Even if you have the best lawyer on Earth, you are the most important person involved in your case. People ask me all the time what they can do to protect themselves from bad debt collectors, mortgage lender abuse, harassing telephone calls, credit card lawsuits, and being ripped off by their home or auto lenders. While I love helping people deal with their legal problems, the fact is that there is a lot you can do to protect yourself without a lawyer.
Have you been sued? You need to know How to Answer a Complaint.
If you don’t answer the Complaint, you lose. It is just like you went to court and the judge and jury found you liable for everything the creditor or collector was asking for, even if you don’t owe the money. Once a court finds that you owe the money, you cannot undo the judgment, even if you genuinely don’t owe a dime. So if you’ve been served with a lawsuit, call a lawyer or answer on your own.
Are you facing foreclosure? Know What to Expect.
In Alabama, foreclosures can happen fairly quickly. Fortunately, new federal regulations forbid foreclosures before you’re 120 days delinquent, and if you sent them a written loan modification application at least 37 days before the foreclosure date, they cannot foreclose until they’ve evaluated your application and given you an answer. Once they foreclose, they still can’t forcibly kick you out until they’ve sued you for ejectment.
Are crazy charges popping up on your mortgage statement? Get a complete explanation by sending them a Qualified Written Request.
A QWR is a written letter sent to your mortgage servicer (not necessarily the originator or owner of your note), asserting some sort of mistake and demanding correction. Basically, if you think they’re screwing up your mortgage loan and you write a letter telling them what you think they’re doing wrong (i.e. charging you for insurance when you already paid for your own insurance; not honoring a loan modification; failing to credit you for payments made on time, etc.), they have 30 days to fix it or explain to you why they’re doing it right. If they don’t respond or fix the problem, you can sue them.
Is some company you have never heard of asking you for money? Send them an FDCPA Validation Notice.
I recommend that everyone sends a validation request to every collector you hear from. First, it gives you useful information on the debt, and possibly will clue you or your attorney in on defenses if they decide to sue you later. Second, they can’t collect from you until they’ve provided some sort of evidence of the debt. And most importantly, he validation request is a crucial way to preserve your rights, particularly if you dispute the debt. It requires the collector to amend your credit report to note that the account is disputed. If you have other accounts with that collector, they cannot apply your payments to a disputed account.
Is false information appearing on your credit report? Send a Billing Error Dispute Letter to the alleged creditor and file a Written Credit Report Dispute with the Credit Bureaus.
False credit report information is one of the biggest problems that Alabama consumers face today. It costs the citizens of this state millions in lost credit opportunity, higher interest rates, and harms business as well. If something is wrong with your credit, it is important to take the right steps to fix the problem. If it starts with a credit card overcharge or identity theft, you need to write a dispute to your credit card company. The Fair Credit Billing Act says that if you dispute a charge and write a dispute letter within 60 days of seeing it on your statement, the credit card company cannot hold you liable for the charge without first investigating it and reasonably determining that you personally made the purchases.
You also must write a letter to the credit reporting agency who is putting out the report. Your dispute letter should be clear and concise and should state exactly what is wrong and what must be done to fix it. They have 30 days to respond. If they don’t fix it, you sue them.
Other Helpful Documents:
When a creditor or car dealer thinks you owe more than you actually do, you have the right to request a full accounting of the alleged debt. They have to respond within 14 days of receiving your letter.
If a business advertises a product at one price, but sells it at a higher price, that is false advertising. If you send a written demand for a refund of the overcharge, they must pay back to you within 15 days of receiving your letter. If they don’t, you can sue them for three times that amount plus lawyer’s fees.
If your credit report has inquiries from companies you don’t recognize, you can ask for an explanation of why they inquired into your credit. Multiple inquiries tend to have a negative impact on your credit score.
If your credit application was denied, you have the right to obtain a statement of the reasons why. If such denial was based in whole or in part on a credit report, you have the right to obtain a copy of that report if you request it within 60 days of your denial.
When unauthorized charges appear on your bank account or debit card account, you need to dispute it in writing ASAP. This letter is an example of one that can invoke your rights under the Electronic Fund Transfers Act to protect yourself from liability for unauthorized transfers.
Similarly, if you see unauthorized charges on a credit card account, the Fair Credit Billing Act requires the bank to refund those charges within 60 days of your dispute.
Alabama’s Lemon Law applies to vehicles with defects that appear during the first year or 12,000 miles of use. If you’ve tried to repair it three times without success, you can request a final repair. If that doesn’t work, then you are entitled to a complete refund or replacement.
If you have a product that doesn’t work as it should, then you have the right to a repair, refund, or replacement of the product. If the manufacturer has an informal dispute resolution mechanism, you should try that first. If not, send a letter demanding they replace, refund, or repair the product at no cost.
Clicking the links in blue will lead you to example documents you can use to help understand what your rights are in Alabama. THESE ARE NOT LEGAL PLEADINGS OR LEGAL ADVICE. These are just for informational purposes only. To fully understand what action you need to take to protect your rights, you should call a local attorney. More info can be found at www.consumerfinance.gov. Or you can contact our office today.
Finally, DO NOT TRY TO BE YOUR OWN LAWYER. This guide is simply to be informative and help take the steps to convince businesses to do the right thing without litigation. If you’ve tried to handle the issue and they refuse to do right, it may be time to get an attorney involved and put some real heat on those who are violating your rights. I offer a free consultation and handle most of these cases on a contingency fee basis – meaning that I don’t charge you anything unless we win some money.
Peace be with you.