Student Loans & Receivables Collection Conference: September 23-26, 2018 ~ Hilton Myrtle Beach Resort
The Echols Firm, LLC looks forward to supporting Willaims & Fudge, Inc. at the upcoming Student Loans & Receivables Collection Conference! For more information on registration visit the SLRCC website.
This year we are thrilled to bring back Chad Echols!
A Rock Hill native, Chad graduated in 1998 from Clemson University with a Bachelor of Science in Forest Resource Management. He received his law degree in 2002 from the University of South Carolina School of Law, where he was a member of the South Carolina Environmental Law Journal. Following law school, Chad was a law clerk for the Honorable John C. Hayes III in the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit of South Carolina.
Before forming The Echols Firm, LLC, Chad served as Vice President and General Counsel for Williams & Fudge, Inc., a national student loan collection agency located in Rock Hill, and was an attorney with the law firm Hamilton, Martens & Ballou, LLC. He continues to serve as outside general counsel to Williams & Fudge, Inc.
The firm’s practice focuses on the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, compliance for collection agencies and debt purchasers, business law, litigation, and commercial collections. He is a member of the South Carolina Bar Association.
On July 18th & 19th the WSFS conference will return to Portland, Oregon hosted by Portland Community College & Portland State University. The PCC Rock Creek Campus is 12 miles west of downtown Portland in the growing Beaverton-Hillsboro area. The 2018 WSFS Conference agenda will cover a number of higher education hot topics and will provide ample opportunity for professionals in the field to converse and connect.
The WSFS event began as a gathering for PAC-10 schools to come together and discuss common challenges, share ideas, and solutions. Eventually, this 30 year tradition evolved into what it is today; incorporating additional financial services departments from western state schools and partnering with business from all over the U.S. creating a unique and collaborative networking event.
PCC Rock Creek ~ 17705 NW Springville Rd. Portland, OR 97229
When you think of the Come-See-Me Festival, you think of spring—but it takes a year-long effort to make this ten-day event happen. Even though the 2018 festival won’t kick off for two weeks, plans are already being made for the 2019 festival, including the official announcement of next year’s chair. On Wednesday, March 28, Chad Echols was introduced as the 2019 Come-See-Me Festival Chair at the Past Chairs’ Breakfast. The event, held at Manchester Meadows, is a time for former chairs and other festival and community leaders to come together and celebrate the past, present, and future of Come-See-Me.
Chad is a second-generation festival chair. His father, Doug Echols, chaired the Come-See-Me Festival in 1985. Chad’s involvement with the festival began eight years ago. Prior to serving as festival vice-chair the past two years, he served as a Team Leader for Tailgate Party & Fireworks, Gourmet Gardens, and the Come-See-Me Road Races.
A graduate of Clemson University and the University of South Carolina School of Law, Chad is a member of the South Carolina Bar and is the founding partner of The Echols Firm in Rock Hill. He currently serves on the York County Clemson Club Board and the Advisory Board for the Upper Palmetto YMCA Camp Cherokee. He also helped found the Cherokee Conservation Corps, a group working to support the capital needs of Camp Cherokee. He previously served in leadership positions with the Good Folks of York County, The Palmetto School at the Children’s Attention Home, Family Promise of York County, the York County Board of Disabilities and Special Needs, and as an Elder at Oakland Avenue Presbyterian Church.
Chad and his wife, Anna, live in Rock Hill and have two children, Guy and Liza.
Please join us in congratulating Chad on this honor!
Chad continues to support the Collection Industry through various speaking engagements at conferences around the country.
Please contact Chad about speaking at an upcoming event in your area. In 2018 he will present at the following conferences:
National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) 2018 Student Financial Services Conference in Orlando, FL
March 11th through March 13th
Wisconsin Association of Student Business Office Personnel & Administrators (WASBOPA) 2018 Conference in Wisconsin Dells, WI
April 8th through April 10th
Colorado Association of Administrators of Student Loans and Account Receivables (CAASLAR) 2018 Conference in Estes Park, CO
April 11th through April 13th
PacWest Student Financial Services 2018 Conference in Newport Beach, CA
May 16th through May 18th
Western Student Financial Services 2018 Western Regional Conference in Portland, OR
July 17th through July 19th
Williams & Fudge, Inc. 2018 Student Loans and Receivables Collection Conference (SLRCC) in Myrtle Beach, SC
September 23rd through September 27th
Minnesota Collection Network 2018 Annual Mega Conference in Minneapolis, MN
October 21st through October 24th
Many collection agencies have recently seen an uptick in litigation related to the wording included in their letters regarding interest. It is important to carefully review the law as it continues to rapidly develop since the consumer bar is aggressively filing suit in this arena.
Miller v. McCalla, Raymer, Padrick, Cobb, Nichols, and Clark, L.L.C. is a good starting point when reviewing the language in your letters. 214 F.3d 872 (7th Cir. June 5, 2000). The Miller Court suggested the use of safe-harbor language to prevent FDCPA violations related to the “amount of the debt” provision so long as the information provided is accurate and does not obscure it by adding other confusing information. The Court provided the following language for use:
“As of the date of this letter, you owe $___ [the exact amount due]. Because of interest, late charges, and other charges that may vary from day to day, the amount due on the day you pay may be greater. Hence, if you pay the amount shown above, an adjustment may be necessary after we receive your check, in which event we will inform you before depositing the check for collection. For further information, write the undersigned or call 1-800-[phone number].”
Courts do not require the exact use of this particular disclaimer, but its use provides protection to the entity utilizing it for the “amount of debt” provision.
Avila v. Riexinger & Associates, LLC supports the Miller decision (“…we hold that plaintiffs have stated a claim that the collection notices at issue here are misleading within the meaning of Section 1692e. A reasonable consumer could read the notice and be misled into believing that she could pay her debt in full by paying the amount listed on the notice. In fact, however, if interest is accruing daily, or if there are undisclosed late fees, a consumer who pays the “current balance” stated on the notice will not know whether the debt has been paid in full.”) Ultimately, the Avila court held:
that a debt collector will not be subject to liability under Section 1692e for failing to disclose that the consumer’s balance may increase due to the interest and fees if the collection notice either accurately informs the consumer that the amount of the debt stated in the letter will increase over time, or clearly states that the holder of the debt will accept payment of the amount set forth in full satisfaction of the debt if payment is made by a specified date.
The consumer bar is now pushing the envelope on this topic. They are bringing lawsuits based upon letters sent to debtors that include the safe-harbor language when interest is not actually accruing on the account. The attorneys theorize that the safe-harbor language leads the least sophisticated consumer to believe the account will accrue interest when, in fact, it will not. The consumer bar’s position is the alleged misstatement is made in an attempt to elicit payment from the consumer. The consumer bar is also taking issue with collectors itemizing “collection costs”, “interest”, and “fees” if the account is not actually accruing costs, interest, or fees.
Several courts recently provided rulings in favor of the collection industry. See Bryant v. Aargon Collection Agency, Inc., No. 17-cv-144096, 2017 WL 2955532 (S.D. Fla. June 30, 2017) and Jones v. Professional Finance Company, Inc., No. 17-cv-61435, 2017 WL 6033547 (S.D. Fla. Dec. 4, 2017). The Jones Court stated, in no uncertain terms, that the least sophisticated consumer would not be deceived by the letter at issue when the letter does not falsely state that there are fees associated with the debt; rather, the letter specifically shows no fees are associated with the debt. The Court cleverly pointed out that “the ordinary meaning of 0.00” is “none, zilch, nada.” Id. at *2.
The clearest compliance rule related to letters is to make sure every statement and every word is factually accurate for the specific consumer receiving a letter. While this is operationally difficult, it is not enough for your collection letters to apply to most of the consumers you contact. If you need additional information on this issue, please contact the firm.
Your initial communication with a consumer should not be a voicemail. You may be caught between a rock and a hard place if you do.
Hart v. Credit Control (11th circuit- September 2017) ruled that a Zortman-type voicemail falls within the FDCPA’s definition of a “communication.” That, in turn, triggers the mini-miranda requirement. A voicemail that includes the shortened mini-miranda allowed for subsequent communications is not Zortman compliant.
Under this line of reasoning, a debt collector’s initial communication with a consumer should not be a voicemail (Zortman compliant or otherwise). It creates an unsolvable dilemma between 1692d(6) (third party disclosure) and 1692e(11) (initial communication must have the full mini-miranda). In this ‘initial communication is a voicemail’ scenario, if you comply with 1692d(6), then you arguably violate 1692e(11) and vice versa.
Hart was out of the 11th circuit and every circuit is different, but our overall advice is to make sure the 1692g notice is mailed (and received in a perfect world) before starting calls or, at the very least, before leaving voicemail messages.
Indemnification sounds complicated, but has a simple definition—to hold harmless. Issues surrounding indemnification arise frequently in the collection industry due to the relationships among companies that service consumer accounts, their creditor clients, forwarding law firms that eventually file suit to recover the obligation, and industry vendors. Creditors, debt buyers, collection agencies, law firms, and vendors are all valuable components of the collection process. All generally work together toward a common goal, but consumer complaints occasionally create a conflict of interest among companies. Most typically, indemnification arises through the contract for services entered between parties wherein a party accepts the contractual obligation to indemnify the other party under certain circumstances. The indemnification provision is important and should be reviewed carefully before entering into any agreement.
When your company and a company with which you have a business relationship are individually or collectively the target of a consumer demand or complaint, your company should immediately take the following steps:
1. Consult the service agreement between your company and any other entity that may have caused or contributed to the underlying issue which generated the threat or lawsuit;
2. Consider if allegations in the threat or lawsuit read in concert with each party’s contractual obligations warrants discussing whether someone may be contractually responsible for the defense of the threat or lawsuit; and
3. Notify your general counsel, compliance department, or attorney of any questions and/or decisions regarding indemnification.
Companies can save money, time, and business relationships by; (1) carefully reviewing indemnification provisions at the outset of the business relationship, and (2) immediately considering the benefits and risks triggering the indemnification provision upon receipt of a consumer demand or lawsuit. Early indemnification decisions can mitigate damages, assist with strategy, and provide business partners clarification of their respective responsibilities. Contact our firm for advice about how to manage the up front contract negotiations and/or the back end implications when indemnification becomes and issue in a threat or lawsuit.
The Echols Firm, LLC is a proud sponser of Good Folks of York County and the recipients they support.
Since 1991, The Good Folks of York County consists of York County citizens and businesses which join together annually to raise funds with the ambition of making a significant difference for local nonprofit organization serving residents in need in our community. The Echols Firm, LLC (pictured above) was in attendance for the 2017 Good Folks of York County Luncheon which helped raise funds for commendable charities that benefit our community.
The recipients of the 2017 donations include The Salvation Army, Safe Passage, and Palmetto Women’s Center. Contributions donated from the luncheon will help support these charitable organizations and provide much needed improvements for the lives of the people in the charities’ care. The Echols Firm, LLC will continue to support causes which strengthen our local community and offer help to those in need.
Chad Echols’ experience volunteering with the ACA’s Attorney State Chair Program – a new and improved version of the Map State Compliance Chair Program – helps build his career and members’ businesses.
When the phone rings at Chad Echols’ South Carolina-based law firm, it may be a call from a client or a fellow ACA International member seeking his input on a legal question.
For more than a decade, Echols served as a Members Attorney Program State Chair for South Carolina and currently volunteers with the new and improved version of this program, now known as the Attorney State Chair Program.
Rebranded in 2016, the Attorney State Chair Program provides ACA units and their members with access to an attorney licensed to practice law in their state. These attorneys have volunteered to take calls and make themselves available as legal resources and referral attorneys, as their schedules permit.
The Attorney State Chair Program was created based on recommended changes to the MAP State Compliance Chair Program to ensure the chairpersons are an integral part of the unit.
Echols said he learns a lot talking to members about their legal questions. “It’s a very enjoyable part of my role in assisting the industry,” he said.
Echols also serves as the South Carolina State Legislative Chair and, before forming The Echols Firm, LLC, he worked as an attorney at Hamilton, Martens & Ballou, LLC. He started his career in the collection industry as vice president and general counsel at ACA member company Williams & Fudge, Inc., where he remains outside general counsel.
He regularly connects with members in South Carolina and others from around the country with licenses to collect in the state.
They often have questions about regulatory issues and litigation compliance. Thanks to his career experience and longtime involvement with ACA, Echols is able to provide insight into these issues that members can use to implement changes at their companies.
“Hopefully ACA members can get context to a compliance problem or litigation trend that is out there,” Echols said. “Letter litigation is a good example. An ACA member may have done something with a letter a few years ago that was compliant at that time, but has not changed or updated the letter because a new or developing issue has not been litigated against them. When a problem crops up, I advise the agency to look at other things that are trending, so they can bring policies and processes up to date.”
Echols also helps members understand current litigation trends. “I think for may agencies they are standing in the woods where they can smell the smoke, but they don’t know where the fire is coming from,” he said. “As a volunteer and attorney with experience in multiple cases and litigation, you can see those trends and help members understand why certain cases are progressing or assist the agency so they can clarify a specific legal problem or national trend.”
The program chairs serve a crucial role as a liaison between ACA and the affiliated state and regional unit members, helping to strengthen relationships and partnerships between attorneys and their member clients.
“I think one way we assist is to help unit members gauge how big a problem they’re facing actually is, so they can decide the proper next steps,” Echols said. “Agencies with a small litigation portfolio view new litigation as a very big problem. Sometimes it is a big problem. Other times, my experience can provide them confidence the matter is simply a nuisance.”
Echols said volunteering with the Attorney State Chair Program helps him stay connected with fellow members and the industry.
“The collection industry is big business, but it’s a ‘small industry’ because people know each other,” he said. “I have developed friendships and business relationships by being able to volunteer. I enjoy the camaraderie of ACA and working with other lawyers across the country who are assisting members. Being able to understand what’s going on in the national landscape helps everyone in the local unit.”
By Katy Zillmer for the August 2017 Edition of Collector Magazine
Jenna was born and raised in Tallahassee, Florida. After high school, she attended the University of Florida where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration and a minor in Mass Communications. During her time at the University of Florida, Jenna was a member of the UF student chapter of the American Mock Trial Association, a member of the Phi Alpha Delta Mock Trial Team, and a member of Kappa Delta sorority.
After college, Jenna relocated to Columbia, South Carolina and received her J.D. at the University of South Carolina School of Law in 2012.
Jenna practiced family law in Charlotte, North Carolina for five years prior to joining The Echols Firm, LLC.
North Carolina State Bar 2012
South Carolina State Bar 2013
North Carolina Bar Association (Family Law Section)
Mecklenburg County Bar Association (Family Law Section and Young Lawyers Division)
Guardian ad litem, Court Appointed Special Advocates
Children’s Advocacy Law Society