Shannon is a busy and active professional and she’s part of Charlotte’s LGBTQ community. She’s also a mom. Like any parent, she wants to help out her children when she can.

In fact, most people want to help out others when they can. There comes a time when you might be approached by someone who is close to you, or a family member in need of help. Or the situation could be reversed: you might be in need of financial assistance.

Things don’t always go as planned in life – that’s a given. And something that began as an intended gesture of good will could end up in disaster, sometimes fracturing family members from one another and destroying friendships.

All because of money.

There’s a rule to live by that that many people have likely heard from a parent or grandparent at some point: when someone asks you for financial help in a time of need, if you’re not prepared to offer it as a gift, you can’t afford to loan it to them. 

In 2019, Shannon’s daughter Kimberly (we’ve chosen to use only first names here to protect the individuals’ privacy) approached her mother about help with renting a residence at a local apartment complex in Charlotte’s 28210 zip code. While Shannon’s credit was good, she knew that she had multiple financial obligations and suspected she would not qualify to be a co-signer for her daughter. Nevertheless, she agreed for her daughter’s sake to give it a try. As she suspected, she was turned down. Strike one: The apartment complex now has a record of her personal information.  

Within a matter of days, Kimberly was informed that she qualified to rent the apartment on her own without a co-signer.

She signed a contract and agreed to move in. Although mom Shannon wasn’t a co-signer, she recalls using a credit/debit card with her name on it to help pay for the deposit and first month’s rent. Strike two: more information linking Shannon’s credit directly to Kimberly’s actions.

The following year, before Kimberly’s lease agreement expired, she defaulted on the contract and because of circumstances beyond her control, fell behind by two months, owing a total of $1,734.00. 

Unaware that her actions would impact her mother, and having no desire to cause her mother any additional stress or hardship, Kimberly moved out of the apartment almost immediately, leaving no one around to receive the documents indicating that Kimberly was in default of her lease agreement and she and her mother were being sued for the remaining balance. 

It is unclear whether it is illegal, but it is certainly unethical that the apartment complex named Shannon on the Summary Ejectment Complaint. She had no legal attachments to the rental agreement, and the company only had access to her personal information because of the original application and the likely use of the credit/debit card for payment of the deposit and first month’s rent.

In fact, when the hearing was held, neither mother or daughter attended because they were unaware of the scheduled hearing. The result was a judgment in favor of the apartment management company and an additional charge of just over $1,200 was added, bringing the amount of money now owed to $2,908.65. Strike three: ignoring the debt.

After an unspecified amount of time had passed, Shannon was made aware that mail was being held for her daughter at the apartment leasing office. Upon pick up, she noticed her name on some of the various envelopes and documents.

She read the material with her name on it, realized parts of what had transpired and that the past due amount was now in collections. Upon reaching out to the collection agency, she was promptly informed a payment of more than $6,000 was due. 

What Shannon was now preparing to pay for was an accumulated amount that included the past due rent, legal fees and collection agency fees. She was told that if the payment was made right away there would be no negative impact on her credit report. In her haste to prevent any damage to her credit, she paid the amount requested.

Despite the whopping payment and assurances from the collection agency, the eviction did show up on Shannon’s credit report and it remains there currently.

So what were the mistakes Shannon made, can she get at least some of the money back and what can she do to have the undeserved smear campaign removed from her credit report?

The first mistake was filling out a document with personal information, when she knew it was extremely unlikely she would be approved in the first place.

That’s not to say she shouldn’t have offered to help Kimberly, but perhaps Shannon should have considered offering to help her in other ways, such as attempting to help her fund a place that was better suited to what her daughter initially perceived her financial limitations to be. 

The second mistake: paying for her daughter’s deposit and first month’s rent using her personal credit card. Companies will tell you they do not keep the information on file and in some cases that is true, but in today’s world you simply can’t rely on the honesty of most people or any financial institution. A safer option would have been for her to deposit the money onto a pay as you go debit card for her daughter to use or, if the apartment complex was agreeable, pay by money order or cash.

Her third mistake was what actually led to a home run for the collection agency that convinced her to pay $6,000+: ignorance of the debt.

After making the payment, the likelihood of Shannon retrieving even part of the money is extremely unlikely. 

There was a debt due and she did not show up for the hearing. Even in a case like this, her name was on a legally recognized document for a civil suit. Unless she had proved in advance of the hearing that she was listed on the document incorrectly, it would have been in her best interest to attend the hearing to explain the situation. From a judge’s perspective at the time, she simply didn’t show up.

While the $3,000 the collection agency shaved off the top seems rather excessive, she did agree to pay it.

Can she hope to have this undeserved blight removed from her credit report?

Yes.

Efforts made to contact the apartment management office by this reporter have gone unanswered, but that comes as no surprise. Most companies will not speak to a third party that is not directly involved in such a case. 

For an individual who is personally disputing such a debt, response is of greater likelihood. To attempt to have the initial financial provider remove the negative credit reporting once it has gone to a collection agency is more often than not, ineffectual. In this case, given the initial underhanded tactics, even more so.

Shannon’s personal experience with the collection agency has already been established. Their 100 percent markup of what was initially handed to them to collect paints a clear portrait of their over-the-top capitalist policies. One does question their motivation for reporting her after their assurance they would not. There is no logical answer as to why that was considered beneficial for their company.

But all is not doom and gloom.

Shannon does have the Federal Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) and the North Carolina Credit Reporting Act on her side. The two can work together to repair damage that has been done to her credit. Especially in a case like this when action has been taken without justification.

Under the Fair Credit Reporting act, an individual has the right to dispute inaccurate and erroneous information on their credit reports. This literally means you’re going to be disputing it. And, it means you’re going to have to do the footwork. You will be required to contact each agency that is reporting the information incorrectly and dispute it. 

When a credit reporting bureau receives a dispute, it has 30 days (or 45 days, in certain circumstances) to investigate the dispute unless it is deemed as frivolous.

Once the credit reporting agency completes its investigation into your dispute it must remove or correct any inaccurate and incomplete or unverifiable information. 

Verified information may continue to appear on your credit report. If the item cannot be verified within the time limit, the credit reporting agency must remove the item until the investigation is completed. With this plan of action, you are your own best advocate.

As is quite likely in Shannon’s case, if  your rights have been violated, under the Fair Credit Report Act you may be entitled to collect actual or statutory damages, attorneys fees, court costs and or punitive damages. Keep in mind, however, such actions will require legal assistance and expense.

David Aaron Moore

David Aaron Moore is a former editor of Qnotes, serving in the role from 2003 to 2007. He is currently the senior content editor and a regularly contributing writer for Qnotes. Moore is a native of North...