Having your wages garnished seems bad enough, but just when you think you’ve given all that you can from your paycheck, you get hit up again by a debt collector for the same debt. And now you’re left wondering — is this even legal?
Not if the debt collector is trying to garnish your paychecks twice for the same debt, according to Troy Doucet, a consumer attorney in Dublin, Ohio. “It would be a problem if the debt collector was trying to stack one wage garnishment on top of another,” Doucet said. “If that happened, the consumer should call the court for a hearing or contact a consumer lawyer.”
Many debt collectors buy up debts based on old information and go after them without checking whether the debt is still currently valid, according to Alex Stern, an attorney with Little Guy Law Firm in Miami Beach, Florida.
They’re Taking my Possessions, Too?
Mixing garnishment with property collection is often fair game, however. A collector can sell your jewelry, cars, sometimes even your home and other property in addition to garnishing your wages, according to Doucet.
What debt collectors can take from you varies from state to state. For example, Connecticut debt collection laws say collectors can’t threaten to “repossess your car, levy your property or garnish your wages if they do not really intend to do so at that time, or if they cannot legally do so (for example, (if) the statute of limitations has expired or your property is exempt from attachment).”
But if that high-carat rock on your finger is worth too much, it might also be fair game, depending on where you live. “… [D]ebt collectors might not be able to take the first $2,500 in jewelry in one state,” Doucet said. “If a wedding ring was valued less than that, no problem. However, if it were more than the exemption they might be able to sell it and give the debtor $2,500 and keep the rest for the debt.”
What You Can Do
If you find yourself in this situation, there are a few things you can do. “If you can show that it is the same debt being collected, then you can sue for violations of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act for collecting a debt without a legitimate basis,” Stern said. The law prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair or deceptive practices to collect from you.
Stern said you could also report the debt collector to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) or the local state agency that regulates debt collectors.
“There may also be remedies available depending on how the debt was collected and reported under the Fair Credit Reporting Act,” Stern said. “If the debt collector is simply sending threatening letters, that may be actionable and you should consult with an attorney, but if the second garnishment is actually going through, then it’s time to speak to an attorney immediately to discuss your options.”
If you feel something is fishy or awry, the CFPB is a good place to start or you can turn to a consumer finance attorney in the event that collection activity on a single debt has multiplied beyond control.
If multiple companies contact you about a single debt, that’s a different matter. Your debt may have changed hands, and you’ll want to make sure you’re paying the right person. It’s best to ask for written notification of the collection action and, upon receiving it, ask for a verification of the debt (proof that you owe it).
It’s also a good idea to keep an eye on your credit reports, as this can help you discover if there are multiple collection accounts regarding a single debt. You can a free copy of your reports from each of the three major credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion — once a year by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also keep an eye on your credit by viewing two of your credit scores, updated every 14 days, for free on Credit.com.