Debt Collection Complaints?

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau wants to hear about your dealings with debt collectors.

The CFPB is considering creating rules to govern debt collectors, “a loosely regulated industry under increasing scrutiny over complaints of abusive tactics,” reports Danielle Douglas for The Washington Post.

The consumer watchdog agency is soliciting comments from the public and businesses before proposing the rules, which are expected to be finalized next year. The CFPB says it’s interested in “consumer experiences with the debt collection system, and about how rules for debt collectors might protect consumers without imposing unnecessary burdens on industry.”

“While debt collection can benefit consumers by reducing the price and increasing the availability of credit, in the absence of legislation and regulation many consumers may be subject to debt collection efforts that raise consumer protection concerns,” CFPB said in its notice about the proposed rulemaking.

I’ve written quite a bit about the debt collection industry. Last summer, I wrote about one company that settled allegations by the Federal Trade Commission for calling consumers at home or on their jobs multiple times per day, even after being asked to stop or told that the person’s employer prohibited such calls.

Here are some other columns I’ve written on the issue:

-- Time-barred debts. Debt collectors have a limited number of years in which they can sue someone to collect. After the time runs out, unpaid debts are considered “time-barred.” Debt collectors are allowed to contact you about time-barred debts. However, under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, they cannot sue you for a debt that’s time-barred. Read how one man won his case against old debt he didn’t believe he owed.

-- Debt settlement. When I’m asked, “What do you think of debt settlement?” I cringe. I gird myself for a frustrating discussion with desperate debtors looking for a quick fix to a problem they’ve spent years creating. But trying to nuke your debt away in short order is just a pipe dream for most people. Only about one in 10 consumers participating in debt-settlement programs actually ends up debt-free in the promised period of time, according to a consumer alert issued recently by the nonprofit National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.

-- Providing proof. In 2011, Maryland joined a growing number of states in which judges are demanding greater proof from debt buyers before allowing them to sue consumers to recover alleged obligations.

Color of Money Question of the Week

I want to hear about your debt collection experiences. What dealings — good or bad — have you had with debt collectors? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Put “Debt Collection” in the subject line and include your full name, city and state.

You might also consider sending comments about your experiences to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to help with its rulemaking. In its notice, the agency addresses a number of issues about the industry. Look through the questions asked by the CFPB, and then submit your comments. Include the question number or numbers to which your comment pertains. Your comments should also be identified by Docket No. CFPB-2013-0033 or Regulatory Identification Number (RIN) 3170-AA41. You can send your comments by any of the following methods:

• Electronic: http://www.regulations.gov.

• Mail/Hand Delivery: Monica Jackson, Office of the Executive Secretary, Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, 1700 G St., NW, Washington, D.C., 20552.

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Debt Savers

Many Americans with 401(k) accounts, or defined contributions, are accumulating debt, faster than they are saving for retirement, reports Michael A. Fletcher of The Washington Post.

As Fletcher writes, three in five workers with defined contribution accounts are “debt savers,” meaning their increasing mortgages, credit card balances and installment loans are outpacing the amount of money they are able to save for retirement. The report was by HelloWallet, a D.C. firm that offers technology-based financial advice to workers and conducts research of economic behavior.

The report’s findings show:

-- More than 60 percent of households that have a defined contribution plan added more debt to their family balance sheet than they contributed to retirement savings.

-- Participants with insufficient emergency savings in liquid accounts are more likely to accumulate debt faster than retirement savings compared to workers with sufficient emergency savings.

“We raised the victory flag as people increased retirement contributions, but in reality the ability of people to retire is a function of lots of different variables, most important of which is what they are doing on the other side of the ledger,” said Matt Fellowes, founder and chief executive of HelloWallet and a former Brookings Institution scholar.

In another survey, CNN Money’s Retirement Guide 2014 looks at how Americans are managing their 401 (k) contributions, investment portfolio and Social Security income.

In Wednesday’s Color of Money column, I wrote about a deal for vets and their families that can help them figure out the best strategy to collect their Social Security retirement benefits.

On Veterans Day (Nov. 11), Kiplinger Washington Editors (which publishes Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine), Social Security Solutions and Wells Fargo are partnering to offer one-day free access to an online retirement planning tool for all active-duty and retired military members and their widows or widowers. The free online tool for military folks will only be available Monday at www.socialsecurityforveterans.com.

Social Security for Your Ex

The Social Security Administration won’t give divorcees access to their ex spouses’ earnings records. Nor will it let widows and widowers have access to their late spouses’ earnings records, reports Larry Kotlikoff, who pens the PBS NewsHour feature “Ask Larry.”

“This policy, which Social Security claims is for privacy purposes, is simply outrageous,” he says.

In a recent Q&A, Kotlikoff addressed questions from divorcees and widows on the cumbersome task of getting access to their spouses’ records.

Here’s a question Kotlikoff received about the issue: “Will Social Security notify me if my ex starts collecting his or her Social Security retirement benefit? This decision can, in special cases, affect when I can start my divorcee spousal benefit.”

Read his response here.

To Bribe or Not To Bribe

For last week’s Color of Money Question, I asked: “Should you bribe your kids?”

In the New York Times’s Room for Debate feature, two Times writers debate the pros and cons of bribing kids.

“It isn’t bribery; it is teaching your children to work towards a goal,” wrote Jenny Aus of Reisterstown, Md. “For example, the mother who rewarded her children for their good car behavior after several trips, the children didn’t get the treat immediately. They had to demonstrate good behavior consistently over the course of time. Then they received their treat. This teaches the child how to work for what they want, and teaches them how to delay their gratification. This is a skill they will need to call on more and more as they get older. It isn’t too early to start learning.”

Tia Lewis contributed to this report.

Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20071, or michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to www.postbusiness.com.

Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, “The Color of Money.”
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