How Service Members Can Handle Their Financial Debt Head On

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Photo via U.S. Navy

The new truck you purchased after deployment and now can’t afford, the credit card bills you only make the minimum payment on, and the mortgage payments you can’t afford, are all common experiences for many service members. Because of this mounting debt, now you have a debt collector calling at all hours, or worse calling your first sergeant, and you don’t know what to do.

These are problems many service members face in and out of the military. There is even evidence that debt collectors are deliberately “targeting members of the Armed Services by calling their superior officers, threatening reduction in rank and even courts-martial,” according to a 2014 report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. You are not alone, at some point in their career, many service members have to deal with debt collectors.

However, a new book called “The Secret World of Debt Collection,” by Mike Cardoza, provides the right information to level the playing field.

Cardoza is a lawyer in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. After leaving active duty, he worked for years as a senior executive in a debt-collection agency. In his book, he now takes those years of experience and gives readers the information needed to deal with debt collectors in an easy-to-read format.

On active duty, I served as a judge advocate lawyer in the Marine Corps. During my career, I spent time in legal assistance, usually helping young Marines who fell behind on credit card payments, rent, and phone bills. I wish I had this book when assisting those clients. Even in my personal life, I could have used it.

At one point in my career, I was sent on temporary assigned duty for six months to the Pentagon. I joined a local gym. At the end of my temporary assigned duty I moved back to my permanent duty station in California. This move clearly canceled my gym membership, because I moved more than 100 miles away, and I provided the gym with official orders documenting my move. The gym refused to cancel my membership and attempted to collect payments for a three-year membership, which totaled over two-thousand dollars.

I spent the next year dealing with a debt collector hired by the gym. This was a bothersome and time-consuming issue. At one point, I was receiving daily calls from the debt collector. I eventually resolved the issue, but only after spending hours on the phone and writing letters. After reading this book, I now realize that I unnecessarily wasted hours dealing with that debt collector. And I’m a lawyer.

The book provides an inside look at how debt collectors work, what they value, and how consumers can use that information to their advantage. Cardoza explains how little time a debt collector can afford to spend dealing with your account, “a collection lawyer may spend somewhere between zero and five seconds reviewing a case.” More importantly, Cardoza explains how you can use that information to your advantage, “you naturally have an overwhelming amount of leverage against the creditor and its agents who are trying to collect on your delinquent account!” He explains all of the little mistakes a debt collector can make when trying to collect a debt, and how you can use those mistakes to your advantage.

Cardoza does a great job of simplifying the multiple laws that govern debt collection. At the same time, he provides readers with real-world information, like “collectors can’t call after 8 pm,” and robo-dialing “of your cell phone for marketing or debt collection” is prohibited.

He also summarizes debt-collection law and explains how a consumer can use those laws to stop harassing calls from debt collectors and settle debt for less money than the debt collector is asking for.

Here are a few of the practical recommendations contained in this book.

  • Protect your money by opening a new bank account that puts it beyond the reach of debt collectors.
  • Save your emails to ensure you can document all of your communications with debt collectors.
  • Get a manager from the debt-collection agency involved in your case because that is the person who can get you a better result in your case, and ultimately help you settle your debt for less money.

In the most valuable section of the book, Cardoza recommends that you:

Get over it.You’ve got feelings associated with your debts. They’re complicated and there’s a lot of them all mixed up together and they feel real. Don’t waste time picking them apart, just decide to get over all of them – all at once. In one single hour, put them all in a dull metal mental box for unpacking later when you’ve fixed your current financial reality and can afford to learn more about your personal emotional history poolside or at the beach. Psychiatrists will flip out at this advice, but the Marine Corps knows what it’s doing when it teaches you to ‘put the mission first.’

Debt collectors view your debt as a business issue, you should view it the same way.

There are many more recommendations in this short, 60-page book that are fully explained and can be easily implemented by the average reader. Cardoza is clearly on the side of the average debtor. He also lists his website and phone number if you have additional questions not covered in the book.

Don’t let a bad debt derail the military career for which you worked so hard.

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