NPR has been running stories this week about wage garnishment and funds seizure for consumer and medical debt. It’s a terrifying prospect that you could find yourself suddenly only making minimum wage on pay day when you’re expecting more, or looking at your bank account to find that it’s suddenly empty.
I came home one day a couple weeks ago to a letter from a collection company demanding I pay a medical bill from visiting my doctor in April. I had never received a statement for the bill that was in collections and had last paid my doctor’s office in June, and then confirmed with their billing office that I was all paid up. They had even told me I had overpaid and would need to get in touch with billing to get reimbursed about $20.
After a minor heart attack, I called the billing office for my doctor’s office, and they told me a statement had been sent to “920 Mash St.” Not only have they had our correct address and sent me other statements for over a year, but this only slightly resembles our previous address because the number is correct. They also had my phone number wrong in their system, even though I have received several calls from the nurses and receptionists, so they clearly have the correct number somewhere.
Fortunately, the billing office recognized their mistake and contacted the collections company to make sure I don’t receive any more collection notices and so it doesn’t impact my credit. But what if those collections notices had gone to “920 Mash St” and I woke up one day to money missing from my account or from my paycheck? It’s a terrifying prospect that in many places, there’s nothing protecting people from these aggressive collections tactics. It’s also a common thread in these stories that when the people in debt were served notices to appear in court, the summons was hidden in a bunch of other paperwork related to the debt and they missed the summonses completely, and thus their only opportunity to defend themselves from wage garnishment or having their accounts depleted.
I will spare you all from a political rant, but I really think we need to do a better job of taking care of each other. You never know what someone’s situation is like unless you’re in it, and most people want to pay back their debts. These practices seem over-the-top and predatory. Wage garnishment when someone isn’t paying child support and someone else is dependent upon that money to care for a child, but when the only ones benefiting from ransacking someone’s paycheck or bank accounts are multi-billion dollar corporations, it’s time to rethink these policies.