Friday, October 20, 2006

Lowest common denominator

I was reading about this case (Brown v. Card Service Center). Since most of you would likely rather get hit by a truck than read judicial decisions, here's what it says in a nutshell:

If I owe on an account that has been referred to a debt collector (meaning it's way over due) the debt collector can't tell me "If you don't make arrangements to pay us within 7 days, we could sue you." It's not that the debt collector has no right to sue. It does. It's because the debt collector probably won't sue (since it's really expensive and doesn't make sense unless I owe a lot of money). And debt collectors aren't allowed to make false and misleading statements. This lawsuit was filed under a law that was meant to prevent debt collectors from threatening to break people's kneecaps and from doing stuff like bang on people's doors in the middle of the night or take their cars without notice. It wasn't (in my view) meant to prevent debt collectors from warning people about the potential consequences of failing to pay their debts.

Outside of the fact that it shouldn't be illegal to remind someone that they could get sued for failing to pay what they owe, what really bugs me about this case is that the court said that debt collectors can't assume that the debtor is a "reasonable" person. They have to assume that the debtor is the "least sophisticated" person. What this means is that, in addition to trying to figure out how to get deadbeats to pay their bills, debt collectors also have to figure out how stupid their stupidest debtor is and tailor their collection letters to that person.

So, in the interest of helping these debt collectors*, I've written a collection letter tailored to fit the court's decision:

See Jane. See the bank. See Jane borrow money from the bank. See Jane spend the money. Spend Jane! Spend!

See the bank ask Jane to pay the money back. Ask nicely bank! Jane did not pay the money back. Bad Jane. What will the bank do?

The bank will write a letter to Jane. The bank will remind Jane nicely. See Jane ignore the letter! Poor bank.

Bank will tell other banks that Jane is a bad person. Jane will not be able to buy a house. Jane will not be able to buy a car. Jane will not be able to buy a pot to piss in. Poor Jane.

*During one semester of law school, I worked for the U.S. Attorney's office and my main project was getting certain people (farmers and former medical students mostly) to pay back debts they owed to the government. These were not people who couldn't pay back their debt. These were people who didn't want to pay back their debt and did all kinds of crappy shit to avoid paying their debt. Lucky for the government, it has the resources of the U.S. Attorney to collect debts. Credit card companies and banks have to find other ways of collecting legitimate debts. Don't give me any "big business" crap - just because someone borrows money from a big company (or the "big" government) doesn't make failing to pay legitimate debts right. And it is plain stupid to make companies assume that everyone they're dealing with is a moron that can't understand the importance of paying back debt.


Kristen said...

Hahaha! Love your letter!

John worked in debt collection for a few years, and the lowest common denonominator (sp?) was fortunately not who he dealt with most of the time. Usually it was people who were overwhelmed, underpaid, and willing to work with someone on a payment plan overtime. That's not to say there weren't "deadbeats" though - because there definitely were.

AfricaBleu said...

See Jessica write a clever rant. Rant, Jessica, rant.

See Becky laugh at clever Jessica's post. Funny, funny Jessica.