I was featured on Ask the Expert Radio Program where I discussed Debt Collection Relief, deficiencies related to foreclosures and the FDCPA.
Here’s the transcript of the show:
Welcome to Ask The Expert with noted radio host Steve Sleeper. Each week Steve interviews entrepreneurs and professionals and shares their intriguing stories of success and service. Now, here’s radio veteran Steve Sleeper.
Steve: Our guest today on Ask the Expert is Matt Weidner with Weidner Law in St. Petersburg. He’s an attorney that helps folks with foreclosure defense and debt collection relief. Matt, tell us a little bit about yourself and your firm.
Matt: I cut my teeth defending consumers from all kinds of litigation here in the Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg area. Foreclosures inundated the state and we made a name for ourselves successfully defending consumers on the front lines of that battle for many years.
Steve: I know with the market crash a number of years ago, there were a lot of foreclosures. What’s going on now? What’s changed?
Matt: The good news is here in the Tampa Bay area, we’ve largely climbed out of the foreclosure hole. There were some 400,000 foreclosures statewide at the tip of the crisis. We’ve whittled those away and that’s a good thing for all of us. For attorneys, for the court system, for the larger economy. I’m very proud of the work this firm and other lawyers have done in helping to chip away at that backlog. But now we’re focused on the recovery from a very dark and bad time, both in the economy and for our court system.
Steve: Foreclosure or debt relief? What’s the mix right now?
Matt: Picture the aftermath of any crisis like a hurricane here in Florida or earthquakes out in California. Anytime there’s a natural crisis, there is a lot of clean-up work to be done afterwards. Let’s focus on the aftermath of a hurricane. We all see those pictures of the flooded streets and the house is ripped apart. That’s what foreclosure looks like in that we had this massive backlog of foreclosures and the court in Tallahassee forced courts statewide to chop through the backlog. In many ways the wreckage is similar to a hurricane with the devastation throughout the community.
Steve: How does hiring an attorney provide a better chance of avoiding foreclosure?
Matt: One of the worst things we experience is when a consumer comes in here after months, or even years of struggling on their own. They might have been feeling like they were making headway. They were pushing back on the bank and didn’t get a foreclosure sale. Maybe the bank even made them some offers of modifications, or short sale, or something like that. They think the bank is dealing with them in good faith only to find out the deal had a lot of negative consequences they weren’t prepared for.
Let me give you a clear example: tax consequences. A consumer knows they’re in trouble with the home. They try to negotiate a short sale or loan modification only to realize after the fact they have a massive IRS tax liability. That’s a consequence that’s hammering a lot of consumers in that they settled with the bank and maybe the bank said you don’t owe us any additional money. That’ sounds like a really great thing but a problem is they’ve got the IRS knocking at the door, maybe levying or garnishing against wages. If the consumer had an attorney representing them at the front end, they could likely avoid those consequences.
Steve: OK. Can a person just walk away from their mortgage if they’re upside down?
Matt: You can but you’re going to suffer very negative consequences and that’s probably one of the worst things a consumer can do. Even if they haven’t been served with a foreclosure lawsuit, you shouldn’t ignore it and walk away. You should engage the lender directly and try and work out some kind of a resolution. An attorney would employ protections to benefit our client, make sure there are no tax consequences, and make sure they’re not on the hook for anything additional.
Steve: The folks in trouble for past mistakes, can they come to you?
Matt: Right now we’re have consumers being sued by debt collectors for deficiencies related to foreclosure. Often the attempts of the debt collectors to collect deficiencies are just as flawed and difficult for the bank to pursue as the underlying foreclosure. It’s even more important a consumer reach out to an attorney after the fact because like many foreclosure cases, or frankly most types of civil litigation, if you have an attorney – the likelihood is we can find some kind of defense that will minimize the consequences.
Steve: Should a person talk to a collection agency about their debt?
Matt: A consumer should always recognize that when talking with a debt collector, they’re collecting information that can be used against you later. A consumer may think they’re benefiting by sharing information. The reality is the debt collector is taking down every word of what you’re saying and can use it against you later. The bottom line is often times it’s not in your best interest to communicate with debt collectors.
Steve: Okay, debt collection relief. How does that work?
Matt: Debt collectors may over inflate the amount owed or misstate the kind of debt they’re pursuing. We have parents being chased for the student load debt of their children, or we’ve got spouses being chased for debts that are not theirs. Often times the debt collectors may not have a proper legal basis to collect that debt, even if it’s your debt. What we as attorneys are doing is looking at every debt collection attempt and finding the reasons why the debt collector shouldn’t be permitted to collect. Statute of limitations is a big issue right now. A lot of this debt they’re trying to collect is barred by the statute of limitations. That’s an absolute defense. It’s a way to eliminate the claim entirely.
Steve: FDCPA? What’s that?
Matt: The FDCPA or the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act is a broad federal law that provides a wide range of protections for consumers. We use that law quite effectively in looking at the details of the behavior of the debt collector. Are they contacting you after hours? That’s a violation of the FDCPA. Are they communicating about your debt with third parties like your neighbors or your spouse or your family members? That can be a violation of the FDCPA. Misstating characteristics of the debt. For instance debts not legally enforceable. Any of these things violate the FDCPA. Many states have their own versions. These are very powerful consumer protection laws we use to strike back against the debt collectors and, in some cases, gain recovery for consumers.
Steve: Let’s say in a foreclosure situation I’ve had a summons or a debt collection agency has garnished my wages. Can you help me out there?
Matt: Yeah, in just about every case. There are few cases where it’s hopeless for a consumer. There are few cases where hiring an attorney won’t justify whatever reasonable attorney fees are charged. We often charge a couple hundred bucks, a couple thousand bucks to defend things. Our gauge of success is, did we earn that money? There are the odd cases where we look at it from the beginning and don’t think there’s much of a defense for a consumer. We wouldn’t take that case. But if I felt like we could deliver a benefit to the consumer by either eliminating the debt entirely or reducing the amount that’s owed, that’s a case we take. Sometimes we go after the debt collector and collect money on behalf of the consumer.
Steve: You and I talked offline about bankruptcy and avoiding it. You want to avoid the consequences and stigma because it’s going to follow a person around for a lifetime. Is that correct?
Matt: Yeah I think that’s a great point. Our first line of defense is to attack the debt. In most cases we are able to find very real problems with the debt that’s chasing consumers and we’re able to help them to avoid bankruptcy. Often times I find consumers filing bankruptcies for relatively small amounts of debts, tens of thousands of dollars, when if they had only let us defend those debts they wouldn’t have to file bankruptcy. Think about every credit and job application you’ll fill out for the rest of your life. They’re going to ask have you ever filed bankruptcy. You want to be able to click no. We take our job seriously to prevent you from having to file bankruptcy.
Steve: Anybody’s first option should be to give you a call and figure out what to do.
Matt: My firm, like most good law firms, offers lots of consultation at the front end for free. It doesn’t hurt you to call us and share the details and let us provide some good advice. Often times we can find very real solutions to your problems.
Steve: Matthew Weidner is our guest today on Ask the Expert. He is an attorney with Weidner Law in St. Pete, Florida. He offers foreclosure defense, debt collection relief, amongst other things. Matt how can we reach you?
Matt: My office number here in St. Pete is 727-954-8752. Or just Google my name. It’s Matt Weidner. I’ve got a pretty good presence out there on the web and if you Google me it will take you right to my website.
Steve: I appreciate you being on the program today. Thanks. This has been very revealing.
Matt: I appreciate your time today. Thank you Steve.
Thanks for listening to Ask the Expert with Steve Sleeper. Join us next time as entrepreneurs and professionals share their intriguing stories of success and service.