Debts Sold or Assigned to Collection Agencies
April 15, 2015
What happens if you list a creditor in your bankruptcy case but, unknown to you, it sold the debt to a collection agency that you don’t list?
Our blog post two weeks ago was about needing to list all your debts in a bankruptcy case in order to write them off. This is part of a series of blog posts about debts that may not get discharged (written off) in bankruptcy. The law says that bankruptcy does not discharge debts that are “neither listed nor scheduled” in the bankruptcy documents. Section 523(a)(3) of the Bankruptcy Code.
This raises some practical questions, including the following:
Is a debt covered if you don’t list it but the creditor still learns about your bankruptcy case?
What happens if you list the creditor but it had previously sold the debt to a collection agency?
What do you do if you don’t know all of your debts because you’ve moved or lost track of them for some other reason?
We addressed the first of these last week, and discuss the second one today.
Debts Listed but Sold to Collection Agency
So you list the creditor on your bankruptcy schedules but after filing learn it sold the debt to another entity. Let’s assume you know the name and address of the new creditor or collection agency.
Debts Sold Before Your Bankruptcy Filing
Let’s start with the situation that the debt was sold to the new entity before you filed the bankruptcy case. You only find out about it after your filing. You either receive a new notice about it or dig up an older one you hadn’t found earlier. What should you do?
There’s a decent chance that when the creditor you listed gets the bankruptcy notice it will forward it to the new owner of the debt. That would seem to be the sensible and business-like thing for it to do. Then the new owner would learn about your case even without being listed on your bankruptcy schedules. It would be covered by your bankruptcy case and the debt would likely get discharged. (See our last blog post about the creditor’s “actual knowledge” exception.)
There are three problems with this.
First, the listed creditor may simply not bother to pass on your bankruptcy notice to the new debt holder. The creditor no longer has any interest in the debt. It doesn’t owe you any favors. Why shouldn’t it just throw away the bankruptcy notice, and not inform the new debt holder? Then this new debt holder—the creditor you actually owe—may well never find out about your bankruptcy. You could easily continue owing the debt. It’s not safe to rely on the listed creditor to tell the new debt holder. It’s way too risky.
Second, even if the listed creditor does pass on the bankruptcy notice the new debt holder may not receive it. Or that debt holder may simply say it never received it. Good luck getting proof that it did. Collection agencies sometimes attempt to collect debts (purposely or inadvertently) that a bankruptcy has legally discharged. Without proof that the collection agency received notice of your bankruptcy filing you may still owe the debt. At the very least you’d have a much harder time getting them to stop trying to collect on the debt.
Third, even if the new debt holder does receive notice about your bankruptcy filing, it may not happen fast enough. You have no control when your listed creditor would get around to passing on information about your filing. There would be some delay between the time the creditor receives the bankruptcy notice and when it forwards it. In some situations the timing when the new debt holder receives the bankruptcy information is crucial. See our last blog post for a discussion about this timing issue.
Formally Adding Creditors to Your Schedules After Filing
So instead of relying on your listed creditor to inform the new debt holder it’s better to take the initiative.
First, you can formally add the new debt holder to your bankruptcy schedules, after your original filing. Your lawyer does this through an “amended schedule.” This is generally the safest option. Here’s one local bankruptcy court’s information about this procedure.
You do have to pay a modest additional filing fee (currently $31—see item #4 in the court fee schedule). Plus your lawyer might charge you for the extra service (although not necessarily).
Another option may be to contact the debt holder—either yourself or your lawyer—without using an “amended schedule.” This contact may fulfil the requirements of the “actual knowledge” exception. What’s critical is to have appropriate evidence of this contact in case you need proof of it later. There may be timing considerations. Also, you may be required to use an “amended schedule” based on local bankruptcy rules.
Don’t decide this on your own. Talk with your bankruptcy lawyer for advice about resolving the situation the safest and most cost-effective way.
Debts Sold After Your Bankruptcy Filing
Creditors should not sell or assign your debt after they get notice of your bankruptcy case. At least they shouldn’t without informing the new debt holder about your bankruptcy case.
But sometimes they do sell the debt after getting notice about your bankruptcy case, whether intentionally or out of carelessness. Then the discussion above applies. If your bankruptcy case is still active, your lawyer should probably file an “amended schedule” adding the new debt holder.
The creditor’s sale or assignment of the debt can also occur between the time you file bankruptcy and the time the creditor receives notice of it. It may sell or assign the debt after you file bankruptcy but before it knows about your filing.
Again, the discussion above applies. You could hope that when this creditor gets notice of your bankruptcy filing it will inform the new debt owner. There’s a decent chance that it would do so, since the sale had just happened. Its file on you may still be open or would have just been closed a short time earlier. But again, your listed creditor may still not bother to inform the new debt holder. So, talk with your bankruptcy lawyer as soon as you find out about new debt holder. Remember that timing can be extremely important. In most situations filing an “amended schedule to add the new debt holder is the appropriate solution.