Managing Debt

Kohl’s Accused of Harassing Customer Over $20 Credit Card Bill

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A Michigan woman is suing Kohl’s after experiencing what she says were incessant and illegal debt-collection calls regarding an unpaid $20 credit card bill. Lisa Ratliff, 29, said she was going to pay the bill but decided not to because she was fed up with the frequent late-night and early-morning calls, which continued after she asked a Kohl’s employee to stop, the Detroit Free Press reports.

Her bill has ballooned from $20 in November to $100 because of interest and late fees. It seems the debt is legitimate; she’s refusing to pay because she says the company broke the law in its efforts to collect from her. Ratliff’s lawyers claim Kohl’s violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits calls to cellphones using automatic dialing technology or a prerecorded voice without the recipient’s consent.

It’s unclear if the calls came from Kohl’s employees or a third-party debt collector acting on behalf of the company, and Kohl’s did not respond to a request for comment from Credit.com. If it was a third-party collector, Ratliff’s story includes other violations: Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, debt collectors cannot call people before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. unless the consumer agrees to the call.

Considering Ratliff doesn’t seem to be disputing the debt, the account is likely having a negative effect on her credit: Collection accounts are detrimental to credit scores because people who have had such accounts in the past are more likely to fall behind on payments than someone who has never been sent to collections. If Kohl’s is found guilty of Ratliff’s accusations, she may be entitled to restitution, which would allow her to pay off her debt, but even paid collection accounts are negative in most scoring models. As they age, they have less of an impact on scores.

Ratliff’s experience certainly sounds unpleasant, and it’s unfortunately a common one for many consumers who deal with debt collectors. Even when a collector works by the book, they’re unlikely to win the affections of consumers — it’s just one of those commonly loathed professions — but consumers aren’t without responsibility in these situations.

It’s best to be proactive when dealing with a debt collector, by verifying the debt and being familiar with consumer rights. If collection calls are bothering you, you can send the collector a cease and desist letter, but you still need to make a plan for paying off the debt. Here are some tips for negotiating with creditors, which will help you get to a point where you can tackle the debt, move on and start rebuilding your credit. You can track your progress by getting your free credit scores and credit data each month through Credit.com.

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