Commonwealth Journal

Community News Network

October 10, 2013

Report: Debt protection varies widely by state

WASHINGTON — Depending on where you live, debt collectors may be legally entitled to take your entire paycheck, house or car and completely clear out your bank accounts.

Families in the District of Columbia have a better chance of holding on to their vehicles than those in Maryland and Virginia. Yet Washington residents could have 25 percent of their wages transferred to a creditor.

In a report released Thursday, the National Consumer Law Center surveyed the patchwork of state "exemption laws" meant to protect struggling families from losing everything to creditors. The advocacy group found that few places met its five basic standards for protecting consumers — preserving at least $1,000 in a bank account as well as barring creditors from seizing vehicles, household goods, homes and most wages.

Only Massachusetts and Iowa came close to meeting those standards, each receiving a B-plus grade. The District of Columbia earned a B-minus for its fairly strong consumer protections, while Maryland and Virginia both received D's.

The District of Columbia prevents creditors from seizing anyone's home, but Maryland only protects homes worth up to $6,000. That's $1,000 higher than Virginia's limit, according to the report.

"I can't compare our laws to other states, but we have taken major actions to ensure those laws are enforced and worked with the courts to reform their rules for these lawsuits," said Mark Kaufman, Maryland's commissioner of financial regulation. Officials in Virginia had not reviewed the report by press time.

Christopher Weaver, associate commissioner for banking in the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking, said the agency "plans to confer with the District's consumer affairs department and the D.C. Council about better protecting families' wages."

In some states, weak exemption laws simply reflect a failure to update statutes on the books, said NCLC researchers. Pennsylvania, for instance, protects Bibles and sewing machines, but has no coverage for household goods of more than $300.

"Almost all states exempt a pair of cows and an ox, but they haven't exempted computers or a car that actually works," said Robert Hobbs, deputy director of NCLC. "This is a call for states to update these laws."

Federal laws, he noted, mainly address personal bankruptcy, leaving states to ensure that residents do not wind up destitute as they try to pay off their debts. Hobbs said some states are updating their laws in piecemeal fashion, protecting a larger portion of wages but not cars, for instance.

"It's sort of like squeezing a balloon. They might be protecting the car, but the money in the bank account to make the car payments is wiped clean," Hobbs said. "States should be comprehensive in providing a foundation for families."

Exemption laws come into play when a creditor wins a judgment against a consumer in court. Creditors can then take steps to seize wages or property to pay the debt.

Members of the $12.2 billion debt-collection industry are critical of the restrictions consumer organizations want to place on their business. Industry officials argue that NCLC and other advocacy groups should put more emphasis on financial literacy than absolving consumers of their obligations.

"NCLC neglects to include any mention of the personal responsibility of consumers to communicate with creditors and debt collectors to seek solutions," said Pat Morris, chief executive of the Association of Credit and Collection Professionals, a trade group.

He added: "NCLC goes right to the lowest common denominator to incite fear — legal action, garnishment and repossession — which are actions of last resort by creditors."

About 30 million Americans have an average of $1,500 in debt subject to collection, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In the wake of the financial crisis, state authorities and advocacy groups became alarmed by the tactics used by some debt collectors to get consumers to settle their balances.

A 2011 report by Consumers Union found debt collectors filing an increasing number of lawsuits against borrowers without proper documentation. In some cases, companies were suing people over debts that were already paid or winning court judgments without proof that they owned the debt.

California authorities, for example, argue JPMorgan Chase flooded the courts with lawsuits against credit card holders based on flimsy evidence that cardholders were in default, says a lawsuit filed in May by the state's attorney general.

Federal regulators have been investigating whether the nation's biggest banks used flawed documents and incomplete records to collect on delinquent credit card debts. Meanwhile, a group of 13 state attorneys general is also looking into the actions of banks as well as companies that buy defaulted debt and collect the proceeds for themselves.

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • Why a see-through mouse is a big deal for scientists

    A group of Caltech researchers announced in Cell Thursday their success in making an entire organism transparent. Unfortunately, this isn't any kind of "Invisible Man" scenario: The organism in question is a mouse, and the mouse in question is quite dead.

    July 31, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 2.12.55 PM.png VIDEO: Five-year-old doesn't want her brother to grow up

    Sadie, an adorable 5-year-old from Phoenix, wants her brother to stay young forever, so much so that her emotional reaction to the thought of him getting older has drawn more than 10 million views on YouTube.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • lockport-police.jpg Police department turns to Facebook for guidance on use of 'negro'

    What seems to be a data entry mistake by a small town police department in western New York has turned into a social media firestorm centered around the word "negro" and whether it's acceptable to use in modern society.

    July 31, 2014 3 Photos

  • The virtues of lying

    Two computational scientists set out recently to simulate the effects of lying in a virtual human population. Their results, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, show that lying is essential for the growth of a cohesive social network.

    July 31, 2014

  • Sunburn isn't the only sign of summer that can leave you itchy and blistered

    You've got a rash. You quickly rule out the usual suspects: You haven't been gardening or hiking or even picnicking, so it's probably not a plant irritant such as poison ivy or wild parsnip; likewise, it's probably not chiggers or ticks carrying Lyme disease; and you haven't been swimming in a pond, which can harbor the parasite that causes swimmer's itch.

    July 30, 2014

  • Survey results in legislation to battle sexual assault on campus

    Missouri U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill joined a bipartisan group of senators Wednesday to announce legislation that aims to reduce the number of sexual assaults on college campuses.

    July 30, 2014

  • An alarming threat to airlines that no one's talking about

    It's been an abysmal year for the flying public. Planes have crashed in bad weather, disappeared over the Indian Ocean and tragically crossed paths with anti-aircraft missiles over Ukraine.

    July 30, 2014

  • Sharknado.jpg Sharknado 2 set to attack viewers tonight

    In the face of another "Sharknado" TV movie (the even-more-inane "Sharknado 2: The Second One," premiering Wednesday night on Syfy), there isn't much for a critic to say except to echo what the characters themselves so frequently scream when confronted by a great white shark spinning toward them in a funnel cloud:
    "LOOK OUT!!"

    July 30, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20140729-AMX-GIVHAN292.jpg Spanx stretches into new territory with jeans, but promised magic is elusive

    The Spanx empire of stomach-flattening, thigh-slimming, jiggle-reducing foundation garments has expanded to include what the brand promises is the mother of all body-shaping miracles: Spanx jeans.

    July 29, 2014 1 Photo

  • Medical marijuana opponents' most powerful argument is at odds with a mountain of research

    Opponents of marijuana legalization are rapidly losing the battle for hearts and minds. Simply put, the public understands that however you measure the consequences of marijuana use, the drug is significantly less harmful to users and society than tobacco or alcohol.

    July 29, 2014

News Live
AP Video
Netanyahu Vows to Destroy Hamas Tunnels Obama Slams Republicans Over Lawsuit House Leaders Trade Blame for Inaction Malaysian PM: Stop Fighting in Ukraine Cantor Warns of Instability, Terror in Farewell Ravens' Ray Rice: 'I Made a Huge Mistake' Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers Small Plane Crash in San Diego Parking Lot Busy Franco's Not Afraid of Overexposure Fighting Blocks Access to Ukraine Crash Site Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida Workers Dig for Survivors After India Landslide Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Southern Accent Reduction Class Cancelled in TN
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Stocks