Your Rights as a Consumer and Where to Find Help - PSA
Authored By: Georgia Legal Services Program®
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- Spanish / Español
In the United States, consumers have rights at both the federal and state level. To safeguard those rights, it is very important to know who to turn to if a creditor contacts you and alleges that you owe money. The following is some general advice from Georgia Legal services programs that may be useful if you have received a notice from a creditor demanding payment of a debt, a notice of a lawsuit about a debt, or a notice stating that a creditor is seeking to garnish your income or get a lean on your property.
If you receive a notice demanding a debt, you have the option of requesting verification of the debt. You can send the creditor a letter asking for proof of the amount, the existence of the debt within 30 days. If the collection agency cannot provide this information, the agency cannot continue trying to collect the debt according to federal law.
You can also review your credit history and dispute incorrect entries. You can begin this dispute with any of the three credit reporting bureaus: Transunion, Equifax, or Experian. You should dispute any errors in writing and by certified mail. The bureaus then must investigate the existence of the debt, and if they do not have enough evidence, the bureaus can remove or amend the mistaken entry from your report.
If you receive a lawsuit for a debt, it is very important to consult with a lawyer. A lawyer can help you verify if the company or agency that is suing has sufficient proof. A lawyer can also see if the debt is too old to be the basis of a lawsuit. If the debt is from many years ago, it is possible that the deadline to file a lawsuit as a result of that debt has already passed, and a creditor’s case will be dismissed. A lawyer can also give you advice about possible counterclaims if the collection agency has not complied with the federal laws regarding the collection of debt. Sometimes collection agencies harass and threaten debtors. If this happens, tell your attorney about it. If the creditor does not comply with the law, the debtor can sometimes collect damages based on federal statute. A lawyer can help verify if the debt belongs to another person or if it occurred through identity theft, or if the debt has already been discharged in a bankruptcy proceeding. A lawyer can also help you create a payment plan or negotiate to reduce the debt.
If a collection agency tries to garnish your income or your bank account, you have the right to file a petition, known as a traverse, to stop the garnishment in court. The court can grant the petition for several reasons. For example, the court can stop the garnishment if the collection agency doesn’t have a valid judgment against you or if you never received notice of the petition. The court may also stop the garnishment if your income is the type that is exempted from garnishment. Social security and veterans benefits are specifically protected from garnishment. There are limits on how much of your income can be garnished. There may be deadlines for filing a petition to stop the garnishment so you should act quickly and consult an attorney if you have any questions. Even if your income cannot be garnished, a creditor may try to obtain a lean against your property. If that happens to you, you should get the advice of an attorney to explore your options.
If you would like to know more about your rights, you can call Georgia Legal Services Program at 1-888-498-9469 or visit the website at www.glsp.org. Please know that we are not part of the government. All of your personal information is confidential. We do not report any information to immigration authorities. We speak Spanish.