In Florida, receiving notice of a pending lawsuit against you can be extremely stressful. Fortunately, you are able to settle a debt at any stage of the lawsuit process.
Almost everyone has debt, whether it is a credit card, an auto loan, or a mortgage. Despite our best efforts, sometimes things happen, such as job loss or illness, causing us to fall behind on our payments. If you are unable to work, it may be difficult to get back on track.
It is possible that your creditors may decide to go to collections or take legal action against you if you fail to pay your payments. The best thing to do is to settle your case before it goes to court. If a debt lawsuit results in a judgment, creditors, and collectors can garnish your wages or freeze your bank account. No one wants a judgment, so it is best to settle the case before it goes to court.
It is possible to settle a debt by paying a certain amount to your creditor in exchange for them dismissing the claim against you. If you are successful, you will no longer be responsible for the overdue obligation, and you will be able to avoid being sued.
Are you in debt? Learn about Florida debt settlement and whether it is the right option for you.
Here are three steps to settling your Florida debts
Using a debt settlement company can be expensive and take years to complete. If you would like to begin the debt settlement process on your own, follow these three steps:
- Responding to the debt lawsuit with an Answer.
- Open the negotiation process by sending a settlement offer.
- Make sure the settlement agreement is in writing.
1. Answer the debt lawsuit first
In a lawsuit, your creditor, or debt collector, files a complaint in court and sends it to you. The Complaint contains all the claims against you, including the reason for the lawsuit, the amount you owe, as well as any interest or fees owed.
If you fail to respond within 20 days, you are effectively admitting that you are responsible for the debt. This results in a default judgment, which allows creditors to garnish your wages and seize your property.
In spite of the fact that you intend to settle your case before your court date, you should still take steps to protect yourself by filing an official reply, commonly referred to as an Answer.
In an Answer, you respond to each accusation against you and state the reasons why the case is invalid. For instance, you could contend that the debt collector has not verified the debt fully or that the statute of limitations has expired.
2. To begin negotiations, send a settlement offer
Next, determine the amount of debt settlement you can afford. Determine your savings and income from upcoming paychecks. Consider selling a few items in your house you do not need if you do not have much money to spare for debt settlement. You can also ask friends or family members for assistance.
Additionally, you may want to research previous debt settlement cases involving your creditor or debt collector. This may assist you with determining how much money is appropriate for your initial offer.
To begin the settlement process, it is recommended that you offer 60% of the value of your debt or less. Offering 60% should convince creditors and collectors that you are serious about settling.
It is likely that they will counter your offer, so be prepared to negotiate several times.
Whenever possible, do not accept offers that you are unable to repay. If you accept such an offer and are unable to repay the entire amount, your creditor will likely take your case to court, where they will likely obtain a judgment against you.
3. Last but not least, make sure the settlement agreement is in writing
A written settlement agreement provides you and your creditor with a record of the terms of the agreement. You will specify how much you plan to pay, how it will be paid, and when it will be paid.
Also, your settlement agreement should include a statement waiving your creditor’s right to pursue additional action against you for the debt, and stating that the settlement is the end of your obligation to the creditor.
By preparing your settlement agreement in advance of your negotiations, you will only have to fill in the appropriate details about your deal before sending it to your creditor.
It is a good idea to include a space for a notary to witness both your and the creditor’s agreement, as this adds an additional layer of legal credibility to the agreement.
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Here is an example of how debt can be settled in Florida.
Laura receives notice from her creditor, AMC Furnishings, that she has been sued for debt. In this case, Laura owes AMC Furnishings $2,000, and they are seeking a judgment against her. She responds to the lawsuit, filing her answers with AMC Furnishings as well as her local Florida court. Laura then begins the process of settling her debt with AMC Furnishings. She offers them $1,200 in exchange for paying off her debt. AMC Furnishings counters Laura’s offer with $1,400. When Laura accepts the offer, she ensures that she gets a written agreement before transferring the money to AMC. Once AMC receives the money, they drop the lawsuit against her and write off the rest of her debt.
How do Florida’s debt collection and debt settlement laws work?
The state of Florida complies with the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The FDCPA prohibits debt collectors and creditors from engaging in specific actions against consumers for the purpose of collecting a debt. These prohibited activities include:
- Contacting the debtor before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m.
- A consumer is contacted more than seven times over the course of seven days regarding a debt
- If a debtor does not repay an obligation, they will be sent to jail
- Speaking in an obscene or threatening manner to a debtor
- Informing people that the debtor owes money to the creditor by calling them
Furthermore, Florida has statutes of limitations that limit the period of time a debt collector has to collect a debt. Under FL 95.11, there is a five-year limitation for all obligations other than judgments, which have a 20-year limitation.
Lastly, the Federal Trade Commission recently amended the Telemarketing Sales Rule to apply debt settlement regulations to all debt relief organizations and companies. This rule applies to all fifty states, including Florida, as it relates to debt settlement activities.
Companies providing debt relief services, such as debt settlement companies, are prohibited from:
- It is illegal for debt settlement companies to charge upfront fees before the debt has been effectively settled or otherwise resolved.
- Failure to disclose certain information about its services before enrolling consumers. This includes how much the service costs, how long it takes to see results, how much money must be saved before an offer of settlement is made, the consequences that might occur if the consumer fails to make payments on time, customer rights, and other important terms.
- A debt settlement company may not make false or unsubstantiated claims regarding its services.
Below are some trusted debt settlement companies you might also consider:
- Accredited Debt Relief: The company offers programs between one and four years. They operate in 32 states, and you must have at least $7,500 in unsecured debt to qualify for their program. Their fees range between 15 and 25 percent.
- Pacific Debt Relief: Programs last between one and four years, and you must have an unsecured debt of at least $7,500 to qualify. Their fees range from 15 to 25% of the total amount owed.
- Freedom Debt Relief: Founded in 2002, Freedom Debt Relief has helped thousands of consumers settle over $10 billion in debt. Like Accredited Debt Relief, Freedom Debt Relief charges a fee of between 15% and 25%.
How should I contact a creditor?
Your creditor can be contacted by phone, email, or letter if you are anxious to begin the debt settlement process.
If you wish to contact a creditor, email is the most effective method. An email will ensure that you retain a written record of the correspondence. You will also be able to consider your responses over a longer period of time than you would with a phone call.
When you wish to speak directly with your creditor, you may do so, but it is advisable to record the conversation so that you can refer to it in the future. According to FL Stat 934.03, recording a conversation without all parties’ consent is illegal, so you must obtain your creditor’s express permission before you record the call.
Florida debt settlement FAQs
It is common for people to have many questions when starting the debt settlement process. Here are some of the most common questions:
How much debt should you offer to settle?
It is advisable to begin the settlement process by offering 60% of the total amount of the debt to the creditor. An offer of 60% is usually looked upon positively by creditors. They will see that you are trying to resolve the issue. However, they may respond with their own offer as well.
Do you think it’s better to settle a debt or pay it off?
Your credit report will look better if you pay off your debt entirely as opposed to settling it. However, if you are experiencing a difficult financial situation, such as a debt lawsuit, settling your debt will allow you to avoid a judgment against you and will enable you to move forward with your life.
Does Florida write off debts quickly?
In Florida, creditors cannot write off debts unless you repay or settle them, or declaring bankruptcy can wipe out some obligations. However, after five years your creditors will be unable to sue you for a debt. They may continue to send collection notices beyond this period and report your account negatively to credit reporting agencies.
If you take the right steps, you can settle your debt
If you follow the proper steps, you can resolve a debt lawsuit before your court date, which can be concerning. In order to avoid judgment, you must reply to the creditor’s Complaint with an Answer, begin the negotiation process, and get the agreement in writing. With some effort, you will be able to avoid judgment and start over financially.