What are my options now? (Debt problem)

I had a credit card about 6 years ago or so which I used to it’s limit, about $500.

At the time and for several reasons I didn’t have money and I couldn’t afford to pay my bills. Eventually the account went to a collections agency which pestered me for a few months, until I moved. I never heard from them again. Until now, that is.

Several years later, today, I get a letter from a court officer saying that I must contact him within 48 hours about seeing a judge or be arrested and brought before one.

Now, again at this time in my life I’m basically peniless (after an unsuccesful attempt at a small buisness). I’m trying to go to school and live on the kindness of one of my parents and my girlfriend while I straighten myself out and get a decent job with which to repay them for their love and support. But basically I own nothing. I use a computer in my girlfriend’s apartment where I live, but she bought it, it’s hers. The only thing I own is my clothes and some CD’s, and my school books. So I really cannot pay this debt (which has inflated to 3 times what I spent all those years ago).

Mind you, I do want to owe up to my obligaitons. I want to pay off the debt, but I don’t know when I’ll be able to do that. I have to finish my current courses, and get a job first before I can even begin to make any payments.

What should I do? I have 48 hours to answer the call the court officer or I’ll be arrested, and I definately don’t want that.

Anyone had any experience dealing with this kind of situation?

Number one: Call that officer and tell him you want to pay up–like, now!. Make sure he/she knows that you’re not a deadbeat that is going to skip out on a $500 check.

Number two: Get the name and address of whatever collection agency is hounding you. $500 is nothing to get “lit up” for in the eyes of the law. If you can afford to make a few payments here and there, do it. If not, work out an amicable solution with the company to take you off the “hot” list.

I can’t emphasize enough the fact of communication. Don’t be bullied by the credt company, but tell them what you can pay and when. That ‘telemarketer’ will be working a contract over the phone, so make sure you can abide by that verbal contract. That officer, he’s there to bring you in if you don’t pay up. Talk to the guy, and let him know that you’ve contacted the credit company.

Trust me, $500 is nothing to to go jail over.

It’s actually $1500 now. It appears they waited until the interest rate plus whetever feas they charge went up before sending it to a collections agency, who then waited while the amount went up higher before filing suit.

I never knew any of this though. I guess they defaulted judgement to these people so now, by court order I oiwe them $1500 which, again, I cannot pay, and won’t be bale to pay even in $20 dollar a week amounts for a while yet.

So, you’re saying that I could go to jail for not having them money to pay? How long will they kepe me in there, given that in jail, I certainly won’t find a way to pay them back.
Great I’m really nervous now. :frowning:

I don’t think you can ever, ever go to prison for not paying debts. Ever. Debtors’ prison is illegal in the U.S. That being my understanding, I’d further speculate that the “court officer” who contacted you is a particularly slimy brand of collections agent. If there is a courthouse specified in the letter, look it up in the phone book, call, and ask if this kind of letter is legit. Ask if the “court officer” works there.

Also, remember that all lawyers are “officers of the court”; this guy might be a lawyer, in which case he’s in big trouble if he’s lying just to get you to call him.

Thanks for the help so far guys.

I looked up the “Superior Court of New Jersey Law Division” and the address, and it appears legit. So there really does appear to be a warrant. Great.

Well I’m gonna call this guy and see what I have to do to arrange a court date. Will they appoint me a lawyer though?

Don’t have a clue what’s going to happen to me now :frowning:

I worked collections. However, I don’t have much experience on the legal end of things.

Some collections offices are also law offices. (The ones where I worked were not.) These law offices can collect bills the usual ways: Calling, sending letters, asking for payments, setting up settlements, etc. However, since they are also law offices, they can proceed with legal action against the debtor also.

From what little I know about this, they will get a judgement against you. If a judge sees that you are making money and not paying then he can force a payment plan. However, as others have said, there is no debtors prison in America. So, I don’t know what happens if you don’t pay.

A couple of things to keep in mind:

  1. Don’t hide from the collectors. Don’t screen calls or not answer the phone. It’ll just piss them off and they will keep calling. If you tell them you don’t want to be contacted, then they will stop calling.

  2. This debt sounds like it has already been charged off. This means that your credit has already suffered from this, and paying it back won’t do much to help. However, getting a judgement is even worse for your credit, so you should avoid this if possible.

  3. If you send a payment, they must by law apply it to your account. So, send them $10. This can have an effect. Even if it’s very little, sending some money can stop further action from being taken.

  4. Try and settle. Since this debt is old and most likely has already been charged off, you can probably settle. The rules for SIF’s (Settlements In Full) vary based on the creditor. They will tell the agencies what settlements they will take for what lines of credit. I’ve seen this be anything from 0% (no deal at all) down to 30%. So, even if you owe $1500, you might be able to settle for as little as $500! Keep in mind, that although this will prevent further collections activity, it won’t instantly improve your credit. That will take some time.

Given the jump from $500 to $1500, the matter is still the same–relax, and just start talking with people. The worst the would do is garnish your wages for such a small amount.

Call that “officer” up, and talk to him. Be sneaky. Find out just exactly who he works for. Twenty dollars says that Nametag is right, and this guy might be posing as a lawyer.

But really, call these people up now, before they call you. Be proactive about it before they come hounding you some more. . .

Trust me, be proactive on this one. . .

IANAL (and I hope one will come to correct me if I am wrong). But you had said that the course had granted a default judgment for them and you now owe $1500. Have you moved many times in the past since acquiring this debt? If not, were you ever severed to appear in court? I think that if someone sues you, you have to be served. You may want to get a copy of the court records for that case.

I really feel for you. In 1999, I had a meltdown and decided to end it all. It occurred to me that I had 5000-6000 available in credit. I had one hell of a weekend :smiley: Obviously, I got talked out of ending it all and glad I was. I now have a beautiful 3 year old daughter that I would not trade for the world. Back to my point, I went from working 2 jobs 7 days a week down to one. After about 4 months, I could not figure why I could not get my head above water financially. Then it occurred to me that I lost over $10 Gs a year working only that one job. (I was making about 26 between the two at the time. I procrastinated and after about a year, they were threatening lawsuit. My debt went from 23 G to 36 G just in interest and penalties. I looked at my options and in 2000 filed bankruptcy, now I am not advocating you taking that route for $1500 but I wanted you to know that there are always options. My guess is that your wages will be garnished but I can’t think of much more they can financially. Once again IANAL.

Keep the faith! There is always a way. :smiley:

Thanks Odaran and everyone else!

I called the office of the court officer and the secretary said he won’t be in until later. I’ll call back then and keep you guys updated.

Thanks again, no one is home right now and I can’t communicate with anyone else until tonight, and you guys are listening and that helps alot. :slight_smile:

Google the phone number and the name as well. You’d be surprised what turns up. Is the court in a place where you’ve lived? From what I can tell from google. Superior Court New Jersye Law Division is the civil court of the State of New Jersey? Who is it exactly who sent you a letter? Was it the clerk of the court? There is something odd about this.

Well googling the number gives me a listing for his office and it does say his name and “Court officer” in there too.

And tha’s what the letter claims, that he is a court officer and has been issued a warrant for my arrest. He then tells me to contact his office immeadiately to arrange to see a judge, or he will have to arrest me.

Odaran, yes, I did move a lot during that time, from my dad’s to my mom’s to my own apartment, finally here with my SO.

I never saw any document that asked me to go to court, all my mail (up to 3 years ago or so) would have gone to my father’s home, and I never got anything from him about this, though it’s possible he never showed it to me (he was sick and a little strange sometimes).

My brother (who has a ton of debt) was told by the bankrupty attorney that in some states (Pennsylvania being one) that although a credit can sue you for debt, they cannot garnish wages for credit card debt. Not sure if it’s true or not, but it might be an option to call the local legal clinic and find out how far they can go with this.

There is no debtors prison, that is correct. However if they were able to get a court order against you and you did not comply then the judge may have issued a warrant for contempt of court for not complying with the order or not coming to court. Moving frequently is not an excuse but the judge usually will take it into account. If the Plaintiff tells the court that the matter is being handled between the parties the judge will usually drop the contempt charge. Sorry I have no advice to you on how to get the money to pay the debt.

First off, talk to the officer. What he has to say can’t be worse than what you’re imagining. Now, according to the OP, you’re trying to get a “decent job”. Is their no way you can find something a little less “decent” which would start you repaying not only your debt, but somethig toward your own upkeep? Even though you’re in school, you should be able to work at least part time. That way you can start making nominal payments toward the judgement. If they’re talking about arrest, my guess is the creditor was granted a default judgement after you didn’t show in court, probably after they sent notification to some prior address. If a defualt judgement was granted and you didn’t abide by that judgement, whether you knew about it or not, you’re in contempt of court. Talk to the officer and the judge, explain your situation and most importantly, show some plan be which you’ll resolve that situation. Just saying “I’ll pay it when I can” isn’t going to cut it, most likely.

Good luck.


While I’m waiting for the officer to get back to his office I’ve been checking the online newspaper for jobs :slight_smile: I’m taking the first thing I’m offered.

But what should I say to the judge in the meantime if the officer says I have to show tomorrow morning?

Obviously that I’m looking for a job, and once I get one I’ll immeadiately start paying off the debt, but I don’t see what other assurance I can offer.

Anvaran - Ask if you can possibly reschedule for two weeks. If not, just go and be honest. I really think that’s all you can do. If there’s a judgement already, it’s not like you can negotiate.

Best of luck to you!


I was in a situation like this not too long ago, for an ever larger amount of money with several different creditors I defaulted on a few things, and in my youthfulness, my answer was to keep throwing away the collection letters and pretend everything was fine. Not the brightest thing I have ever done, and it cost me a lot in those fees and interest payments you discovered on your loan. I wasn’t threatened with jailtime, but with nearly everything else including reposession of my car.

My experience, once I woke up and started trying to take care of all this, was that if you get on the phone with someone, be polite, take responsibilty, and explain your situation, they are usually happy to work with you. It’s going to take making some payments though, no matter what. They are absolutely going to require you to put together some kind of plan to get it taken care of. I found that once I was making some kind of payment per month towards the account, they were easy to work with.

You might also try contacting a Consumer Credit agency. They can often work with your creditor to get interest reduced, etc. and there is usually no charge for the service. It’ll help to have someone on your side.

You are also right to try to find a job as soon as possible. That will give you a small amount of leverage. The company ultimately wants to reclaim what you owe them. Give them hope of that and they will work with you. Its not a win situation for them to put you in a situation where they can’t get their money back.

Good luck!


Most credit card companies WANT to work with you. Ardred (my SO) just filed bankruptcy (much more than $1500) but had been working with his creditors for years. They just want their money, so it’s in their interest to work with you.

Pay them anything you can, and make sure they can keep in contact with you.