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Debt Collectors Phrases Finally Translated

Debt Collectors love to speak in a made up quasi-legal language.  They often use legal terms improperly, make up their own words, and use words that really exist in ways they were never supposed to.  They generally do this to try and confuse consumers in order to make their inability to pay seem more serious than it is.  For example, during one of my former depositions, we asked debt collectors what several threats that they said to my client meant and not surprisingly, they didn’t know.  In this blog, I will give you a few phrases and let you know what the debt collector is referring to if it actually knew what it was saying.

Refusal to Pay:  When a collection account goes to a debt collector the debt collector is usually told to first try soft collection methods on an account.  This involves calling the debtor, sending the debtor letters to attempt to get voluntary payment.  Most of the time the owner of the account (the creditor) tells the debt collector to use these methods until there is a Refusal to Pay.  Usually the owner tells its debt collectors that once there is a refusal to pay there are two options on the account; send it back to the owner so they can write off the debt or advise the owner to refer it to an attorney for litigation.  There is no legal significance of “Marking you down refusal to pay”.  Debt Collectors love to throw this term around like its the end all be all of debt collection.  Keep this in mind; if you refuse to or you are not able to pay a debt one of two things will eventually happen; you will get sued or they will write off the debt.  There is nothing special about being marked “refusal to pay” except its a sign that the owner is coming close to having to make a decision on your account.  If you are not refusing to pay a bill and a debt collector threatens to mark you down as “refusal to pay” tell them that just because they mark you down as having nine arms doesn’t make it true.  Tell them you are not refusing to pay and you are just trying to get your finances in order.

Lien on your House: Debt Collectors love to threaten placing liens on debtor’s homes.  This should almost be as frightening to you as your house getting blown over by the big bad wolf.  Debt Collectors try to throw this language around to make it sound like they are going to force the sale of your home to satisfy the debt.  Listen carefully; they won’t!  If you follow the news, not even the Banks that are first in line are interested in taking back your house in these economic times.  Heck, no one even knows what a house is worth these days.  Assuming, hypothetically, that the debt collector was to force the sale of your house, all of your mortgages, home loans, secured creditors, etc. would get paid from the proceeds first.  Trust me, unless your house is completly paid off and the Judgment is very large; debt collectors are not going to take your house from you.  Also, it is very important to note that there cannot be a lien placed on your house until the debt collector has won a lawsuit.  Next time they threaten to place a lien on your house, thank them and tell they should place the lien on the right side to level your home.

Sheriff to Serve you:  I’m currently trembling in my boots!  Debt collectors love to mention law enforcement just like some people love to name drop.  Listen up; the sheriff department doesn’t care that you are not paying your bills unless its child support, restitution,or spousal support.  As I mentioned earlier if an account goes into collections one of three things will happen and only one of three things: (1) You will pay, (2) you will not pay and the creditor will sue you, or (3) you will not pay and the creditor will write the account off as bad debt.  Any threats from debt collectors that are more descriptive than these three options are most likely being said to scare you.  Under every state’s laws once you are sued, the person that sued you has to give you notice of the suit.  Most often this is through a summons which simply includes a copy of the document with the allegations against you and instructions on how you can reply to the allegations in this document.  It doesn’t make a difference if this document is mailed to you, handed to you by a Sheriff, or brought to you on a silver platter by The President; it means the same thing.  It means a suit has been filed against you and now you need to either defend it yourself or hire an attorney to defend you.  The next time a debt collector threatens to have a Sheriff serve you, tell the debt collector that you appreciate the gesture but you are able to do your chores yourself!

Pre-litigation Department:  As mentioned above, there are only three options for a creditor to do when you owe money.  They can send it to as many departments as they want but it won’t give them more options.  Most likely they will create really frightening department names and tell you if you “refuse to pay” (ding ding ding) they will send it to the “Pre-Litigation Department”.  In all honesty, I have no clue what this is and where it fits into my (1), (2), (3) and most likely neither does the debt collector.  Let them call their departments whatever they want; heck, just because they have a “Pre-kidnap your child and steal your car department” doesn’t mean it is going to happen.  Next time a debt collector threatens to transfer your file to the pre-litigation department ask them if the account is currently in the Pre-Pre-litigation department.  I’d also be interested if there is a Post-Pre-Litigation Department.

Where I come from, people break legs for this:  Okay, to be honest, I’ve only heard this one time.  A debt collector in New Hampshire told this to my elderly client.  This sounds to me like the debt collectors parents probably should have given the infant debt collector a better neighborhood to grow up in.  Legitimate debt collectors don’t threaten physical violence.  If you are being threatened with physical violence, the debt collector most likely is not a legitimate debt collector (search my blog for “Scam Debt Collectors”.

Investigate your Assets:  Debt collectors love to throw this one around.  What they are trying to explain is that they are going to see if there is enough income potential to garnish your wages or if its likely that you have any assets that they can execute on to satisfy the debt.  Fear not; every debt collector will investigate your assets; this is their job.  However, they don’t have any special magnifying glass.  The next time a debt collector threatens to investigate your assets tell them you’re surprised they haven’t already done so; after all, this is why the account went to a collection agency.

File a Judgment against you:  Never in my entire life has a filing cabinet been so frightening!  What the debt collector is trying to threaten (vaguely on purpose) is that if you don’t pay the debt they will do something with a file.  Most likely the debt collector overheard their fellow co-worker threaten this and agreed that it sounded pretty frightening.  What this actually means is that they will file a lien against your property.  Again, before this can be done, a creditor would have to (1) sue you, (2) win in court, and then (3) pay a filing fee to record the judgment (the decree that they won) against your real property (house and land).  The next time a debt collector threatens to file a judgment against you ask them to describe to you what that means.  I can almost guarantee they will stumble around their words and I’d be surprised if they had a clue as to what they were threatening.

Make an involuntary recommendation on your behalf:  I am absolutely serious when I say I have no clue what this means and neither does the debt collector.  Lets take this phrase word by word.  Make – Okay it sounds to me like the debt collector is going to do something. An involuntary recommendation – Okay, now we’re getting somewhere – The debt collector is going to recommend something that you don’t have control over.  On your behalf– for you.  So, the debt collector is going to recommend something that you don’t have control over for you.  This is as vague as they come!  The next time a debt collector threatens this, tell them you’d prefer a voluntary recommendation on behalf of your sister.  The threat makes no sense, has no legal significance and again is a phrase used by debt collectors to sound threatening.

I welcome your comments!  If you’ve heard any other interesting or down right stupid threats from debt collectors; let me know.


  1. Joseph Maihen says:

    Thanks for your blog. I found this by accident. I hope that you continue to post information about debt collectors. Thanks for taking the time to write.

  2. Mike Ashintone says:

    Keep up the good work!

  3. Jeffrey Hyslip says:

    Thank you Joseph and Mike. Hopefully you’ve found our recent blog posts just as helpful!

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