Beware of Debt Collectors Bearing Gifts

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Imagine that you have unpaid credit card debt. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the statute of limitations on the debt has expired, so you are not legally obligated to pay. But your credit score has taken a dive, so getting more credit seems impossible. And then comes along a subprime credit card with a twist.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting on a new push by debt collectors to convince consumers to pay expired debt. The pitch is simple–agree to pay some portion of your old debt, and you will be approved for a new credit card. According to the WSJ article, a lot of people are taking this deal.

And they are making a big mistake. Let me explain–

How These Sub-prime Credit Cards Work

Debt collectors use a lot of strategies to collect debts. When it comes to expired debt, they often try to convince consumers that it’s their moral obligation to pay the debt, even if the statute of limitations has run. I’ll leave it to you to decide what your moral obligations are, but it’s laughable that debt collectors take this approach. These are the same people that call people at work and use computers to call consumers repeatedly throughout the day. They are the last group of people to talk about moral obligations.

More recently, they’ve turned to this credit card scheme. They partner with a bank willing to issue subprime credit cards. The debt collectors typically guarantee payment to the bank to entice them to issue the credit card. Then they offer these cards to consumers if the consumer will pay some portion of their expired debt (e.g., $400). Often the credit limit on the new card is equal to the amount of debt the consumer repaid.

To further entice the consumer into this deal, they offer a “balance transfer” program. This is not like the typical 0% balance transfer offers major credit card issuers promote. Instead, this program allows the consumer to pay their expired debt by “transferring” it to the new card. The result is that the once expired debt is now a brand new obligation that is legally enforceable.

On the surface these deals may have some appeal–

  • You get a credit card even though you have bad credit
  • By “transferring” the old debt to the new card, you don’t have to pay anything out of pocket

Why You Should Avoid These Credit Cards

There are two key reasons to avoid these offers like the plague. First, the credit card you’ll likely get will be a real stinker of a card. They typically sport interest rates of 20% or more, and fees that make the banking industry look like a charity.

Second, you are paying debt you no longer legally owe to get a credit card you can probably get on your own. It’s relatively easy to get a credit card even if you have bad credit. You don’t need these “deals” to get a card. So if a debt collector comes calling with a great “deal,” consider the alternatives below instead.

Alternatives

There are three good alternatives to the subprime credit cards being peddled by debt collectors. First, you can consider credit cards designed for poor credit.

You could also apply for a secured credit card. With these cards, you deposit money with the credit card company as a guarantee for future payment. Your limit is typically the amount of your deposit, and these cards help you build your credit with timely payments.

Unlike cards offered by debt collectors, you get your deposit back when you close your account. With the best secured cards, card issuers require a minimum deposit of a few hundred dollars, but the actual amount is up to you based on how much credit you want. Because your deposit secures payment of future credit card bills, people with really bad credit (or no credit at all) typically get approved.

As a final option, you could go with a prepaid credit card. While these cards do not come with a line of credit (you deposit funds on the card much like a bank debit card) and they won’t build your credit, approval is guaranteed. These cards typically can be used anywhere Visa or MasterCard is accepted.

The key is to realize that you have options. So if a debt collector tries to convince you to pay expired debt in exchange for a credit card, consider the above options first.

Published or Updated: May 22, 2012
About Rob Berger

Rob founded the Dough Roller in 2007. A litigation attorney in the securities industry, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, their two teenagers, and the family mascot, a shih tzu named Sophie.

Comments

  1. RBDC says:

    How to reverse boycott debt collectors.

    When a debt collector/debt collection/debt buyer company can repeatedly call with the intent of getting money their customers can repeatedly answer or call back with the intent of not giving them any. They need people to pay with as little talk as possible. They don’t want to talk with people who know they are never going to pay. Be all talk and no pay. Answer when convenient. Call back. Give no information. Verify nothing. Ask as many questions as you can. Answer none.

    Don’t ignore/block/report them. It doesn’t work. These folks want you to ignore them for as long as you can stand to or until you give them something valuable like money or information. Ignoring them is being their good customer. Sending a cease and desist is giving information. It lets them know you are still alive and remain their good customer. Preparing to initiate unlikely individual legal battles is being their good customer.

    Be their bad customer. Make them talk to you fruitlessly for as long as they can stand to or until they stop selecting you as their customer. These companies cannot spend seconds much less minutes on the phone with every person who will never send them a dime. But they don’t know who that is. You do. That knowledge is power. Every second you can keep their staff on the phone will render their business less profitable giving them a reason to never call you again.

    Calling will not reset your SOL. Making a partial payment will.

    One person who does this likes to ask general questions they should but usually won’t answer, “May I have the name and address of your agent for service of process?” Calmly and slowly ask them to spell every word in the address. Read it back for verification. Control the pace. If they are rushing then politely ask them to slowly repeat. “Are you a corporation and if so in which state are you incorporated?” Repeat your questions when you don’t get direct answers. When they won’t answer a question ask, “Would you like to comply with the business and professions codes of your state?” That is usually the point when they hang up on me but if they say they want to comply then begin your questions again.

    Repeat while you have the spare time. These folks have many victims and few operators. If everyone calls back but pays nothing the mass auto-dialer business model becomes unprofitable. Don’t aid and comfort the enemy by ignoring them. Call! Have a nice long slow friendly chat! Make them hang up first.

    Press 2 for Spanish.

    There are certainly enough victims to take down this company so ignoring/blocking seems downright Orwellian to me. Really? We’re just going to passively submit and go with a block list or however we manage ignoring an endless stream of unwanted phone calls day after day? No! Unite or remain conquered. Answer/return every call – become well practiced at keeping these folks on the phone – or count yourself not amongst the free.

  2. In a handful of States, the Debt is legally extinguished when the State of Limitations has run. In the majority of States the running of the Statute of Limitations typically means that the Creditor cannot use the Court system to collect the Debt, but the Debt still exists. However, under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act the Creditor doesn’t have to tell the Debtor this important fact. In most States making even a partial payment on the time barred Debt will reset the Statute of Limitations.

    Notice: The purpose of this posting is to identify select issues that may be of interest to readers. Under Georgia’s Code of Professional Responsibility, portions of this communication may constitute attorney advertising. This posting should not be construed as legal advice or opinion, and is not a substitute for the advice of retained counsel.

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