If you get a letter saying that Big Bank has sold your debt to Snake & Weasel Debt Collectors you may be very worried.
This article answers questions about what has happened and how it will affect you. Will the debt collection agency (DCA) be horrible to deal with? Is it legal to do this? Do you still have to pay the money? What about your credit record?
I’m going to assume that you recognise the debt. If you don’t, then you should be send the debt collector a Prove It! letter. Don’t ignore a letter addressed to you about a debt that isn’t yours – it’s easier to challenge this now rather that wait until you are taken to court.
Has your debt really been sold?
Sometimes a lender will appoint a debt collector to try to collect the money for them. This isn’t a “sale” – you still owe the money to the original lender and none of the rest of this article is relevant.
If you aren’t sure what has happened, the best thing is to contact the original creditor and ask them if your debt has been sold or not. If you are worried and don’t want to talk to the creditor, phone National Debtline for advice about the letter.
Is this legal? Why wasn’t I asked?
When you borrowed the money or opened the account you agreed to the terms. In the small print have been a clause that said that the lender can “assign his rights” to a third-party. This is often described as a “sale”.
When a sale happens, everything about your debt – all the terms and conditions – remains the same, except that you now owe the money to the debt collector who has bought the debt, not the original creditor.
You won’t be asked to agree to the sale and you can’t object or stop the sale. You agree to the original terms which included a clause that permits this.
(There is one exception here. If your lender subscribes to the Standards of Lending Practice and if they had previously been shown evidence that you have mental health problems, your debt should not have been sold. Go to your local Citizens Advice if you would like help with this situation.)
Your debt can be sold if you are in debt management. It may not feel fair if the lender accepted your monthly offer and you are making the payments as agreed, but legally the lender can still sell the debt.
How much was my debt sold for?
That will depend on the state of your account. A debt where you have paid token payments or nothing for a long while may have been sold for very little, just a penny or two in the pound. If you are making regular payments then it will have been sold for more.
You won’t be told what your account was sold for. The sale is a commercial agreement between the seller and the buyer to which you are not legally party. This may seem annoying, non-transparent or unethical, but the debt collector and the original lender are not doing anything wrong by not telling you the sale price.
The price the debt collector paid for your debt is irrelevant to you. It doesn’t affect the amount that you now owe – you still owe the full amount but now to the debt collector.
So the lender has been paid – why do I owe anything?
The original lender has had the debt settled by the DCA. But you now owe the money to the DCA instead.
Think of this example. You borrow £200 from your sister for some car repairs, agreeing to pay her back £50 a month. But she suddenly needs all the money immediately, so your dad gives your sister the £200 and you repay your dad instead. Same debt, same repayments. You borrowed from your sister but now you don’t owe her anything but you do need to repay your dad.
This is pretty much what has happened with your debt being sold. Your debt stays exactly the same, you just owe it to a different person.
(NB The above example isn’t an attempt to explain the legal contractual obligations – it is an analogy illustrating why you now have to repay someone else. See “Is this legal? Why wasn’t I asked?” above, for the legal points.)
I want to carry on paying the original lender
You can’t do this. You don’t owe any money to the original lender any more.
Will the debt collector be difficult?
In practice you may find that debt collectors are as easy to deal with as the original lender. Indeed they may be more likely to freeze interest or accept a full and final settlement offer!
If you had a payment arrangement with the original lender, for example in a debt management plan, you just need to offer the same amount to the debt collector.
There are regulations to make sure that that debt collectors should behave fairly – all DCAs handling credit card and loan debts have to be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and if you have problems with one, the Financial Ombudsman will look at your complaint.
Of course debt collectors don’t always get things right. One firm that has had a long record of handling debts badly is MotorMile Finance. In November 2016, the FCA has made them write off a lot of loans and refund other people. If you have a debt with them see MMF – should I get compensation? for details.
I now have two defaults on my credit file
Debts are usually already defaulted before they are sold. When it is sold the original creditor will mark the debt as settled with a zero balance owing and the debt collector will add the debt with the same default date that the original creditor used.
So now there are now two debts on your credit record. But the total of all your debts is right – the debt isn’t being double counted because one of these says that there is zero owing. And when your credit rating is calculated, the original debt is ignored, so your credit score will not get worse because you now seem to have two defaults.
If the debt collector adds a default date which is later than the original creditor, this is wrong. What should the Default Date for a debt be? explains how you can get it changed.
Can the debt collector take me to court?
Yes. The debt collector now has all the rights that the original lender had and this includes applying for a County Court Judgment (CCJ).
You don’t have to worry that this is going to happen straight away. the debt collector would rather reach an agreement with you for monthly payments and not have the cost and bother of going to court. But in 2017 there were 100,000 CCJs a month in January-March and it seems that debt collectors are going to court more often.
Will it reset the 6 year period for becoming statute-barred?
No. A debt will become statute-barred six years after you last acknowledged the debt e.g. by making a payment towards it. If you haven’t made any payments for the last two years say, then a sale to a debt collector makes no difference and there are still four years left before it becomes statute barred.
A debt that is old and already statute barred will continue to be so after the sale. Read Statute Barred Debt – Common Questions – that article has a template letter you could use in this situation.
The letter doesn’t say what the debt is!
If you get a letter that might be about a debt but it doesn’t give any details, just wants you to call them, then this is a “fishing expedition”. They don’t really know who the debt belongs to and they are hoping someone will give them their details (date of birth, previous addresses) that will match. You can usually ignore these vague letters – see Prime Location Services – do I have to call them? for an example.
What do I need to do?
If you have a debt management plan run by a company, tell the DMP company. They will switch your monthly payment to go to the debt collector.
If you are running your own DMP, you need to cancel any standing order paying the original lender, offer to pay the same amount to the DCA and ask for their payment details. They may ask you to provide a new Statement of Affairs.
If you have been ignoring this debt, this is a good point to review your whole situation and your possible debt solutions.