General
What do you charge ?
What questions should I ask before I hire an attorney to represent me?

Debt Collection
What constitutes harassment by a debt collector?
What constitutes false, deceptive, or misleading practices?
What should I do if I am contacted by a debt collector?
Are there laws that govern what debt collectors can say or do ?
Can debt collectors call me anytime they want ?
Is there a limit to how many times a debt collector can call me ?
What information does a debt collector have to give me about the debt ?
What should I do if a debt collector sues me?
Can I stop a debt collector from contacting me?
Can debt collectors disclose my debt to other people?
What is a debt collector?

Student Loan Debt
What can I do if I am contacted by a collection agency working for the U.S. Department of Education?
Is there a minimum requirement for rehabilitation?
If I co-signed a student loan and it went into default, what are my rights?
What are the advantages of consolidating my federal student loans when dealing with a collection agency?
What are my rights when dealing with a collection agency hired to collect my private student loan?
What are the advantages of rehabilitating my federal student loan when dealing with a collection agency?

Bankruptcy
Can a debt collector try to collect a debt that was discharged in bankruptcy?
How long will my bankruptcy appear in my credit report?

Credit Reporting
How do I dispute an error on my credit report?
What are some of the common credit report errors?
How often can I request a free credit report?
How much does it cost to get a copy of my credit report if I’ve already received all of my free credit reports?
What if I disagree with the results of a credit report dispute?
What happens after I dispute an error on my credit report ?
How long will negative information remain on my credit report?
Should I pay a company to “repair” my credit history

Identity Theft
I think my identity was stolen. How can I put a fraud alert on my credit report?

Vehicle Repossession In PA
What steps can a creditor take to repossess my vehicle?
Is a warning notice required before a repossession of my vehicle can take place?
What happen after my vehicle is repossessed?
What happens if the vehicle is sold for less than I owe on the debt?

GENERAL

What do you charge?

This depends on the type of case.   If you bring a case under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act or the Fair Credit Reporting Act, and we are unable to obtain our fees from the defendant, we don’t get a fee.  If you have been sued for a debt, we charge a low, flat fee to defend the case.  By charging a flat fee, you know exactly what you are going to be charged and there are no surprises at the end of the case.

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What questions should I ask before I hire an attorney to represent me?

Ask questions to make sure the attorney has a good understanding of consumer law.  Make sure you understand your retainer agreement.  Questions may include:

  • How much of your work involves consumer law and representing consumers?
  • How many cases like mine have you handled before?
  • Do you charge an up – front fee?
  • Will I have to pay even if I lose my case in court?

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DEBT COLLECTION

What constitutes harassment by a debt collector?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) says debt collectors cannot harass, oppress, or abuse you.   Examples include:

  •  Using or threatening to use violence or other criminal means to harm you, your reputation, or your property.
  • Obscene or profane language
  • Phoning repeatedly with the intent to annoy, abuse, or harass you.
  • Phoning without disclosing they are a debt collector

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What constitutes false, deceptive, or misleading practices?

The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) says debt collectors cannot use false, deceptive, or misleading practices. Examples include:

  • Misrepresentations about the amount owed.
  • The collector telling you he or she is an attorney when this isn’t true
  • Threaten to have you arrested
  • Threats to file suit when the collector has no intention of suing you

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What should I do if I am contacted by a debt collector?

It is a good idea to keep a folder of all letters a debt collector sends you and copies of anything you send to a debt collector.  When sending a letter to a debt collector, do so by certified mail so you have a record of the mailing and receipt by the collector.  Keep a log of the dates and times of conversations along with detailed notes about what was said.

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Are there laws that govern what debt collectors can say or do?

Yes.  The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) is a federal law that governs debt collection practices.  The FDCPA covers the collection of mortgages, credit cards, medical debts, student loan debts, which are mainly for personal, family, or household purposes.  It does not cover debts incurred for business purposes.  It does not cover original creditors.

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Can debt collectors call me anytime they want?

No.  Debt collectors cannot call you at times they know are inconvenient, or should know are inconvenient, such as before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.  If a debt collector knows that you are not allowed to receive calls at work or it is inconvenient for you to receive calls at work, then the debt collector is not allowed to call you there.

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Is there a limit to how many times a debt collector can call me?

A debt collector may not call you repeatedly or continuously with the intent to annoy, abuse, or harass you.   The FDCPA doesn’t give a specific limit on the number of calls.

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What information does a debt collector have to give me about the debt?

A debt collector must provide you with the name of the creditor, the amount owed, and how you can dispute the debt or seek verification of the debt.  If the debt collector doesn’t provide this information in the initial contact with you, the debt collector must send you a written notice including the information within five days of the initial contact.

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What should I do if a debt collector sues me?

It is very important that you respond to the lawsuit and not ignore it. You can respond personally or through an attorney, but you must do so by the date specified in the court papers. If you ignore a court action, it is likely a default judgment will be entered against you.  Once a judgment is entered, only a court can open it. With a judgment, the debt collector has a strong tool to collect the debt from you. In Pennsylvania, the debt collector may be able to freeze all or part of the money in your bank account.

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Can I stop a debt collector from contacting me?

Yes.  You can tell the debt collector in writing to stop communicating with you.  Make sure you send your letter certified return receipt.  If you fax the letter, keep a copy of the fax confirmation. Once the debt collector receives your letter or fax, the debt collector may not contact you again except to tell you there will be no further contact and/or tell you that it or the creditor may take specific actions it is legally permitted to take, such as filing a lawsuit.  If the collector continues to communicate with you in an attempt to collect the debt after receiving your letter, it may be violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.  Keep in mind that telling a debt collector to stop contacting you does not stop the collector from suing you or making a negative report to a Consumer Reporting Agency, adversely affecting your credit report and credit score.

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Can debt collectors disclose my debt to other people?

No.  In general, a debt collector may not discuss your debt with anyone other than you, your spouse, your parents (if you are a minor), your guardian, or your attorney.  If the debt collector knows you are represented by an attorney, the debt collector must contact the attorney instead of you.  If the debt collector contacts you, it may be violating the FDCPA.  Please note a debt collector may contact other people in order to confirm your location information.  When doing so, debt collectors cannot contact people you know more than once, they must not say they are trying to collect a debt, and they are not permitted to turn your neighbor into a debt collector by asking your neighbor to give you a message to call the collector back.

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What is a debt collector?

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), a debt collector generally is a person or company that regularly collects debts owed to others.  Debt collectors include collection agencies or lawyers.  There are also companies that buy debt from creditors and then try to collect the debt.  These debt collectors are often referred to as debt buyers.

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STUDENT LOAN DEBT

What can I do if I am contacted by a collection agency working for the U.S. Department of Education?

In general, you have three options when dealing with a third-party collector on a federal student loan:

  1. Rehabilitation.  If you enter into rehabilitation your loan will be taken out of default status after you make a series of consecutive, on-time payments (generally, nine). The payments should be reasonable and affordable based on your financial circumstances. Typically you can only rehabilitate a loan once.  This is the only way to remove a default notation from your credit history.  You will also restore your eligibility for federal student aid after you make the sixth of nine monthly payments should you decide to go back to school.
  2. Consolidation.  When you consolidate, your defaulted loans are paid off by a new loan with new repayment terms.  This is the fastest way to get out of default and enroll in one of the U.S. Department of Education’s alternative payment plans. It is also the fastest way to restore your eligibility for federal student aid.  You should be aware that consolidation will not undo the negative reporting on your credit report caused by the default.
  3.  Repayment.  This is the fastest way to settle your debt. The debt collector may be authorized to waive some of your outstanding fees and collection costs.  While your defaulted debt will be gone, it will continue to appear on your credit report as a negative account that was paid.  You will restore your eligibility for federal student aid if you go back to school.

If you are worried that you are not responsible for the loans the collector is attempting to collect, check the National Student Loan Data System.  Inform the collector if the loan doesn’t show up there.  This system only shows federal student loans, not private student loans.

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Is there a minimum requirement for rehabilitation?

No.  If the debt collector tells you there is a minimum payment or you have to make a down payment to get into the rehabilitation program, this is false and you may have a claim under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.  The law states that you must pay what is reasonable and affordable.  The collector can ask you to provide documentation of your financial status to demonstrate that you need a lower monthly payment than the one they are suggesting.

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If I co-signed a student loan and it went into default, what are my rights?

As a co-signer you have equal responsibility with the primary borrower for repaying the loan.  Any late or missed payments are reflected on your credit history and the primary borrower’s.  The collection agency hired to collect the loan may contact you looking for payment, and you might get sued in court.  It is important to remember that you have rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices act when dealing with debt collectors.  It is against the law for a collector to harass or make false statements.

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What are the advantages of consolidating my federal student loans when dealing with a collection agency?

You will be able to get out of default quicker than through rehabilitation. If you cannot afford to rehabilitate all of your loans you can consolidate them.  If you can afford to rehabilitate all of your loans, you can rehabilitate them and then consolidate.  By doing this, you get the benefit of having the default removed from your credit report and it is much more convenient paying one loan as opposed to multiple loans.

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What are my rights when dealing with a collection agency hired to collect my private student loan?

Unlike federal student loans, there are no options for dealing with a collection agency, other than paying what is owed or negotiating some type of settlement, which could include a payment plan or a lump sum payment.  Keep in mind that you have rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act when dealing with debt collectors.  If the debt collector makes false statements or harasses you, you may have a claim under the FDCPA.

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What are the advantages of rehabilitating my federal student loan when dealing with a collection agency?

Rehabilitation removes your loan from a default status after you make a series of consecutive on-time payments.  Generally, it is nine payments.   If you make the payments, the lender should remove the negative reporting from your credit report.  You only need to make a payment that is reasonable and affordable for your financial situation.

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BANKRUPTCY

Can a debt collector try to collect a debt that was discharged in bankruptcy?

No.  A debt collector cannot attempt to collect debts included in bankruptcy.  Also, a collector is not allowed to continue collection activities while the bankruptcy case is open.  If a debt collector calls, you need to tell the collector you filed bankruptcy.  If you are represented by an attorney, advise the debt collector of this providing contact information for your attorney.  Once the debt collector is aware you are represented by an attorney and has the attorney’s contact information, the collector is no longer permitted to communicate with you.  The collector must only communicate with your attorney.

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How long will my bankruptcy appear in my credit report?

If you filed for bankruptcy under Chapters 7,11,12,or 13, that information will remain in your credit report up to 10 years from the date of entry of the order for relief or the date of adjudication.

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CREDIT REPORTING

How do I dispute an error on my credit report?

In order to trigger your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you need to submit a written dispute to the credit reporting company. You should not dispute online. Rather you should submit your dispute by certified mail, return receipt requested, so that you have a record that your letter was received.  You can cc the company that is the source of the information.   Your dispute letter should include your complete name, address, telephone number, report confirmation number, if available, and account number for any account you may be disputing.  You should identify each mistake, state the facts, explain why you are disputing the information, and request that it be removed or corrected.  You should enclose a copy of the portion of your credit report that contains the disputed items and circle or highlight the disputed items. You should include documents that support your position.  Remember to send copies of documents, not originals.  Keep copies of your signed dispute letters.  You can mail your dispute letters to the following addresses:

Equifax Information Services LLC
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374

Experian
P.O. Box 4000
Allen, TX 75013

TransUnion Consumer Solutions
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19022-2000

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What are some of the common credit report errors?

Identity errors:

  • Wrong name, phone number, address, employer, social security number
  • Accounts belonging to another consumer with the same or similar name as yours (this is commonly referred to as a mixed file)
  • Accounts that do not belong to you resulting from identity theft

Incorrect reporting of account status

  •  Closed accounts reported as open
  • You are reported as the owner of the account, when you are actually just an authorized user
  • Accounts incorrectly reported as late or delinquent
  • Wrong date of last payment, date opened or date of first delinquency

Date management/processing errors

  • Reinsertion of incorrect information after it was corrected
  • Accounts that appear multiple times with different creditors listed (If the original creditor charged off the account and sold it to a debt buyer the account reported by the original creditor should reflect a charge off and show a 0 balance.  The debt buyer can report the account showing the current balance.  Watch out.  Often times the debt buyer will inflate the balance or report the debt to make it look like it isn’t as old as it actually is – commonly referred to as re-aging.
  • Information that should no longer be on your credit report, such as a debt that is more than 7 years old

Balance Errors

  • Accounts with an incorrect current balance
  • Accounts with an incorrect credit limit

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How often can I request a free credit report?

You can request a free credit report from Trans Union, Experian, and Equifax once every 12 months.  You can choose to request reports all at once or one report at a time.  Visit annualcreditreport.com to get a free copy of your report.  Be cautious of other websites that claim to offer free credit reports.  Most of these sites will only give you a free report if you buy other products or services. Others give you a free report and then bill you for services you have to cancel. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau requires print advertisements, telephone requests and websites that offer “free” credit reports to make the following disclosure: “You have the right to a free credit report from annualcreditreport.com or (877) 322-8228, the ONLY authorized source under Federal Law.”  Radio and television advertisements that offer “free” credit reports must have a similar disclosure: “This is not the free credit report provided for by Federal law.”

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How much does it cost to get a copy of my credit report if I’ve already received all of my free credit reports?

A credit reporting agency can charge no more than $11.50 for a credit report.

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What if I disagree with the results of a credit report dispute?

You can ask that a brief statement of the dispute be included in your file and included or summarized in future reports.  You have the option of submitting a complaint to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau by going to www.consumerfinance.gov/complaint.  You can also file a lawsuit, which ultimately may be necessary in order to get your report corrected.

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What happens after I dispute an error on my credit report?

The credit reporting company must investigate the dispute within 30 days of receiving it.  45 days if you dispute after receiving your free annual credit report.  If you submit additional information during the 30-day investigation period, the company can extend the investigation for 15 days.  The credit reporting company will notify the company that provided the information and ask it to investigate your dispute.  When a company receives a dispute from a credit reporting  company, it must investigate and report the results back to the credit reporting company.  If the disputed information is wrong or cannot be verified, the company is required to delete or change the information and notify the credit reporting companies.  The credit reporting company must send you the results of the investigation within five business days of the completion of the investigation.  If you ask, the credit reporting company must send notices of any deleted information to anyone you designate who received your report for employment purposes during the past two years or for any other purpose during the past six months.

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How long will negative information remain on my credit report?

Most negative information can be reported for 7 years.  Information about a lawsuit or an unpaid judgment against you can be reported for seven years or until the statute of limitations runs out, whichever is longer.  Bankruptcies can remain on your report for 10 years.  Time limits on reporting negative information will not not apply if the credit report will be used in connection with your application for a job that pays more than $75,000 a year or your application for more than $150,000 worth of credit or life insurance.

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Should I pay a company to “repair” my credit history?

NO. Some companies promise to “repair” or “fix” your credit for an upfront fee.  No one can remove negative information from a credit report if it is accurate. You can only correct your report if it contains errors.  You can file the dispute on your own for free.

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IDENTITY THEFT

I think my identity was stolen.  How can I put a fraud alert on my credit report?

Contact one of the nationwide credit reporting companies and place a fraud alert on your credit report:

  • Equifax (800) 525-6285
  • Experian (888) 397-3742
  • Trans Union (800) 680-7289

After you place a fraud alert on your credit report at one of the nationwide credit reporting companies, that company must notify the others.  A fraud alert requires creditors who check your credit report to take steps to verify your identity.  If you provide a telephone number the lender must call you to verify whether you are the person making the credit request.

You can place an initial fraud alert on your credit report if you believe you are, or about to become, a victim of fraud or identity theft.  The alert will stay in your file for 90 days.  When you place an initial fraud alert, you’re entitled to order one free copy of your credit report from each of the nationwide credit reporting companies.  These free reports do not count as your free annual report from each agency.

You can place an extended alert after your identity has been stolen.  You must file either a police report or a report with a government agency such as the Federal Trade Commission, known as an “identity theft report.”An extended alert lasts for seven years. An extended alert requires that the creditor contact you in person or through the telephone number or other contact method you designate to verify your identity.  You’re entitled to order two free copies of your credit report from each nationwide credit reporting company over a 12 month period.  These reports do not count as your free annual report from each agency.

You can also place a credit freeze on your credit report.  This means new creditors cannot access your credit report.  Since most businesses will not extend credit without checking your report, a freeze can deter identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name. Keep in mind that a freeze does not prevent identity thieves from taking over existing accounts.  Each state has its own rules about credit freezes and how much you pay for them.  To place a freeze, you must contact each of the nationwide credit reporting agencies.

Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s Fighting Back Against Identity Theft website for more information.

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VEHICLE REPOSSESSION IN PENNSYLVANIA

What steps can a creditor take to repossess my vehicle?

Creditors may not repossess your vehicle unless they can do so peacefully.  You have the right to tell the repo man who comes do your door that he cannot have the vehicle and needs to leave your property.  It is unlawful for the repo man to remain on your yard or enter your home after you tell him not to do so.  The creditor will then have to go to court to get an order to get the vehicle back.  If the creditor breaks the law in taking your vehicle, you have the right to sue the creditor in court.

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Is a warning notice required before a repossession of my vehicle can take place?

No.  A vehicle can be repossessed without any warning notice if you fall behind on your payments.

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What happens after my vehicle is repossessed?

The creditor will try to sell your vehicle.  The creditor must give you written notice of the time and location of the sale.  It is a good idea to go to the sale.  You want to make sure the vehicle is sold at the highest possible price.  You can bring people to the auction who are interested in buying the vehicle.  Even if the vehicle isn’t sold at auction, if you know people who are willing to buy the vehicle, get written bids from them and inform the creditor by phone and in writing.  Before the vehicle is sold, you can get it back if you pay the full amount due or work out an agreement with the creditor.  If you had personal property in the vehicle before it was repossessed, you have the right to get it back.

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What happens if the vehicle is sold for less than I owe on the debt?

You may still have to pay the balance – even if you voluntarily gave up the vehicle.  The creditor has the right to sue you if you don’t pay.  However, if the creditor breaks the law in repossessing or selling your vehicle, you might not have to pay the balance and might be able to sue the creditor.  If you are sued for the balance due after your car is repossessed, it is important to see an attorney promptly, because there is a short time to respond to the lawsuit.

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