What you need to know about Georgia debt collection laws

Georgia's laws regarding debt collection are meant to protect people who owe money to creditors. The rules dictate how and when creditors can try to get their money back from people who owe them money within a certain amount of time.

Unlawful debt collection practices are a problem. FDCPA is your best line of defense in Georgia, but it's not the only one here.

Here are a few points that you should know about what debt collectors can and cannot do:

Georgia debt collection laws - What collectors can do 

Debt collectors are not allowed to do or say whatever they want. There are set debt collection laws in Georgia, both state and federal, that govern the ways debt collectors can communicate with you as well as what they can say. Even so, if a debt collector contacts you, you should be aware of the tactics they may use.

They are allowed to garnish your paycheck

To collect on your debt, debt collectors can file a civil lawsuit against you. Wage garnishment is the legal term for a debt collector taking money directly out of your paycheck. Debt collectors can seize on your disposable income. "Disposable income" is your money after paying your bills and taxes. 

Georgia law states that a collector can only take up to 25% of your weekly expendable income or 30 times the minimum federal wage, whichever is less.

However, wage garnishment is prohibited if you have less than 30 times the minimum wage in available funds to pay the collectors. As previously stated, a debt collector cannot garnish any of your wages until they have a court order against you. A judgment is not prevented by a failure to appear in court, and the debt collector may obtain a default judgment if you fail to appear at the hearing.

To prevent any wage garnishment, you can try to negotiate a debt settlement with your creditors. With a debt settlement agreement, you can settle your debt by paying a fraction of the total amount owed. It’s also a good idea to use the help of credit counselors to negotiate the agreement.

They can seize your money or your assets

From bank accounts

If a debt collector obtains a civil judgment, they may also request funds from your bank accounts. However, certain types of income and charges are not garnishable in Georgia, including unemployment benefits, ERISA qualified retirement, child support, pension, and disability insurance benefits. Garnishment of this kind is prohibited by law.

To safeguard these sources of income, you'll need to demonstrate that the money is exempt. You may not be able to shield the funds in your bank account from garnishment if a judge cannot confirm that they come from an exempt source. 

Property Liens

A lien on the property is a legal claim that grants the holder access to the asset if debts are not paid. A collector can attach a lien to your property after obtaining a civil judgment against you. Creditors can place liens on various assets, including real estate and personal property such as expensive works of art or luxury cars. To place a lien on real estate, a creditor must take the judgment to the county courthouse in the area where the property is located and register it there.

If a creditor wants to place a lien on your personal property, the judgment must be filed with the county court where you reside. For instance, if you live in Atlanta, but your boat is frequently on a lake in Gainesville, the judgment would still be registered in Fulton County Superior Court.

Repossessions

If you used property or assets to get a loan, the debt collectors could take that property as payment. No court orders are required for this in Georgia for debt collectors, and this is self-help repossession.

If the debt is too overwhelming to manage, then to protect your assets, you can file for bankruptcy. Chapter 13 bankruptcy allows you to protect your assets. Along with that, it also allows you to settle on a payment plan to pay off your debt. 

Collectors can add more interest to your debt

Before a judgment is obtained against you, a debt collector has the right to continue charging interest on your outstanding balance. These are called prejudgment interest rates. They are the maximum interest rates that they can charge you before they obtain a judgment against you for the debt. Rates are based on whether you and the original creditor (the lender from whom you borrowed money) agreed to an interest rate through a written contract. 

Let's say you signed an agreement that stated that the creditors could charge you around 12% on your debt. So they will continue to charge you 12% on the remaining debt while you are waiting for a judgment from the court, making the debt grow, which makes it more challenging for you to become debt free. Even if you have not settled upon a fixed interest rate, in Georgia, your creditors can continue to charge you 7% interest on your remaining debt. 

With debt consolidation, you can lower your interest rates and combine your multiple debts to pay them off systematically. Several non-profit organizations and law firms provide debt consolidation programs to help you pay off your debt. 

What debt collectors can’t do in Georgia
As per the debt collection laws in Georgia, debt collectors can’t do the following things. 

  • Debt collectors cannot garnish your income if your disposable income is less than 30 times the minimum wage. 
  • Debt collectors cannot garnish unemployment benefits, ERISA-qualified retirement, pension benefits, child support payments, or disability insurance benefits in Georgia. Garnishment of this type of income is prohibited by law.
  • Debt collectors are not allowed to harass or hurt you. Harassment, including calling you repeatedly, threatening violence, using foul language, making you feel bad, or saying they will sell the debt if you don't pay, is prohibited by the law. 
  • The Federal Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prohibits debt collectors from contacting anyone but their attorney. If you don't have a lawyer, the debt collector may talk to other people, but they can only speak to them to find out where you live or work. However, the debt collector cannot disclose your debt to these individuals or anyone else, including your employer.
  • Debt collectors are prohibited from misleading or misrepresenting themselves or the borrower's debt. 
  • Creditors are prohibited from calling you anytime before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
  • Debt collectors are not allowed to mistreat people or be deceptive. 

What information is a debt collector required to provide

Georgia debt collection law states you must receive a written notice from a debt collector within five days of the first time they contact you by phone or in writing that states:

  • The total amount you owe to the creditor;
  • The name of the initial creditor with whom you incurred the debt;
  • The debt will be presumed valid if you fail to contest it within 30 days of receiving notice, regardless of whether you believe it is valid or not;
  • To find out who the original creditor was and how to contact them, you can ask the debt collector to provide you with their name and address; and
  • Debt collectors must send you written confirmation that the debt is yours if you dispute it within 30 days of receiving your debt notice. 

Bottom line

Before taking action, you should have accurate information about your debt, how to handle your debt, and your rights as a consumer. If none of this answers all of your concerns, we recommend hiring a private attorney. An attorney is the best person to get advice from because they will be representing your interests in court. An attorney can guide you better and help you understand the pertinent information. 

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