It’s always our position that you should never ignore contact from a collection agency, or a collection account placed on your credit report, such as one from Harris & Harris.
Not only are collections damaging to your credit score, but an ignored collection can very easily turn into a court judgment.
If that happens, you’ll have no choice but to pay the debt, or face seizure actions like wage garnishment.
If a firm known as Harris & Harris has contacted you, our advice is even more important.
Though they do perform collection activities for healthcare and utility providers, they’re also a major player in the government space.
It’s often difficult to work as many settlement options with a collection agency when the original creditor is a government agency.
In this article, we’re going to suggest specific processes and strategies for dealing with collection accounts.
But that’s with the acknowledgment that not all will be particularly effective if they are collecting on government debt, particularly one in relation to a violation.
At the end of this article, we’ll provide recommended professionals who may be able to help you deal with Harris & Harris.
You can certainly start out dealing with them on your own, but if you’re not getting anywhere, it’s best to bring in the professionals.
About Harris & Harris Ltd.
Harris and Harris Ltd. was founded in 1968 by Samuel J. Harris, and is currently owned and run by the brothers, Arnie and Dave Harris.
The company has about 600 employees, is based in Chicago, and operates nationally.
What Debts Does Harris & Harris Collect?
The company provides collection services for healthcare and utility companies, as well as governments. The last client group may be of the greatest concern.
They collect court fines and fees, parking collections, toll violations, tax collections, and public utilities.
On that front, they may be collecting debts in connection with:
- criminal felonies and misdemeanors
- traffic violations
- civil misdemeanors
- ordinance violations
- domestic violence cases
- victim restitution
On the tax collection side, they collect:
- income taxes
- property taxes
- withholding taxes
- corporate taxes
- transient guest tax
- consumer use tax
- franchise tax
- homestead tax
- fiduciary tax
- privilege tax
Meanwhile, their services in connection with parking collection include “management of vehicle immobilization programs” (aka booting), as well as legal collection and wage garnishment.
The nature and scope of collections activity by Harris and Harris can make this a particularly difficult agency to deal with in spite of the founder’s commitment to treat people fairly.
Tax collections bring the government element into the picture, which may complicate efforts to deal with the collection agency.
Before You Deal with Harris and Harris Debt Collections
At the core, all collection agencies have one overriding goal—to get you to pay on a debt they claim you owe.
There are four basic rules you’ll need to be aware of when dealing with any collection agency.
1. Don’t deal with collection agencies by phone
When dealing with a collection agency, telephone conversations are somewhat of a set up.
Either the collection agent will be aggressive and attempt to intimidate you into providing additional information or promising to send payment, or they may use a “nice guy” approach, in which they’ll gently coerce you into the same actions, but without you being entirely aware of it.
That’s the big problem with phone conversations and collection agencies. They know what they’re doing; you don’t. After all, you’re not in that line of work and can’t know.
So, that’s the very reason why telephone contact with any collection agency must be avoided.
If that’s not enough reason, consider that most telephone conversations with collection agencies are recorded.
That being the case, any representation you make during the course of the call can be used as evidence against you in a legal action.
Harris & Harris may call you, and if they do, keep the conversation short and give very little information.
Just get the name, title, and phone number of the person you need to deal with in the settlement of the debt.
You can call the company if a collection account is on your credit report.
Limit that conversation to getting more information, including the name, title, and phone number of the person you will need to be dealing with going forward.
But never allow yourself to be questioned by the collection agent.
After that, phone calls must stop.
2. All contact should be in writing
You have rights under federal law when it comes to dealing with a collection agency (see #4 below). One of them is the right to restrict contact to written correspondence only.
If nothing else, that will put an end to the series of phone calls, as well as the often-tense exchanges with a skilled collection agent.
But restricting your contact to only writing has many other benefits.
It forces the collection agent to operate within the letter of the law since there will be a written record of any information conveyed. It also gives you an opportunity to respond to the collection agency in a controlled way.
You can decide exactly how much information to include in your letters and exclude anything that may be potentially held against you.
And perhaps most important, written correspondence will give you a paper trail. Not only will that help you to better stay in control of the exchanges with Harris & Harris, but it may also be a viable defense in a lawsuit.
Any letters sent to the company should be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested. That will prove you sent your letters and that they were received by Harris & Harris.
Keep all correspondence between you and the company in a single file so you’ll have immediate access to exactly where you are at any point in the process.
3. Never promise to make a payment unless you’re willing and able to make it
Unwary consumers sometimes make a promise to pay the collection agency, mistakenly thinking that will get rid of them.
And it will—for a few days only. Once the collection agent realizes you’re not going to send the promised payment, he or she will be back to hounding you for money.
But it gets worse. If you convey your intent to send a payment, whether that’s in writing or in a phone call, and then fail to follow through, the collection agency can use it as evidence against you in a lawsuit.
The only time you should promise to send payment is when you have the money to do it, and you actually plan to follow through. Otherwise, promise nothing.
4. Familiarize yourself with your rights under federal law
Before you begin tackling issues with any debt collector, check out the Debt Collection FAQs page provided by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
It will explain your rights as a consumer, and the protections you have under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). You have rights under federal law that protect you from certain collection agency abuses. This knowledge can give you the confidence you may need if the process gets ugly.
Get Professional Help with Harris & Harris Collections
If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by all that’s involved in dealing with a collection agency—which is perfectly understandable—you may need to consider getting professional help.
Start with a good credit repair company. They deal with debt collectors on a regular basis and have great success in getting accounts settled and closed, as well as improving your credit standing.
However, if you’re threatened by a lawsuit, you’ll need to get legal representation.
An excellent choice is Lexington Law, which is a law firm that specializes in credit.
If Harris & Harris does bring legal action against you, Lexington Law may keep the case from ever going to court, and even get the account dropped based on violations of federal collections laws.
Specific Strategies for Harris and Harris Debt Collection
The above rules generally apply when dealing with any collection agency. Now let’s get down to some specific strategies for dealing with Harris & Harris and removing the collection from your credit report:
Demand Harris & Harris Provide a Debt Validation Letter
A debt validation letter is a standard procedure in the collections universe. Collection agencies are required under federal law to furnish you with this letter that establishes the legitimacy of their claim against you.
This should be requested in your first contact with Harris & Harris. The letter will include information about the debt and your own liability for it.
That will include the amount of the debt, the name of the original creditor, the date the debt went into collection, the full amount of the debt, what the debt was for, and information that clearly connects you to the obligation.
When you receive this letter from Harris & Harris, you should validate the information against your own records.
It may very well be that they’re attempting to collect a debt you’ve already paid that may have been misapplied.
On the other hand, it may also be a case of mistaken identity, which is not unusual if you have a common name.
A fully completed debt validation letter will give you the ability to determine if either situation applies to you. And if it does, you should be able to get the collection account dropped.
Request a Goodwill Deletion
If the debt is legitimately yours, but it was due to circumstances beyond your control, you can request a goodwill deletion. Not all companies will agree to it, but it’s worth a try.
You’ll start by sending a goodwill letter in which you request deletion of the account from your credit report.
The letter should also provide a credible explanation of the extenuating circumstances that led to the debt going into collection.
Supporting documentation proving your claim will help your case.
You’ll need to either have paid the debt already or have the means and willingness to do so now.
A goodwill deletion won’t get you out of paying the obligation, but it does have a good chance of removing the collection from your credit report.
Offer a “Pay-for-Delete” Agreement
This strategy is one of the more speculative ones. Start the process by sending a pay-for-delete letter in which you’ll offer to pay the debt in full in exchange for the agency removing the collection account from your credit reports.
But, even if the collection agency agrees to this arrangement, and confirms as much in writing, don’t get too excited yet.
You see, pay-for-delete arrangements are not legally binding. In fact, if the collection agency goes through with it they’ll be in violation of their contract with the major credit bureaus.
The bureaus frown upon the manipulation of credit information for payment.
It’s entirely possible you’ll send the payment, and the collection agency will not remove the negative information from your credit report.
There won’t be anything you can do about that, but it’s worth trying if you plan to pay the debt anyway.
Demand Deletion if Harris and Harris Debt Collection Can’t Fully Validate the Debt
Earlier, we recommended getting a debt validation letter as a starting point for investigating the debt and your responsibility for it. But there is another purpose that can be even more effective.
Under federal law:
- if a collection agency either fails to provide a debt validation letter or
- if it comes back missing significant information
…the agency is required to drop the collection.
That doesn’t mean they will, but you can use the missing or incomplete debt validation letter as a basis for making that demand.
And, if they don’t cooperate, you can open a dispute with the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.
They’ll investigate your claim within 30 days, and if Harris & Harris similarly fails to provide complete validation of the debt, the credit bureaus will delete the account from your credit report.
But be aware that the collection agency may continue to pursue you for the debt. If that’s the case, you’ll need to get professional help.
Settle the Debt for Less than the Full Amount Owed
This is an excellent and common strategy for reducing the amount you need to pay on a collection account.
But, it will not remove the collection account from your credit report.
You’ll send a letter to Harris & Harris offering to settle the account for something less than the full amount.
We recommend no more than 50% of the full debt as a starting point. If the collection agency is willing, they’ll come back with a higher dollar amount.
You’ll continue to negotiate back and forth until a specific dollar amount is agreed upon. (Though it’s always worth proposing, this strategy may be less effective if the original creditor is a government agency.)
Once you reach an agreed-upon dollar figure, request they put the full understanding in a letter. It should confirm:
- that they are accepting the lesser amount in full satisfaction of the debt
- that they will end further debt collection efforts, and
- they will report the account as paid with all three credit bureaus
Warning: If you send payment before receiving the written acknowledgment from the collection agency, they may take your partial payment and then continue to pursue you for the remaining balance.