Consumer Law Clinic

The Legal Aid Society of North­eastern New York’s Consumer Law Project assists low income clients with non-mortgage consumer legal issues. The Project assists as many clients as possible by distributing information, holding monthly clinics and representing individuals when appropriate.

The Project assists clients in Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Columbia and Greene Counties;

1. Helps clients protect their assets and get out of debt by educating them about their rights and managing their debts most efficiently;

2. Protects clients from Fair Debt Collection Practices Act violations by educating and advocating;

3. Helps clients stop account freezes that are prohibited by the Exempt Income Protection Act and stop wage garnishments for consumer debts.

Frozen Accounts

If your bank account is frozen in New York State, unless the creditor is New York State, the bank should not freeze your entire account. If that account contains protected benefits like Social Security, Veteran’s benefits, or Unemployment Benefits, the first $2,625 in the account should remain unfrozen for you to use. If the account does not contain identifiable exempt funds then the first $1,716 remains unfrozen. After a bank freezes your account they must send you forms within two days of the receipt of the judgment. You must complete and return those forms within 20 days to the bank. The funds must be released if all of the funds were protected, or the creditor can dispute you in good faith and unless the creditor is correct, the funds are released.

Fair Debt Collection Practices Act

Being harassed by debt collectors? You should know that a debt collector cannot phone a debtor before 8am or after 9pm at your local time or at any unusual time or place or a time or place known or which should be known to be inconvenient to you. A debt collector cannot contact you if they know you are represented by an attorney, unless they contact your attorney and the attorney fails to respond in a reasonable amount of time or consents to the collector communicating directly with you. A debt collector cannot contact you at work if they know your employer prohibits you from receiving such communication.

A debt collector may not contact any person about your debt other than: you; your attorney; a consumer reporting agency if otherwise permitted by law; the creditor; the attorney of the creditor; or the attorney of the debt collector. This means the debt collector cannot tell your neighbors, family or friends about your debt except for very limited circumstances, such as the collector cannot locate you, or where the court granted permission. If a debt collector contacts someone to locate you, they must:

  • identify themselves, state they are confirming or correcting location information concerning the consumer;
  • not communicate with them more than once;
  • not communicate by post card;
  • not put anything on any envelope or in the contents of any mailed communication effected showing they are a debt collector.

Debt collectors may not harass or abuse you, which means they cannot:

  • use or threaten to use violence or other criminal means to harm the physical person, reputation, or property of any person;
  • use obscene, profane, or abusive language;
  • publish a list of consumers who allegedly refuse to pay debts (except to a consumer reporting agency or to certain persons specified by law);
  • advertise for sale of any debt to coerce payment of the debt;
  • call repeatedly or continuously with intent to annoy, abuse, or harass any person at the called number;
  • call without identifying themselves.

A debt collector also must not use false or misleading communication about a debt, including threatening to take action they cannot legally take or which they do not intend to take.

Managing Your Debt

It’s not always about how much you owe. Know the difference between secured (debts for which goods have been promised against), and unsecured (debt which is not guaranteed by any property). When you do not pay on a secured debt, you risk losing the property you promised.

When you do not pay on an unsecured debt, the creditor must come after you to recover those funds. After you consider secured vs. unsecured debts, pay off the most expensive debts first. Be sure to count fees into the cost of the debt along with the interest rate. Even though creditors are supposed to disclose all of these fees as part of the Annual Percentage Rate (APR), do the math yourself.

Default Judgments

If your bank account is frozen or your wages are suddenly garnished, you may have a default judgment against you. The debt buying industry often sues people to recover debts the consumer allegedly owes to another organization. The industry buys and sells debts, and this leads to bad suits in the wrong courts against the wrong people. Default judgments, or judgments without trial because the defendant failed to appear, can result. These judgments occur frequently, and often people don’t realize that anything was ever filed in court until they face a judgment or levy years later. If you think that this has happened to you, the Consumer Law Project may be able to assist you, either through advice, or through direct representation.

For more information, call our main number 518-462-6765 to speak with an intake staff member to confirm eligibility and attend one of our clinics.

Funding

The Consumer Law Project is funded by Judiciary Civil Legal Services, NYS Office of Court Administration, and the Interest on Lawyer Account Fund of the State of New York.

Click here to view the Consumer Law Project in English