy. We specialize in affordably accomplishing the last two options for Massachusetts consumers and small to medium-sized businesses. Give us a call or send us an email if you would like our help with your debt problem.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Threats During Car Repossession

I have written about the special Massachusetts rule against trespass during vehicle repossession, but I wanted to say something about threats. When there is a confrontation during a repossession attempt two things are almost always true: (1) there's a trespass and (2) the repo agent makes threats. I see the threats as fitting in two categories: (1) threats against financial interests and (2) threats of violence against persons or property. Although the first type of threat can sometimes be actionable in a court of law, it is the second type of threat that almost always constitutes a breach of peace and creates the entitlement to the sometimes-sizable breach of peace damages.

*Note: If your car has been repossessed in Massachusetts, we might be able to help. However, due to high call volume after I posted information here about Massachusetts car repossession, we must first receive the completed form found here. We will review your matter confidentially and free of charge.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Massachusetts Repossession and High Interest Car Loans

As I have written elsewhere on this blog, the minimum damages under the Massachusetts Commercial Code for a breach of peace during a car repossession are the finance charge for the loan plus 10 percent of the amount of the total loan. When repo agent comes onto your property without your permission and demands and takes your car over your strong objections, you likely have a breach of peace. We get emails all of the time from people with this situation. Often these people are just looking for information and some assurance that the law has been broken. I really do not know why. This knowledge means nothing by itself. Laws do not enforce themselves.
If you've been subject to a car repossession involving a breach of peace, here's the smart thing to do: submit this form to tell us your story. However, the point of the form is to see if you have a good case, and if you do, to bring a lawsuit for wrongful repossession. There are two key points to keep in mind about this:

1. If you do not sue, you will likely be pursued for a car repossession deficiency debt. If the balance of your loan is more than $2,000 when the repossession occurs, you are liable for any deficiency debt.

2. If you do sue, you can likely wipe out the deficiency debt. Moreover, if there is a breach of peace you can recover the minimum damages (noted above). For a high interest car loan, this sum can be substantial. For example, we now have a case involving a $30,000 car loan at a 14 percent interest rate. The car was repossessed. If we are able to show that a breach of peace occurred, the consumer will be entitled to almost $18,000. There are most likely thousands of consumers who unwittingly are entitled to substantial damages based on a wrongful car repossession in Massachusetts.

Bottom line: If you have a case, pursue it diligently. It can mean the difference between you paying money and getting paid money.

* We do not charge you fees. If we agree to take your case, we get paid from the proceeds of settlement or judgment.
* Just coming onto your property without your permission to take the car when you are behind on the loan is usually not enough. To be a good case, normally there must be a confrontation of some sort on your property.