It doesn’t happen all the time, but attorneys do contact debtors. Being contacted by an attorney is scary usually because you don’t know what they can do. Can they file a lawsuit against you? Take your home? Garnish your wages? Take money from your bank account? If an attorney contacts you about a debt, don’t panic. Instead, keep a cool head and follow certain steps.
Confirm That It’s a Legitimate Attorney
First, make sure it’s actually an attorney that’s contacting you. Though it’s against the law, collection agencies have been known to misrepresent themselves as attorneys. They may insinuate that they’re an attorney or working with a law firm when they’re actually not. Some collection agencies outright lie and say they’re an attorney just to scare you into paying. Ask the “attorney” to give you the name of the state they’re licensed to practice in and their bar license number. A real attorney can give you both pieces of information. Collection agents usually cannot.
Once you have a name and bar license number, find the website for your state’s bar association and confirm the information. Do not deal with the attorney until you’ve verified they’re an attorney and contact them via the number you find on the bar association’s website, not necessarily the number you’re given over the phone. A collection agent could give you a real attorney’s name and license number, but a fake phone number.
Make Sure They’re Licensed in Your State
If you actually are dealing with an attorney, confirm that they are licensed to practice law in your state. Out-of-state collection attorneys are not likely to sue you because they generally need to be licensed in your state to sue you. (Note: that sometimes collection attorneys are part of a network or group and another attorney in that group may be licensed in your state.)
Even if you’re threatened with a lawsuit, you have up until the court date to work out a deal with the collection attorney. Try using the debt validation process if you need a little time to come up with the money for settling the debt. In debt validation, the attorney will likely have to contact the original creditor to get documentation proving the debt. In the meantime, you could figure out how you can get the money.
Work Out a Settlement Deal
You can settle debts with collection attorneys, but maybe not for a low amount. If you don’t have enough funds to pay a settlement deal, you can try to work out a payment plan with the attorney. Make sure it’s something you can afford and have the attorney agree not to sue you while you’re making payments.
Respond to Any Lawsuit
If an attorney does file a lawsuit against you, don’t ignore it. Failing to respond to a lawsuit will generally result in a default judgment where the judge awards the attorney whatever they’ve sued you for. Then, after a default judgment, the attorney could ask the court to garnish your wages or levy your bank account. If you’ve been saving up for other settlements, the attorney may be able to take that money. It’s probably best to get in touch with an attorney to help you if a lawsuit has been filed against you. An attorney could help you figure out your options and perhaps negotiate a settlement before the case goes before the judge.