I co-signed my daughter’s mortgage and she defaulted. Now I am constantly getting calls and letters from creditors. I am poor and live in low-income housing. Should I file for bankruptcy?

If you are collection-proof, no. You are collection-proof if, by law, all of your assets and income are protected from a creditor trying to enforce a court judgment. This means that even if you are sued and lose in court, a creditor cannot collect anything, garnish your income, or repossess any property.  

If your only income source is social security or other government benefits, that income is collection-proof. Creditors are not allowed to seize government benefits. State exemption laws protect a certain amount of your property from seizure. Federal law also limits the amount of wages that a creditor can seize.  

If you are collection-proof, first talk with the creditor, explain the situation, and ask the creditor to stop contacting you. If you continue to get unwanted calls and letters demanding payment, you can write the collector a cease letter. A cease letter is a written request asking the creditor to stop contacting you. West Virginia law requires collection agencies and creditors to stop all contact once they receive a written request to stop.  

In the letter, explain your situation and why you are unable to pay. You might also describe the abusive tactics, if applicable, that the collector’s employees have used and the distress it has caused you. It is important to keep a copy of the letter for your personal records.  

If the calls and letters do not stop after you send the cease letter, contact a lawyer. Usually a letter from a lawyer will stop the harassment.  

For more information, see: 15 U.S.C. § 1673 (2015); National Consumer Law Center, Surviving Debt: A Guide for Consumers (5th ed. 2005); Thomas v. Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, 164 W. Va. 763, 266 S.E.2d 905 (1980).