I asked Michael Bovee, a debt settlement expert, to answer your question on my behalf. Here is Michael had to say.
The “Law Offices” of Michael K Sipes (in Elk Grove, CA) bought an unpaid credit card debt of mine. The balance was around $4000 when it was charged off. The court awarded a judgment, totaling about $5000, with over a dollar in interest to be added daily. Earlier this year, $1000 was garnished from my checking account, and since then I have attempted several times to negotiate the remaining balance, but the Sipes bill collectors have been difficult, to say the least, and will not provide me with any kind of written settlement agreement, contract, terms and conditions, or anything of substance in writing – only a few lines of verbiage on the settlement offer notice they sent to me, which is hardly anything, in my opinion, that would legally support my position in court, if the terms of the settlement were to change after I had made the settlement payment.
Furthermore, the amount they have offered for me to settle has only gone up each time I tried to negotiate. I’m sure that this debt was bought for pennies on the dollar and they already made back their investment, once the asset garnishment was secured.
Because they won the judgment and garnished my checking account, I feel like I have no leverage and there’s not much I can do to negotiate a better offer, one with clear terms laid out in writing for me.
If I don’t settle with them, will my accounts continue to be garnished until it’s finally paid in full? On the other hand, I have a suspicion that they are just employing a psychological tactic against me with their counteroffers, to arouse the fear that, “If I don’t agree to the current offer, maybe it will continue to get worse and worse, so I’d better just take the offer now.” Please let me know what you think. Thank you.
Sipes is an attorney debt collection firm, not necessarily the buyer of your debt. Pull a copy of the judgment and post who is named as the plaintiff in a comment reply. That way we know who they are working for, which may help me offer more feedback based on known collection trends, the lowest bar for settlement etc.
Credit card debt settlement agreements do typically have more than a couple of sentences, but are not chalk full of terms and conditions, or large amounts of legalese.
If you are offering to settle the judgment in one lump sum payment, you would not need much outlined in the letter. Most verbiage I see can fit on a page.
You definitely want to be sure that they are the ones updating the court record to show that the judgment has been satisfied. There is too much foot dragging on this important part of settling judgment debt.
I would suggest making sure your agreement plainly states they are going to notice the court of the settlement. You said you are looking for a document to support your position in court. This is already a situation documented in the court.
Your fear of the terms of the settlement changing as soon as you make a lump sum payment would be more applicable if you were making payment arrangements to settle, not a single payment to settle.
It is always good to be cautious in these situations though. It is always a good idea to run your situation by an experienced debt collection defense attorney. They may see different options for you than settling, and can review any documents prior to you acting on a settlement.
It can be tough to negotiate a good deal on a judgment debt. They do have the leverage when you are:
- Working and can legally have your wages garnished.
- Have money in your bank account that can be levied.
- Have property that can have lien placed against it.
You cannot do much about having a job and your states garnishment laws, but you can control money in your bank account.
Keeping little to no money in your bank account and operating on a cash basis until you resolve the judgment is one way to make sure you are able to pay your bills. If you end up with a lien on property, that can be circled back and settle more favorably the longer the judgment lien sits there.
But, as you are aware, the judgment debt is growing at a rate set by your state for judgment interest. Resolving the debt sooner, even at less of a savings, can mean you save more than by resolving the debt later, when you may get a better settlement, but on an inflated balance.
What are the offers for settling in a single payment that have been discussed so far?
Michael Bovee founded CRN, a unique company offering debt negotiation education and services, in 2004. He recently published CRN’s free online debt relief program as a tool to assist you with making informed decisions about dealing with problem debt, while keeping an eye on your future credit needs and goals. Bovee has been contributing articles and free reader feedback on this site for several years.
Michael is a debt industry professional who has volunteered his time to help answer reader questions.
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