I’m really starting to hate Tuesdays

Here’s my typical route to work: US-169 SB transition to I-70 EB for a 1/4 mi before merging to US-71 SB en route to Bannister Rd. Typical travel time: 20 min on a good morning, 25 to 30 typically.

This morning: accident on US-169 SB before I-70, accident on I-70 EB before the US-71 transition, plus accident on I-35 SB around the new bridge. So my main route *and* alternate route were backed up… Luckily I was able to divert to MO-9 SB to avoid the 169 accident, but I couldn’t avoid the I-70 accident. Travel time: 45 min, and I was 10 min late for a meeting I was hosting.

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“Reduce your debt”? Bullshit.

You’ve probably seen ads all over the place saying “you can reduce your debt and settle for a fraction of what you owe”. Some even go so far as to call this a “right”. I’ve been doing a lot of research on debt and debt collection laws, and let me tell you that you are being misled by them.

If you have a debt account that is in the hands of a debt collector, you can certainly negotiate a settlement, and that settlement can be for a fraction of the balance. But they don’t have to accept your offer. Standard laws and rules regarding contracts come into play here.

Don’t be misled into thinking that you can offer to settle a $10,000 debt for $5,000 and the debt collectors must accept that offer. They don’t.

And they typically will not accept it unless you’re including a check for $5,000 along with your offer or you provide some other kind of consideration in the offer, such as a short payment schedule (read: 1 or 2 fiscal quarters at most, depending on the balance). Of course about the only thing you can offer is a lump sum or accelerated payment schedule.

They don’t have to reverse any assessed interest and penalties, reduce or eliminate the interest rate, allow for a reduced monthly payment, or any of the other glorious and sensational claims that some of these “debt consolidation” and “debt relief” firms are spouting. Again, the only way they’ll do any of that is if you offer something in return that they find appetizing, such as a short payment schedule or a lump sum payment.

Instead if you have accounts that are with debt collectors, do some research so you know what your rights actually are.

For example if you are receiving a first communication from a debt collector regarding an account, one tool that might stop them cold is called debt validation [15 USC 1692g(b)], but you have a limited amount of time to exercise this right. I could probably write a long, long dissertation on what your rights are with regard to debt collection (yes, I’m that well read on the topic), and given how much misinformation is out there, I just might consider it.

Here is the reality behind debt collection.

First, a debt collector cannot sue you without first contacting you attempting to collect on a debt. After that initial contact, you can send a debt validation request to them (if you want a hand in drafting one of these, let me know), but they must receive it within 30 days after you receive their initial communication by mail. The 30-day clock doesn’t start with the first phone call, only the first mailed communication, and the clock doesn’t begin until you receive it.

After that 30 day period, the debt collector can assume the debt is valid and can pursue it further. But the actions they take must be within the boundaries stipulated first by the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), second by any applicable State laws. Other State laws and local ordinances may come into play with regard to collection activities.

So step 1 after receiving an initial communication from a debt collector is this: send a validation request, and try to send it within two weeks after receiving that initial letter. In that validation request, include this statement:

I request in accordance with 15 USC 1692c(a) that you not attempt to contact me at my place of employment, as my employer does not allow such communications, nor should you attempt to contact me at any time or place, except in writing, as no other time or place is convenient.

Absent that statement (which must be provided in writing to have any legal effect), they can contact you by phone only between 8am and 9pm for your timezone, or they can confront you publicly, such as by physically showing up at your home or place of employment. They cannot, however, confront you at any “unusual” place, and if they confront you publicly, other local and state laws come into play, and they are still restricted by the 8am to 9pm time block.

With this statement, they cannot contact by by phone or confront you publicly without permission from the Court. Note that they can still confront you publicly to serve you with papers for a lawsuit, but they cannot do anything more than that without permission from the Court.

And if you read around about debt validation, you might find some sites that provide lengthy letters requesting all kinds of information while claiming that all of that information must be provided or the debt is not considered validated. Bullshit.

To validate the debt, the collector must show only a small amount of information. In Chaudhry v. Gallerizzo, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit adopted a relatively lenient standard:

Verification of a debt involves nothing more than the debt collector confirming in writing that the amount being demanded is what the creditor is claiming is owed; the debt collector is not required to keep detailed files of the alleged debt. [174 F.3d 394 (4th Cir. 1999)]

In Clark v. Capital Credit & Collection Servs., the Ninth Circuit adopted the same standard [460 F.3d 1162 (9th Cir. 2006)]. At a minimum, the debt must be confirmed with the original creditor, and to satisfy a validation request, many collectors will attempt to obtain and provide the last statement for the account, and their ability to obtain that statement also verifies that they are authorized to collect the debt. One debt collector with whom I’m currently under a payment agreement provided a two-year statement history in response to a validation request.

Of course, keep detailed and accurate records of all communications, written or otherwise, between you and the collector. If they confront you publicly and you have a cell phone with a camera, use it. Anything you mail to the debt collector should be sent via Certified Mail, return receipt is your choice, but recommended if you are sending a settlement offer. Be sure to photocopy or digitally scan and save the Certified Mail receipt.

If you retain an attorney to represent you in regard to the debt or all of your debts, and you or the attorney informs them you have retained counsel, the debt collector cannot contact you directly. All communication must be tunneled through the attorney.

And bear in mind that they can sue you at any time after that 30-day statutory period has lapsed.

The best way to defend yourself against debt collectors is by knowing your rights. Practically all debt collectors bank on you not knowing what your rights are under federal and state laws. They may also bank on you not knowing what a debt collector can and cannot do. And if they do sue you, they bank on you not showing up so they can get a default judgment.

And while you’re at it, look up your state’s laws or send a letter to your Attorney General asking what maximum amount can be garnished from your wages, just in case they threaten a lawsuit. Knowing that number in relation to what you make could give you some leverage in negotiating with them, but never tell any debt collector how much you make.

But knowing your rights is the best way to knock a debt collector on their ass while keeping them on their toes at the same time. Don’t be misled into thinking that you have a “right” to settle your debts for fractions on the dollar, because you don’t. It doesn’t matter if you owe $1,000, $10,000 or $50,000, you don’t have any right to settle it for any amount. You can attempt to settle it, but you don’t have a right to settle it because they don’t have to accept any offer you make.

Oh, and one last little bit: if you settle a debt for more than $600 less than what is owed, the remainder is treated as income and is taxable. One thing to keep in mind when you start drafting settlement offers. Note that the $600 applies to only one debt and is not cumulative across all of your debts.

And one last note: any payments you send to a debt collector should always be by money order or cashier’s check.

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Madeline, you are not alone

FoxNews: Deliberations to Begin in Wisconsin Dad’s Faith-Healing Death Trial

I am not a religious person. Anyone who knows me is aware of this. However when someone makes an irrational decision based either in entirety or in plurality on their religious beliefs, I become visibly and justifiably angered.

Such was the case last year when I, like much of the rest of the nation, learned of the death of 11 year-old Madeline Kara Neumann. I became visibly angered reading of this case to the point where I was shedding tears reading about it — because I know she’s not alone.

Madeline died from juvenile onset diabetes. It is relatively easy to bring under control, but it requires medical attention to do so. Madeline’s parents refused to seek medical treatment for her on account of their religious beliefs. This was the frustrating part: Madeline had no say in whether she would be taken to the ER. The medical attention she desperately needed and her body visibly craved was withheld because her parents felt it would go against their religious beliefs.

Madeline’s parents were charged with “reckless homicide” with her death. Her mother, Leilani Neumann, was convicted in May, and her father’s fate is currently before a jury.

I’ve encountered quite a number of cases of children who’ve died because their religiously-motivated parents refused to seek medical attention. In all of the cases I’ve read, the most common cause of death is…. juvenile onset diabetes.

Madeline’s case overshadowed the case of 15 month old Ava Worthington of Oregon City, Oregon, who died March 2, 2008, from complications of pneumonia along with a blood infection. Ava’s parents were charged with her death, but were acquitted.

Oregon faced some major embarrassment in 1998 when an investigation revealed that hundreds of children, if not more, had died due to religious exemption laws. Most of the offenders in Oregon belonged to the Followers of Christ Church, of which Ava Worthington parents’ were members. In light of this, Oregon’s state legislature acted quickly to remove “religion defense” from its books, as with that defense in place, Oregon was near-powerless to act on hundreds of cases they had discovered. Had they acted, it would’ve resulted in the waste of a lot of taxpayer dollars on a lot of cases that would’ve knowingly resulted in acquittal.

What prompted the investigation? The death of an 11 year-old child from… juvenile onset diabetes.

Along with Followers of Christ, other churches and religious organizations have been implicated in the deaths of other children. I’ve seen one popular religious organization labeled as the worse offender in this regard: the First Church of Christ, Scientist, also known as Christian Science. They actually run hospices where your only medicine is prayer. Look up the case of 12 year-old Elizabeth Ashley King to learn how good those places are.

So if Oregon had closed the loopholes in 1998, how was it that Ava’s parents were acquitted? After all, the Worthingtons were legally prohibited from offering their religious beliefs as an affirmative defense. What happened? The jury sympathized with the parents.

Oregon corrected their problem. Unfortunately, legislative response is not enough, as Oregon has also shown. The only thing a legislative response can do is ensure that those charged with letting their children die will have one less defense. So what needs to happen to prevent on a further scale tragedies like Ava and Madeline?

For those of you who are religious who happen to be reading this, no I’m not so atheistic extremist that I want to see religion outlawed. Only certain aspects of religion need to go, and the parents need to understand that medical attention is necessary in certain situations. It can even be phrased in a religious context: God has already given us the ability to heal your children, so you don’t need to ask Him for help when help is literally a phone call away.

It’s similar to another anecdote I’ve seen others use as an analogy in regard to Madeline’s case. A man was trapped on his home while flood waters were rising around him. Three times rescue was attempted, and three times he turned everyone away, saying, “Don’t worry. God will help me.” When the waters become too much and he drowns, he asks God, “Why did you not help me?” God replies, “I tried three times to help you, and you three times said No.”

In one episode of Futurama, “God” tells Bender something similar to this: a God who has too much influence will cause his creation to become dependent upon him, whereas one who does too little will have a creation of non-believers. Only a gentle touch is needed. And any believer should recognize that it is only this gentle touch that is given, meaning God will not give you what you can already obtain on your own.

Now many have said that these cases fall within a person’s religious freedoms, that if a parent’s religion commands that they pray instead of seeking medical help, then it is not only their freedom to do so, it is their duty. Thankfully the Courts have disagreed in States where religion cannot be used as a defense to child neglect or negligent homicide charges. Unfortunately too many States still have such laws on the books, and they need to be repealed.

Your religious freedom ends where another person’s right to live begins. You do not have the right to compromise the health of your child by refusing to seek medical attention simply because your religion commands it. As the number of cases of which I’ve read, along with the number of cases Oregon authorities discovered in 1998 can attest, prayer does not work!!! If it did, Madeline, Ava, and thousands of other children would still be alive!

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