Recently, the credit card company, Capital One, came under attack for contract language that would allow them to show up a customer’s workplace or home, without warning and at any time. The creditor’s contractual fine print came was the topic of an LA Times article on February 18, that ignited a firestorm of consumer anger. According to the column, the contract states that customers can be contacted by mail, phone, email, or by “personal visit” at home or their place of employment.
A statement released by Capital One insists the language exists mainly to permit recovery of large items like boats, jet skis, and so on, through repossession. Without inclusion of the proper wording they would have little legal ground to stand on should the debtor renege on the agreement, adding that they are reviewing the language following consumer feedback.
Oddly, this is not a new method for creditors. Most mortgage loan servicing companies already send local contractors out to knock on the door of customers who are behind in their payments. Generally showing up in personal vehicles and loitering around the neighborhood until just the right moment, these paid agents ambush the homeowner demanding a payment or insisting they contact the company immediately, or else.
Unfortunately, there is little that can be done about these practices because, somewhere in the miles of paperwork, the borrower signed an agreement allowing this to happen. Whether it’s a home, a car, a boat or a hunting cabin, virtually every large purchase contract has some kind of repossession language included. But with unsecured debt, like credit cards, consumers have a false sense of security and an unrealistic expectation of the consequences.
In an effort to force credit companies to behave more fairly towards customers and help control consumer debt, the Obama administration passed the Credit Card Act of 2009. Among its many fee and rate hike regulations, it also states that the creditor must provide a clear disclosure of terms before a customer opens an account.
While the language was made simpler, there was still a ton of information and what the bill couldn’t do was to force people to actually read the documentation provided by the credit card company.
For consumers, the best way to avoid these kinds of problems is to simply steer clear of using credit cards in the first place. But if you’re already in over your head, it might be time to speak to someone about debt management options. Consumer credit counseling agencies can assist in reducing payments and interest and most are non-profit. Appointments are tough to get, however, and require as much documentation as possible regarding your creditors and income information.
If credit counseling is not an option, your next step may well be a personal bankruptcy. Jeremiah B. Webb is a bankruptcy attorney at the Xenia, Ohio firm of Wead, Anderson, Phipps and Aultman, LLC. He said people are often scared of their creditors and generally don’t understand the debt relief process.
“There are many myths surrounding bankruptcy,” Webb said, “beginning with a feeling of failure and that they’ll lose everything they have. Some people believe they can’t afford to file, but if you stop paying those minimum payments and put that money towards a reasonable attorney fee, you can hopefully wipe out that debt and relieve the stress.”
Although creditors publicly state that the door knocking method is a last resort, it leaves their debtors feeling frightened and constantly anxious. Usually, the inability to pay is out of the individual’s control and completely unintentional. Still, there is an underlying responsibility on the part of the consumer to do their best to avoid this kind of debt in the first place.
Credit card companies are ruthless and have no interest in excuses for non-payment. Their job is to make as much money as possible from you for as long as they can. But don’t be afraid. If you’re drowning in debt get help now, don’t give these people a reason to knock on your door. The only failure is to do nothing.
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business contributor to WDTN-TV2’s Living Dayton program.