4 Legal Loopholes That Screw You When You're Poor

We've written before about how much being poor sucks. There's the obvious bad stuff, like health problems caused by your all-ramen diet, or the emotional pain of having to fill the drafty holes in your walls by stuffing them with your pets and small children. But look a bit deeper and you'll find that society has even more subtle ways of screwing the less fortunate. It's almost like parts of the system are set up to deliberately target the poor, the vulnerable, the elderly, and, well, anyone who doesn't look like this guy:

Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images
He lit that cigar using a flame made of diamonds. I don't even know how.

For example ...

#4. People Can Try To Collect On Debts You No Longer Owe

You're sitting on your couch one evening, happily working on your latest 90,000-word Spider-Man fan fiction, when your phone rings. It's a collections agency, calling about that anatomically correct Peter Parker love doll you bought for $10,000 back in 2001 and didn't quite pay off. You'd been hoping that the world had forgotten about that debt, just like they forgot about the photos of you and Peter you put up on your GeoCities website at the time. When you look up the collections agency online, it's legit. A business wouldn't call you about owing money unless you actually still owed money, right?

What The Shit Is Going On?

If you think that being hassled about debt from 14 years ago is ridiculous, that's because it is. Every state in the U.S. has a statute of limitations on debt, ranging from three to 10 years, counted from the day you stop making payments. After that time has passed, collection agencies can't sue for the debt or do much more than shake their fists at you about it. Much like your childhood hopes and dreams, these old debts still technically exist, but they have almost no effect in the real world.

Darrin Klimek/Digital Vision/Getty Images
"I'm a doctor, yes, but I'm not a ballerina doctor."

In that case, why do collectors call about it? Because they can. In many states, time-barred debt collection is completely legal, and companies can even decline to answer when they're asked if a debt has expired, perhaps by yelling, "LOOK OVER YOUR SHOULDER IT'S A REAL-LIFE MANTICORE," and then changing the subject. Of course, do some research after the collections agency calls you and you'll soon find that the collectors are effectively as impotent as a lonely man without his Peter Parker doll. But think about it: What kind of person would immediately trust that a person yelling at them about an old debt might actually have a right to that debt?

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"But that Peter Parker doll broke years ago!"

See, most time-barred debt collectors are happy to call around and find a hundred bitter, cynical people who do nothing but make farting noises into the phone at them and then take the required actions to get the collectors off their backs. It doesn't matter, because eventually they'll come across an Aunt Mildred who agrees to do the right thing and make a good faith payment. And because the statute of limitations starts from the last time you made a payment on the debt, this single payment can reset the clock entirely, meaning poor Mildred is back on the hook for the full amount and will be forced to severely limit her weekly prune-juice budget for years to come.

#3. Owning A Trailer Will Screw You

Say you're tricked by the debt collector and agree to pay the Peter Parker loan back, which means a monthly payment of $150 and significantly less money to spend on rent. Desperate, you decide it's time to invest in a cheaper manufactured home for you and your aging love-doll companion. After choosing a mobile-home dealership and a company to lend you the money to buy it, you move into your new trailer. But after a few months, Peter's head falls off and you need to get him repaired, so you fall behind on the payments for your trailer. You return from the repair shop one gray winter morning a mere two months after you stopped paying, only to find a hole in the ground and a single, stained Spider-Man mask lying in the dust.

What The Shit Is Going On?

Turns out the mobile-home industry is shadier than the dark corner of your room where you keep your gooey spider-web collection. Almost half of all new mobile-homes in America are built and sold by the same company, Clayton Homes, which also runs the companies that provide over a third of the loans people use to buy those homes. This sneaky market dominance would be OK if Clayton was known chiefly for providing a free unicorn with every house, but instead they're famous for shit like allegedly lying about refinancing options and suddenly raising interest rates when it's too late for buyers to back out.

Mark-W-R/iStock/Getty Images
They also charge customers $100 for every one of those little lawn flamingos they want to put up.

As if that stuff wasn't evil enough, mobile-home lenders are also notorious for the type of loans they give out. If you buy a house the normal way, by taking out a mortgage, you're protected by state and federal laws that stop banks from foreclosing on you for at least 120 days, and often much longer. But two-thirds of mobile-home owners end up with personal-property loans, the same type of loan you might take out to buy a car or huge mechanical dildo covered with spider-web motifs. Personal property loans don't come with the protections that mortgages do, which means that mobile-home residents can get their houses repossessed after only a month or two of missed payments.

Jupiterimages/liquidlibrary/Getty Images
They don't take the lawn flamingos, though. They're not monsters.

How are mobile-home companies getting away with this stuff? It helps that mobile-home residents tend to be poorer and less educated than the average American, and thus way more vulnerable to exploitation. But I guess it serves them right for not being born into a wealthier family with better access to good schools, the fucking losers.

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C. Coville

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