Georgia Debt Relief: Your Guide to State Laws and Managing Debt
Residents of the state of Georgia carry more student loan debt per capita than residents of any other state. They’re also the third worst off when it comes to auto loan debt, and owe more than the average American when it comes to their credit card balances, our analysis below shows.
With all this debt, you’d expect the state to have loose lending laws, but that’s not the case. Georgia is one of a handful of states which has outlawed predatory payday loans, and community organizations offer free services or assistance paying bills for residents who are struggling.
That’s not to minimize the struggle of Georgians as they dig their way out from under their debt, though. In this article, we’ll look at some of the most effective ways they can do just that.
- Debt in Georgia: At a glance
- Debt collection in Georgia
- Georgia debt relief programs
- Payday lending laws in Georgia
- Tips to tackle debt in Georgia
- Filing for bankruptcy in Georgia
- The bottom line
Debt in Georgia: At a glance
|Type||Per capita balance, 2018||Rank out of 50 states*||U.S. per capita balance|
|Credit card debt||$3,270||19||$3,220|
|Student loan debt||$7,250||1||$5,390|
|*No. 1 is the highest
**First-lien debt only
Source: Federal Reserve Bank of New York, March 2019
Debt collection in Georgia
Compared to other states, Georgians carry some of the largest debts across the country when we look at auto loans and student loans — the latter of which are extremely difficult to ever discharge or be rid of, even in bankruptcy. If you’re facing a large amount of debt and fall behind, you may receive a letter in the mail or calls via phone as creditors attempt to collect your debt.
This contact could be coming from your original creditor, or it could be coming from a debt collection entity which has purchased the debt from your original creditor. If it is coming from a debt collector rather than your original creditor, you should know that you have some rights under federal law.
First, these debt collectors cannot contact you at unreasonable hours. They are also not allowed to contact you directly if they know you’ve employed a lawyer, and they’re not allowed to call you at work if you tell them your boss wants them to stop.
If you do hire an attorney, that’s who the debt collector has to contact. Otherwise, they can contact you directly, or reach out to people you know. When they’re reaching out to your neighbors, family members or friends, they are not allowed to discuss why they are calling or disclose that you owe any money. However, they can discuss the finer details of your finances with your spouse, the executor of your estate, a cosigner on the loan, or your parents/guardians if you’re under the age of 18.
Debt collectors are not allowed to harass, lie to or mislead you. Harassment can include things like making your phone ring off the hook, using foul language, advertising your debts and threatening you. If they try to say they are an attorney when they are not, make documents appear to be from a court when they are not, tell you that you owe more than you actually do or otherwise misrepresent the truth, they are participating in illegal misleading behaviors and should be reported.
These rules are all thanks to the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, but Georgia’s Fair Business Practices Act (FBPA) serves to reinforce these standards, further protecting debtors from false advertising or misleading business practices.
Debt collectors can take you to court, even if you don’t believe the debt is valid. If the judge deems it is invalid, you’re in the clear. However, if it is deemed valid you could be facing consequences such as wage garnishment or repossession. Be sure to actually show up for any court dates as your absence could be interpreted as an admission that you are legally responsible for the debt.
Responding to collection letters
If you receive a letter regarding a legitimate debt, you need to discuss a written payment plan with whoever currently owns the debt. If you think it is not legitimate — whether that’s because you never borrowed said money or the statute of limitations is up — you can mail a letter of dispute, being careful to explicitly deny any responsibility for the debt.
Be sure to include any receipts or documents you may have backing up your argument, and mail this letter certified within 30 days of receiving written notice about the debt. The debt collector is then not allowed to contact you again regarding the disputed part of your debt until they send you information either confirming or denying the validity of your dispute.
If they do contact you to collect the debt in the interim or otherwise violate the rules discussed in the previous section, you should report them. You can do so by getting in touch with the Georgia Department of Law’s Consumer Protection Center by filing a complaint online, mailing in a paper form or contacting them via phone at 404-651-8600 or 1-800-869-1123.
Understanding your state’s statute of limitations
A statute of limitations is the time period someone has to sue you for an offense. That means that if the statute of limitations on credit cards is four years, as it is in Georgia, you cannot be sued or held accountable for the debt if the debt collector waits more than four years since the date when you defaulted or last made a payment.
|Georgia Statute of Limitations on Debt|
|Mortgage debt||6 years|
|Medical debt||4 years|
|Credit card||4 years|
|Auto loan debt||4 years|
|State tax debt||7 years|
Most debts in Georgia have a statute of limitations of four years, like medical debt, credit card debt and auto loans. Mortgages have a slightly longer statute of limitations of six years, and any debt you may owe to your state for tax purposes has a statute of limitations of seven years.
If the statute of limitations is up, you want to be very careful and be sure not to make a payment or promise to pay a debt. If you do, you will reset the statute of limitations and the debt collector can now come after you in court.
Georgia debt relief programs
Carrying around a lot of debt can be demoralizing. If you owe enough, it can feel like you have no way out.
But there are ways to free yourself of debt. Talking to a representative from an organization associated with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) can help you figure out what your best options are for your individual situation. They should be able to guide you to the right path, and give you tips for best practices along the way.
If you’re struggling with money, your debt payments likely aren’t the only source of fiscal stress. To help with these other financial needs, Georgia has a network of community action agencies which regulate funding to help lower-income residents. Projects they work on include free home weatherization and helping individuals with their utility bills. This won’t help you eliminate existing debt directly, but by reaching out to your local agency, you may be able to get connected with financial resources to handle these other bills, redirecting the money you would have spent on them to pay down your debt.
Additionally, there are several nationwide options available to help with debt relief.
Payday lending laws in Georgia
Payday loans are illegal in Georgia, and for good reason. These types of loans are often predatory, preying upon those who are having trouble making ends meet with outlandish fees and repayment terms. While interest rates may appear somewhat reasonable at first glance, when you annualize them the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) reports that a typical payday loan comes with an APR of 400%. The state of Georgia has decided to protect its residents by banning this type of lending altogether.
Tips to tackle debt in Georgia
When you’re holding a lot of debt, the worst thing you can do is ignore it. Your debt will become even more expensive as you get hit with penalties and fees, and it could end up landing you in court. Instead, look at consolidation, refinancing or using a balance transfer to head off the problem before it gets worse.
Consolidate your debt
Debt consolidation loans are often used to address credit card debt, medical debt, or even other personal loans you may have taken out. They are typically offered as unsecured personal loans, which means you won’t have to put up any property for collateral. This loan would consolidate all of your debt from all of your various cards into one loan with one, predictable monthly payment. The main benefits of debt consolidation loans is that you can potentially save money on interest by securing a loan with a lower rate than your existing debts, and you are left with just one consistent payment per month, which makes budgeting less of a headache.
If you have an installment loan, such as a mortgage, student or auto loan, refinancing may be a good option for you. It can lower your monthly payments, but it may also stretch out your loan term, which makes it possible that you’ll pay more in interest over the life of your loan, despite having potentially lower monthly payments and a lower APR.
Those who took out a mortgage prior to the recession should especially look at this option as rates are dramatically lower than they were leading up to 2008. However, you can also use this method for vehicle loans.
Use a balance transfer card
If it’s credit card debt you’re struggling with, you may want to consider applying for a credit card offering a promotional 0% APR on balance transfers, usually lasting 12 to 21 months. A balance transfer is when you transfer your debt from one credit card to another. This process usually comes with a balance transfer fee of about 3 to 5%. The fee is extremely likely to be a cheaper option than continuing to pay the high interest rate that comes with your credit card, though.
The 0% APR generally only applies for a certain timeframe. Once the promotional APR period ends, you’ll have to start paying the regular interest rate. Some cards will even charge you a higher-than-market interest rate after you come off of the introductory balance transfer offer. Ideally, you would pay off the entire balance before the promotional period ends, which would allow you to avoid that problem altogether.
Utilize community resources
If you happen to be carrying a lot of debt and you’re low-income, you may want to look at local programs which will help you pay your bills. For example, Atmos Energy offers a program called “Share the Warmth.” This program allows customers to round up their bill every month as a form of donation. Atmos Energy then takes that money and distributes it to local community action agencies which provide direct assistance to those in the community who are having trouble paying their natural gas bill. Contact Atmos Energy to find out which agency they work with in your area.
By utilizing such programs, you can take the money you would have spent on bills and throw it towards your debt. If you have a high income and a lot of debt, this won’t work, as you won’t qualify for these programs. But all other debtors should carefully review program rules as income eligibility will vary; you don’t always have to be destitute in order to qualify.
Filing for bankruptcy in Georgia
If things have gotten bad enough that you’re considering filing for bankruptcy, you’ll want to hire an attorney. They can help guide you through the entire process, including whether you should file Chapter 7 bankruptcy (in which you liquidate all your assets and have your debts wiped clean) or Chapter 13 bankruptcy (in which you restructure your debt and get to keep your property.)
A bankruptcy can stay on your credit report for up to 10 years, but that doesn’t mean it’s a financial death sentence. In fact, a recent LendingTree study revealed that just two years after filing for bankruptcy, 65 percent of filers had a credit score at or above 640, which many though not all lenders use as a baseline credit score when issuing loans or credit.
If you’re considering bankruptcy, you can find a lawyer via the State Bar of Georgia. If you are low-income, put in an inquiry about the Legal Aid program, which provides free or reduced-cost services to low-income individuals.
Bankruptcy is a big deal, but so is debt. Ideally, you’d be able to repay the debt without going through the bankruptcy process by refinancing, taking out a debt consolidation loan or using balance transfer offers to minimize the interest you are being charged. If you can’t, you may want to try credit counseling before heading to bankruptcy court.
The bottom line
If you find yourself in the halls of justice, be sure to hire an attorney who can help you figure out your best options moving forward, including where your debt stands as far as the statute of limitations goes. Debt can feel paralyzing, but there are ways out from under its weight.
The information in this article is accurate as of the date of publishing.