Receive a court order? This lawyer came to an elderly woman's aid when she received an empty threat.

2 minute read

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a conference call between a finance company and a client. Our client was an 88-year-old woman with only Social Security for income and minimal assets.

Recent disasters had upended her life. She found HELPS after being pressured by an unethical salesperson to finance an item she did not need and could not afford. All her attempts to surrender the item had ended in the finance company making “terrible threats.”

So, I suggested we call the finance company together.

Calling a collection department

When we reached the finance company’s collection department, I was met with an agent who clearly relished the authority of her position. My explanation of our client’s desire to surrender the collateral was interrupted by an impatient sigh.

“She’s gonna be in breach if she stops making payments,” the agent said. “We understand that,” I calmly replied.

Unhappy with our lack of panic, the agent paused for effect.  “Well,” she hissed, “if your client’s in breach, she could end up with a… JUDGMENT.”

I could almost hear the dun dun dun of a classic horror movie soundtrack punctuate her threat.

“We understand that,” I repeated.  “Could we please arrange a time for pickup of the collateral?”

“But a judgment!” the agent insisted.  “She’s gonna be sorry!”

Now, it’s not the 42 years as an attorney I’ve spent working on behalf of debtors that has lowered my patience with debt collectors – I’ve just never liked bullies.

“She is an 88-year-old woman with nothing but federally protected social security income.  She owns nothing but a broken-down PT Cruiser.  Can you tell me exactly what a judgment is going to be able to take from her?”

The agent was silent. She understood the truth.  Like many debt collectors, she was just used to taking advantage of people who didn’t understand the law.

Elderly debt collection laws HELPed

What the agent and I both knew is this – judgments do not have unlimited power. They function as tools, and like all tools, they have their limitations.

Judgments can only collect assets that are not protected by law. Federal law protects social security and retirement incomes. States have exemption laws that protect property like homes, cars, household goods, etc.

Even if a senior happened to have assets above a state’s exemption, it’s simply not the practice for judgment holders to go after those assets.

If you’re a senior citizen, or a disabled person struggling with debt, the chances are high that your income and assets are protected by law and can’t be touched by debt collectors. Of course, collectors won’t tell you this. Don’t let their threats keep you from using your retirement income for your needs.

HELPS is a national charitable nonprofit law firm that protects lower-income seniors and disabled persons ongoing from unwanted debt collector contact.  We also educate seniors on how they can maintain their financial independence. You can learn more about HELPS by visiting our website www.helpsishere.org or calling us toll-free at 855 HELPS-US. We turn no qualified person away.

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About the Author

Eric Olsen

Eric Olsen

Eric Olsen is an attorney with more than forty years of consumer law-related experience. Born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, Eric graduated from the University of Oregon Law School. He founded the area's largest consumer bankruptcy firm and has filed 40,000 bankruptcies. Eric counseled with many lower-income senior citizens during this time. Because their income and assets were protected from collectors, he told them bankruptcy was not necessary. But harassing debt collection calls and intimidating demand letters made their lives miserable. Eric was very familiar with the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. He knew debt collectors could not directly communicate with a person represented by an attorney. There was no national organization representing the specific needs of the 40 million lower-income American seniors. So Eric left the law firm he founded in 2015 and started Help Eliminate Legal Problems for Seniors, HELPS. HELPS is a charitable 501 (c) nonprofit law firm that represents seniors and disabled persons ongoing in all 50 states to prevent unwanted collector contact.

Published by Debt.com, LLC