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Oregon may expand food stamp eligibility to some undocumented households, rural areas have a new method of accessing money for roads and bridges, and Tennessee's new online tool helps keep track of cemetery locations.

New Tool Offers Legal Resources for Common Issue: Debt Collection

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Tuesday, July 26, 2022   

A new website is helping Montanans answer tricky legal questions about debt.

The Montana Legal Services Association has launched MontanaDebtOptions.org to offer resources for those dealing with consumer debt.

Alex Clark, community legal education coordinator for the Association, said the website is designed for any Montanan with a debt question who is afraid of losing income or property due to debt collection.

"We created some custom answers based on people's individual experiences with debt collectors that are pretty common to give them an idea of what might be crossing the line and what is actually legal," Clark explained.

Nationwide, about 64 million Americans have debt in collections, according to the Urban Institute.

The Montana Legal Services Association helped more than 350 clients with consumer debt issues last year. The website also includes a garnishment calculator to verify if a debt collector is taking the right amount from a person's wages.

Clark pointed out many people struggle when they are served with a lawsuit. He noted to participate in a lawsuit, people have to file a written response to the court by the deadline outlined in the serving papers, but it can be hard to identify.

"As we all know, court papers are really scary," Clark stated. "They're hard to understand. It's not really clear-cut what to do, and if you can't afford an attorney, you don't know where to go. So we're trying to change that."

Debt lawsuits are among the most common civil court cases in the country. But less than 10% of people have legal representation in such cases, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Many simply don't show up to court, with about 70% of cases ending in default in favor of the debt collector. The website emphasized it shouldn't take the place of advice from a lawyer.

Disclosure: The Montana Legal Services Association contributes to our fund for reporting on Civil Rights, Human Rights/Racial Justice, Poverty Issues, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.


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