California Enacts Fair Debt Buying Bill

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On July 11, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB 233, the Fair Debt Buyers Practices Act, which establishes numerous new rules related to the purchase and collection of consumer debts, including five key protections for debtors. First, the Act prohibits a debt buyer from making any written statement in an attempt to collect a consumer debt unless the debt buyer can verify certain information, such as the amount of the debt balance at charge off, the date of default or last payment, and the name and address of the charge-off creditor at the time of charge off. Second, the Act prohibits a debt buyer from making any written statement to a debtor in an attempt to collect a consumer debt unless the debt buyer has access to a copy of a contract or other document evidencing the debtor’s agreement to the debt. In instances where no signed debt contract exists, the debtor must obtain sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the debt was incurred by the debtor. Third, the Act requires a debt buyer to provide a written notice with its initial written communication to the debtor that, among other things, informs the debtor of his or her right to request certain records from the debt buyer. Fourth, the Act prohibits a debt buyer from bringing suit, initiating another proceeding, or taking any other action to collect a consumer debt if the applicable statute of limitations on the cause of action to enforce the debt has expired. Finally, the Act establishes new requirements for default judgments, such as a requirement that a debt buyer submit business records to confirm a debt prior to seeking a default judgment against a debtor. Additionally, the debt buyer must authenticate the records it submits via a sworn declaration to the court. The new rules will apply to debt buyers with respect to all consumer debt sold or resold on or after January 1, 2014.