Commentary

Keep common-sense protections against abusive debt collectors

Opposition to abusive lending cuts across the political spectrum. In fact, it has been uniting people for thousands of years.

In North Carolina, we have a proud bipartisan tradition of protecting consumers. As Rob Schofield wrote recently,  a 2009 consumer protection law that is one of the strongest in the country prevents some of the worst types of debt buying practices.

But there are efforts to undermine this common-sense law.

A News & Observer editorial from yesterday offers a good capsule summary:

In North Carolina and elsewhere, some of those debt buyers got aggressive and deceptive in their collection techniques, including filing lawsuits that could keep consumers in court forever.

In response to such abuses, the North Carolina General Assembly in 2009 passed a consumer protection law that held the debt collectors to reasonable standards of behavior. For example, as of now those collectors have to present detailed information about the delinquent debt they’re trying to collect, including when and where it originated and the amount of fees and interest that were agreed upon by the consumer. The disclosure requirement and other consumer protections came in response to a surge in lawsuits from debt collectors targeting people who didn’t owe a debt or had resolved it.

Now a peculiar bill proposed by Sen. Mike Lee, R-New Hanover would do away with some of standards for collectors, making it easier for them to push ahead with suits. The collectors wouldn’t need to have that detailed information, for example.

The N&O describes this, accurately, as “sticking it to the average citizen.” We have a choice between protecting the people suffering from a tough economic situation, or changing the law in favor of the companies trying to extract capital from them.

The protections now in place are good ones. They help average people. They don’t change the obligation to pay true debts, or provide free passes away from legal action.

The rules simply require debt collectors to prove their demands are legitimate. That’s a fair standard and it should stay.

North Carolina’s simple but effective consumer protections are hard-won and effective. Let’s let them keep working by leaving them in place.

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