By Sara Williamson
This week, I got a check for $1,000 by going after a debt collector. It’s not just the money that matters. It’s the principle. But more on that later. Let’s start at the beginning….
When it comes to talking about debt, I’m like most people. I usually have a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. After all, we live in a society that debt-shames people. I don’t want to admit that I’m up to my eyeballs in debt, that I have debt collectors calling me, texting me, and sending me debt collection letters.
But I’m ready to come forward. I’m ready to drop the shame. And I’m ready to share my experience in beating a debt collection agency at its own game.
My story is pretty typical. I got caught between a rock and a hard place. I married my “forever” man, had two kids, and started racking up bills. We had about $50,000 in student loan debt and about that much in credit card debt. We were making our minimums and treading water until my husband lost his job. I still had my job, but as a phlebotomist (the person who draws your blood for lab tests) I only made $16 an hour. That plus my husband’s unemployment was enough to put food on the table and a roof over our heads, but that was about it.
Fast-forward six months. My husband was offered a new job, but we were another $20,000 underwater and the debt collection calls and letters started up. Of course, I didn’t want to deal with it at first, but those guys are persistent. At one point, I was getting four calls a week from one debt collection agency. Even though I told them I wouldn’t be able to start making payments for a few more months, they just wouldn’t back off. The debt collection harassment just got worse.
It got to the point where I had a hard time sleeping, my hair was starting to fall out, and I was a nervous wreck. I was having lunch with a coworker one day and my stomach was doing summersaults. At that point, I said to hell with the shame and told her what was going on. I was shocked when she told me that there were laws against debt collection harassment. She actually recommended a lawyer, Lemberg Law, and told me to call them.
I was at the end of my rope, and felt like I had nothing to lose. Sitting in the car after my shift was over, I gave them a call. The woman I spoke to listened to my story and told me she thought they could help.
From there, it was like a whirlwind. It turned out that the debt collection agency was breaking the law by hounding me. The law firm filed a lawsuit against the debt collector, but it didn’t even go to court. The debt collection agency ended up offering me $1,000 and paid Lemberg Law’s fees. I was astounded.
When I got the check from Lemberg Law in the mail, I felt like there was light at the end of the tunnel. I also realized that debt shaming was useless – in fact, I think that debt collection agencies count on it. So, I decided to share my story in the hope that other folks will come out of the shadows and know that they don’t have to put up with debt collector abuse. And – best of all – that you can beat a debt collection agency at its own game, sue them, and win.
Reprinted with permission of the author, Sara Williamson.
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