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Even with better debt collection rules coming, consult a lawyer

Debt is an equal opportunity problem. It can affect anyone, regardless of race or gender. However, some individuals are more at risk than others of being hounded by debt collection efforts than others, as we noted in a post in May.

Very often, those efforts in Illinois are undertaken by collection companies based on light information about the original debt or inaccurate information on the debtor. But that doesn't stop them. Sometimes that pursuit leads to courts where judgments are issued based on bad data. Innocent consumers, unaware that they could learn their rights and options through a free legal consultation, suddenly face a lawsuit and pay the debt just to end the harassment.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau exists to address just this kind of issue, and it's developing new rules with the aim of overhauling how the debt collection market works.

Acknowledging that lack of valid information is the biggest problem, an outline of possible rules focuses there. The framework on the table puts greater responsibility on collectors to gather sufficient evidence to support action in the first place. If any flags exist, suggesting information is wrong or in dispute, collection efforts would halt pending resolution. Cases brought to court would require proper documentation, too.

In addition to making sure a debt is the correct debt, officials call for restricting methods and frequency of collector contact with consumers. Clear information about the debt and individual rights would have to be provided to the consumer. Debts handed off to another collector would have to include that information so that a consumer under target isn't sent through the wringer time after time.

Few would argue that such protection isn't warranted, but the rules aren't in place yet. And even after they're finalized, there will still be questions that it would be wise to bring to an attorney.

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