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You want to be honest. You want to pay what you owe. But what do you really owe?

Payday loans and credit cards have a high interest rate because lenders expect that many people will default.

Debts more than 90 days overdue are written off as uncollectable.

Can debt collectors garnish your benefits?

Most people do not realize that their Social Security and VA benefits, their pensions and retirement accounts cannot be garnished by debt collectors.

Even the IRS can only garnish 15% of Social Security retirement benefits and, if that is a burden, has a way to declare the debt non-collectible.

Going without food or medicine to pay loans which cannot legally be collected is just foolish.

Tell the debt collectors goodbye

Your friendly elder lawyer can write a “cease and desist” letter to a Stateside debt collector. The debt collector must then stop contacting you. It can try contacting your lawyer instead.

How to handle overseas debt collectors

The FTC cannot control debt collectors calling you from overseas.

But you can.

First, remember that no matter how they threaten, they very rarely sue: it costs too much.

Second, remind yourself that Social Security and VA disability and retirement benefits and pensions cannot be garnished.

Third, never talk on the phone with a debt collector. Don’t answer. Hang up. Change your number.

Never open an unknown email. Delete it. Block future emails. Change your email address.

If the debt collector has your bank account number, change accounts. If the debt collector has your bank’s routing number, change banks.

And remember – there are a lot of fake “debt collectors.” You may not even owe the debt.

Terry Garrett is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is active in the Texas and Austin Bar Associations. She graduated with honors from Cornell University. She was on the Dean’s List at Wharton Business School. She earned her J.D. at Columbia Law School, receiving the Parker Award and a Mellon Fellowship.

She assists families of people with special needs, people planning for the retirement years and people administering estates.

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