Warning Signs of a Debt Problem

  • Required monthly payments to creditors totaling 20% or more of your take home income (not including your rent or mortgage).
  • Using your savings to pay for daily expenses
  • Getting cash advances from credit cards to pay other creditors and/or daily expenses.
  • Not knowing how much you owe.
  • Arguing with your family members due to money problems.
  • Creditor lawsuits, repossessions or garnishment of wages.

What If You Can’t Pay Your Bills

Help Yourself

The first step in trying to resolve your debt problem is to contact your creditors and work out a payment plan.  It may be helpful to explain your situation and reiterate your willingness to work with the creditor to catch up on your overdue bills.  If you believe you need some advice on how to get a handle on your debt problem you can contact a credit counseling service.

If You Can’t Work Out a Payment Plan 

  • Send the collector a notice by certified mail and tell them that you cannot repay the debt and that you do not want to hear from the collector.
  • Once the collector receives the notice the collector can call or write you one last time to tell you what will happen because of your non-payment.  You should know that federal and Maryland law protects you from any unfair collection practices used you by your creditors.
  • Contact a Credit Counseling Agency
  • Only file bankruptcy as a last resort.  Bankruptcy is very complicated; if you would like more information take a look at our information filing bankruptcy.

Consult a Credit Counseling Service

Credit counseling services can help you control your debt more effectively and teach you how to manage your money and help you create a debt repayment plan.  There are both nonprofit and for-profit debt counseling services here in Maryland as well as national organizations that can provide you with advice.

Going to Court

If the creditor decides to sue you, the creditor will file a claim in court. A hearing date will be set. At the hearing, you may tell your side.

You can also file your own claim if the collector violated the Federal act or the State Law. But if the debt was not paid because you just could not afford to pay it, the creditor will win a judgment against you.

A judgment is a ruling by a court. The reason the creditor wants a judgment is that, with one, it can do things it couldn't do before to collect the debt.

Once the creditor has a judgment, it will try to collect. It may have a sheriff take your assets (the things you own) and sell them to pay the debt.

The creditor can also place a "lien" against your property. When a lien is placed on your home, you no longer have clear ownership title to the home. That means that anyone who wanted to buy your home could not get clear title. The lien will have to be paid before you can sell your home.

Protecting Your Assets

If the sheriff tries to take your assets, there are other laws which give you some help.

In Maryland, certain assets that you own are exempt from execution or attachment by your creditors. The primary exemptions include a $3,000 allowance of property selected by you, a $2,500 exemption for property that is necessary for your trade or profession, and a $500 allowance for property that is held by you for personal use. Certain interests in retirement plans are also exempt. Also, if you are married and the debt belongs to only one spouse, any assets the two of you own jointly cannot be levied upon for the debt of one spouse.

If you don't own any assets, and your income is limited to Social Security or pensions, the creditor will not be able to collect its judgment.

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Is this legal advice?

This site offers legal information, not legal advice.  We make every effort to ensure the accuracy of the information and to clearly explain your options.  However we do not provide legal advice - the application of the law to your individual circumstances. For legal advice, you should consult an attorney.  The Maryland State Law Library, a court-related agency of the Maryland Judiciary, sponsors this site.  In the absence of file-specific attribution or copyright, the Maryland State Law Library may hold the copyright to parts of this website. You are free to copy the information for your own use or for other non-commercial purposes with the following language “Source: Maryland's People’s Law Library – www.peoples-law.org. © Maryland State Law Library, 2017.”

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