Lifestyle

Senior Rights Assistance offers help with credit and debt issues

Senior Rights Assistance strives to inform, support and empower older adults and their families to utilize their legal and consumer rights. Driven by more than 50 highly trained volunteers, Senior Rights Assistance provides information and support in the areas of consumer debt and bankruptcy, consumer protection, estate planning, end-of-life issues, landlord tenant, homeowner issues and victims of crime assistance.

Currently, the organization is witnessing an influx of cases involving seniors with mounting credit card debt. There are ways seniors can protect themselves from Third Party Debt Collectors. Senior Rights Assistance publishes a Collection Proof Letter which informs debt collectors that individuals are “Collection Proof”. Being collection proof means that your income cannot be garnished by creditors because it derives from such areas as SSI, GAU, SSDI, SSA, etc.

In today’s difficult economic times, many seniors are struggling to make ends meet. Faced with limited income and mounting debt, it is increasingly difficult to ensure that basic needs are met. Knowing what constitutes a basic need is important to prioritizing monthly financial obligations. It is a basic need to have access to food, shelter, clothing, and necessary health care and social services.  No one should ever feel guilt or shame about making the decision to purchase food or other basic needs instead of paying a monthly credit card bill. 

Unfortunately, many seniors find themselves in a precarious financial position each month. They forgo basic needs and instead pay credit card bills out of a deep sense of responsibility. While it is important to honor obligations, unexpected things happen and you find yourself short of money. It is important to know that when in this situation you do have options. You can confront this situation head on by knowing your rights when dealing with debt collectors. 

Information and support are available, but the best and most reliable form of support is awareness:  it is imperative for seniors to be informed.   To address your debt, access your annual credit report, be aware of monthly expenses and income, prioritize bills and basic needs, when possible get on a cash basis and know if you are “Collection Proof.”  If you are struggling financially and your only form of income is from exempt sources such as Social Security, then you might be “Collection Proof” and financial relief is within reach.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE COLLECTION‐PROOF?

Certain forms of income cannot be garnished by creditors, even if your creditor gets a court judgment against you.. Examples of income that usually cannot be garnished are TANF, GAU, SSI, SSDI, SSA, food stamps, child support received by you, and private pensions of many kinds. In addition, only part of your net wages can be garnished; (in 2009) your net wages are exempt from garnishment up to either $196.50 per week or 75 percent of your net wages, whichever is greater.

If your income is protected from garnishment and you have no assets (house, property) with which to pay your debt, you may be “Collection Proof.” If any money you have in a bank account came from exempt sources, it may be exempt as well.

If you owe child support debts, tax debts or certain other claims by the state or judgments for any part of the purchase price of a piece of personal property, you may not be “Collection Proof” for these debts. 

To inform third part debt collectors of your “Collection Proof” status, send a certified letter to the debt collector that includes the information below.

COLLECTION PROOF LETTERS

(A sample letter can be found at www.seniorservices.org or contact Senior Rights Assistance for more information)

• Explain why you cannot pay the bill and describe your sources of income.

• Include your name, address, account number, and the date.

• State that you are exercising your rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

• State that you want the creditor to stop calling and writing you.

• Be very cautious about agreeing (saying) in any way that you owe the debt. If you agree to pay a debt that was discharged in bankruptcy or is too old to collect, you may have “reaffirmed” the debt, and may owe it all over again.

• Describe why your income is exempt from garnishment.

RESOURCES

• Senior Rights Assistance – 206-448-5720, call to speak with a Consumer Debt Specialist who will provide information, support, and resources on debt issues

• Senior Information and Assistance – 206-448-3110, call to find out about financial assistance with utility bills

• Washington Law Help ‐ www.washingtonlawhelp.org; select “consumer and debt.”

• Federal Trade Commission ‐ www.ftc.gov; select “credit and loans.”

• King County Bar Association Neighborhood Legal Clinics – call 206-267-7070, 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Thursday, to make an appointment with a volunteer attorney for advice and consultation only.

• CLEAR SR. – King County residents who are 60 years of age or older can call 1-888-387-7111 to speak with an attorney.

This story was submitted by Melissa Mitchell, program coordinator for Senior Rights Assistance. She can be reached at 206-727-6218 or melissam@seniorservices.org.

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