Can a debt collector garnish my wages?

Q: Can a debt collector garnish my wages for an overdrawn bank account? Some time ago I had an account that someone else had access to and it was overdrawn. Now a firm is threatening to garnish my wages. They call me now twice a day. Can they do that? (Washington, PA)

A: To my knowledge, in PA, wage garnishment is limited to taxes, child support, and criminal restitution. What this “debt collector” is doing may violate the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and subject them to fines and possibly compensation to you. You should contact an attorney who handles consumer law.

Can a mediation service file criminal felony charges for a debt?

Q: I am receiving calls from a mediation service for a debt I’m not sure I even owe. I have dealt with the company they claim to represent about 3 years ago. They have threatened to file felony theft charges with the district attorney if I do not pay immediately. (Pittsburgh, PA)

A:  They sound like scammers, flim-flam men, con-artists, shysters, grifters, sleaze merchants, crooks, fleecers, con artists, hustlers, swindlers, bilkers, bunco artists, cheaters, clip artists and altogether bad men or women. If you were to be arrested, the police would contact you and no one else. These algae eater, bottom feeders are hoping you are gullible enough to pay them by credit card. Don’t do it and tell them to go pound salt!

Should I settle my credit card debt?

Q: If a law firm sues me for a credit card debt, should I try to settle it with a phone call to them or hire an attorney? I was making payments to a law firm that collects debt. I missed 1 payment and they called me I told them that I lost my job and it was hard for me to make the payments. I agreed to make a fraction of a payment and they took it. They called me two days later and requested another payment. I told them I could not make another payment for at least 2 weeks. Then I received a letter from a local magistrate that I am being sued.

A: I would consult with an attorney before settling with this company. Many of these claims by debt buyers and not the original creditor. Claims by the debt buyers many times can be defended by being dismissed with preliminary objections or being knocked out at the trial. Often these debt buyers cannot prove the initial contract or any assignment to them from the original creditor.

In PA if you owe money on payday loans can they arrest you?

Q: I have defaulted on 2 pay day loans a couple years ago and tried to work out a payment plan. I have been getting harassing calls and threats that there is a warrant for my arrest. (Butler, PA)

A: Arrest warrants come from criminal court and bench warrants from family court. There are no arrest warrants issued for not paying a civil debt. Secondly, this pay day loan company most likely did not successfully sue you and obtain a judgment. Pay day loan outfits are generally scam artists. They are just trying to scare you into paying them by threatening arrest. Either pay them back, or change your phone number.

Should I open a second account to avoid a creditor?

Q: Is it wise to open a separate bank to avoid unpaid bills if a creditor attempts to put a freeze on your (spousal) account? I am in the midst of attempting to settle a debt with a creditor; I know it is a possibility for them to freeze my bank account; but I also know they are unable to garnish anything from it because it is a spousal account. I am wondering if it is wise for me to open another account and have our money moved to that account so we would be able to pay our bills in lieu of the process of them freezing/unfreezing the account?

A: Talk to a consumer attorney first. You need to determine if you even need to pay this debt or should pay this debt. If you have been dealing with a creditor collections person, you may have been misled and bluffed. No creditor can lien personal or real property or garnish wages without giving you notice of suit, suing you and getting a judgment. As far as opening the new account, it may be a logical short term strategy, but not for the long term. If there is a judgment, the creditor can find this account and you could commit fraud by moving accounts to avoid collection.

Are late fees on top of late fees legal?

Q: Is it legal to keep charging late fees on top of late fees when everything else has been paid in full? I was charged a late fee and did not pay it. Now I am being charged a late fee each month for not paying the original late fee. Otherwise my account is paid in full.

A: It depends. What type of debt is this? If it is a credit card, PA collection laws may apply. If this debt is for unpaid real estate taxes or municipal services, there may be other consumer protection laws that apply, but generally, the laws are against the taxpayer regarding taxes. Does your original agreement for services, permit late fees? Does it allow unpaid late fees to accrue and continually charge interest? Generally, even if valid, late fees and interest can be negotiated downward. You can try this on your own, but if not successful, I advise you to see a lawyer as he or she can look at your original contract or agreement and advise if what is being done is permissible and, if any debt collection protection law applies to you.