Questions and Answers
Listed below are frequently asked questions about HELPS along with some more unusual questions and answers.
HELPS represents, seniors, retired persons, veterans and disabled persons on federally exempt social security, pensions, disability, VA benefits and even a modest wage in order to stop unwanted collector contact.
HELPS is a 501 c charity. We don’t turn anyone away that needs our help. The cost is normally less than a cheap cup of coffee a day. Many receive our help at no cost.
The federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act provides that once a debt collector is informed that you are represented by counsel they cannot legally contact you again. Federal law allows original creditors to continue sending statements by mail, but laws in some states may not even allow this activity.
A Collector is a person or company that collects a debt on behalf of an original creditor. Debt collectors are typically in business as collection agencies that attempt to collect debt assigned to them by original or third party creditors.
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) prohibits debt collectors from using abusive, unfair, or deceptive collection practices. The FDCPA does not apply to original creditors or those collecting business debts. In addition to the FDCPA, many states have laws that proscribe unlawful collection practices by collectors and creditors, including original creditors.
A cease and desist letter is a lettersent to a collector telling them to stop phone and written contact with a debtor. The Fair Debt Collections Practices Act requires collectors who receive cease and desist letters to cease making calls and sending letters. A cease and desist letter does not stop a collector from filing a lawsuit.
ERISA is an acronym for the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. This law protects almost all forms of retirement such as pensions from collection by judgment creditors
IF I RECEIVE A 1099C FROM A CREDITOR DOES THAT MEAN THAT I NO LONGER OWE THE DEBT?
No, you receive this form because it is part of a formal procedure used by creditors for tax purposes. Collectors may sometimes use a 1099C form as an empty threat to lower income debtors, implying it will cause them negative tax consequences. It does not mean that a debtor does not still owe the debt.
CAN I GET ANSWERS ON THE WEEKENDS? WHAT I HAVE QUESTIONS THAT I FORGET TO ASK YOU ON THE PHONE?
We are always checking email. If you have a question during the evening or on the weekends, we encourage you to send us an email at email@example.com. We don't want you to have to worry.
IF I ENROLL IN HELPS, CAN I KEEP MY BANK ACCOUNT?
If you owe the bank money, e.g. a credit card balance, and intend to include this debt in the list of debts you provide to HELPS, it is best to close this account. An exception is when the only income in your account is social security. Otherwise you may open an account at any other bank to which you do not owe money. If you do not owe your present bank money or you are not listing any amount owed to this bank with HELPS, you do not need to change your bank account.
CAN HELPS HELP WITH A GARNISHMENT OR COLLECTOR HARASSMENT FOR A STUDENT LOAN DEBT?
Yes. Student loan debt offers a income contingent repayment program. In most instances, this will result in a minimal or even a zero dollar monthly payment plan. HELPS directs its members on how to apply for this plan.
I AM NOT A SENIOR BUT I AM DISABLED. CAN HELPS HELP ME?
Yes. Disability income in all its forms is protected from collectors no matter your age.
CAN I STILL USE MY CREDIT CARDS AFTER I ENROLL IN HELPS?
It depends. Since you won't be making payments on the accounts you list with HELPS they will be cut off and closed, if not already. Since HELPS is not bankruptcy you only have to list the collectors or creditors from whom you don't wish contact. Perhaps you have a credit card that is current you wish to keep. It is expected that you will be able to keep a card (for example a gas card) as long as it is paid current. In other words, with HELPS you do not have to list all your creditors. Some banks finance different credit cards. If you stop paying one credit card, that bank will stop usage on any other credit card which is backed by the bank.
HOW OFTEN CAN I CALL OR ASK QUESTIONS?
As often as you want. Our entire purpose is to help our clients stop worrying about these matters. We want you to call whenever you have questions and never sit home and worry. You can also email us whenever you want.
WHAT IF I AM SERVED WITH A SUMMONS AND COMPLAINT, OR A LAWSUIT?
If you are member of HELPS we ask that you forward a copy of the paperwork to us. Remember your income is protected. HELPS will write a letter to the attorney filing a lawsuit advising that your income is protected. We will also send you a letter and we always call or attempt to call our clients to answer questions and to make sure they do not worry.
WHY WOULD SOMEONE SUE ME IF MY INCOME IS PROTECTED AND I AM JUDGMENT PROOF?
If you aren't a lawyer, lawsuits can be very intimidating. Many seniors don't know their income is protected and pay the debt after being served because they do not know better. Using fear to collect debts is the company policy of many collection agencies. They are not picking on you specifically. To them, you are just a potential number. You can always call HELPS with your questions. We are here to help.
WHAT IS THE AMOUNT OF WAGES I CAN EARN WITHOUT A JUDGMENT CREDITOR TAKING THEM BY GARNISHMENT?
Federal law protects up to $217.50 per week net after taxes and other deductions, not including voluntary deductions. This sum is also exempt once deposited in a bank account as long it is not comingled with other nonexempt funds. A few states like Texas do not allow garnishment of wages.
CAN ANYTHING BE GARNISHED FROM SOCIAL SECURITY INCOME?
Generally no. Although it is unusual the IRS and past due student loans can garnish 15% of social security for past due income taxes or student loans. HELPS routinely helps its clients work with the IRS to be placed in uncollectable status and also to stop garnishment for student loans.
WHY DID A BANKRUPTCY ATTORNEY TELL ME TO FILE BANKRUPTCY AND WHY WAS I NOT TOLD MY RETIREMENT INCOME IS PROTECTED BY LAW?
Perhaps because the attorney was not fully informed. Maybe bankruptcy is the only answer he knows. Bankruptcy is after all, how bankruptcy attorneys make their living. The attorney probably didn't know about HELPS, as it is fairly new. To the best of our knowledge, HELPS nonprofit law firm is the only law firm in the United States that helps seniors and disabled persons for free or very minimal cost, never turning anyone away in order to prevent collector harassment.
ARE VETERANS BENEFITS PROTECTED? WHAT ABOUT BENEFITS FOR VETERANS' SPOUSES?
Veterans benefits of all types are protected from collection along with social security and other retirement income. In addition, HELPS routinely assists its veteran clients in making sure they are receiving the full amount of benefits to which they may be entitled. Many lower income veterans and spouses are entitled to supplemental veterans benefits. HELPS volunteers can assist in providing more information. Many widows of deceased veterans are entitled to supplemental benefits that they do not receive simply because of lack of knowledge..