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Don't throw those loan records away--You might need them 20 years from now!

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Message Monica Davis

Don't throw those old loan documents or financial statements away. If you do, they could come back to haunt you—decades later.

A black farmer from Arkansas learned a long time ago that documents, receipts and paid bills are like gold. Throw them away and they could come back to haunt you.  Bill collectors may target you for bills you've already paid.

Proof of payment is all that stands between you and an unscrupulous bill collector. When “he said, she said” is between a consumer and a business, the business usually wins, unless the consumer can prove the debt was paid. The bill collector has a lot more resources than you do, even if you have proof of payment in hand.

In this day and age of buying and selling loans, loan companies and mortgage businesses pass student loans, mortgages and consumer loans between them, trading accounts like a game of cards. Unfortunately for many consumers on the other end of the “game”, the game is reality and many people have been stuck repaying bills that they paid years before.

The media, the collections industry and loan companies would like you to think that the fault is on the consumers' end. As far as most of them are concerned, Americans are spending more than they earn, and, when the bill comes due, people don't have the money to pay what they owe.

While that is true in many cases, the opposite is also true. Many consumers are being double billed, and dunned for bills they either do not owe, or which were paid years ago.

In research and conversation with several acquaintances, three college professors, a few black farmers and a couple of old married women (thanks for the info, ladies), I found that there are a lot more people getting dunned and harassed for non-existent debt than I thought. Colleges, universities and the federal government are going after people who paid off their loans years ago, using extortionist tactics which include withholding of income tax refunds, garnishment of pensions, and, as is in the case of farmers around the nation, tactics also include the foreclosure and sale of the family farm.

Many of the people who have been targeted for foreclosure and collections say their loans were paid off years ago. Some of the people under the gun are former students who are now in their late fifties, some are even retired. The retirees say their pensions have been attached, for loans they paid off a long time ago, and proof of payment of those loans has long since been lost.

A black farmer from Arkansas, Vellis Redding, tells an anecdotal story of his deceased father, a man who never threw away a receipt or bill. Redding learned the hard way from his old man that record keeping can keep you out of court and keep crooks out of your pocket and off your back.

The late Mr. Redding was accused by a white businessman of not paying a farm bill. Mr. Redding stood his ground, in days when talking back to a white man in Arkansas could get a black man lynched. The businessman threatened to take Mr. Redding to court, but when Mr. Redding provided a receipt saying the bill was paid, the would be paper thief didn't have a leg to stand on, and fortunately, did not seek repayment in “Lynch Court.”

The Redding case shows just how important it is to keep proof of payment and to hold on to receipts. Please, keep records, or the bill collectors can come after you, even if the debt has long been paid off. If you do not have proof the bill was paid, you may be paying for it again, and again.

Unfortunately, many of us today have not learned that lesson. The anal retentive among us, the neat nicks and anti-clutter folk want to throw every scrap of paper away, not realizing that that piece of paper, that “clutter” could be the difference between your owing or not owing a debt. We're not saying let all of your papers lie all over the house, scattered to the four winds, but we do advise your keeping good records, and giving yourself a good set of weapons if the bill collectors come after you over bills that have already been paid.

In conversation with two inner city preachers, it was brought to my attention that many of our college students and their parents are the victims of 'bait and switch' tactics by some college financial aid officers, whose confusing blizzard of papers conceals the  exact nature of what kind of "aid" the student is actually receiving.  Many families whose students are the first in the family to go to college are at a disadvantage because of the financial illiteracy of their parents.

At times, college students were told that they had grants, but the grants were actually loans. Please, parents, read what you and your student-child are signing. Know the terms, know the amount of the student aid, and be aware of the length of the loan.

Most importantly, understand that paper rules. No matter what some college recruiter or financial aid officer says, their words can not over rule what is on the paper you signed.

In days past, many students who went to school in the late 1970's and '80's received what they thought were grants. But, when push came to shove, years after they graduated college, the students discovered that what they had was not a grant, but a loan and had to be repaid. Many schools are playing fast and lose with federal financial aid money, and some financial aid officers/directors have been arrested and jailed for running scams right out of the university financial aid office.

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Wanna be member of the anti-word police, author, columnist, activist and muckraker extraordinaire. Author of:

Land, Legacy and Lynching: Building the Future for Black America

Urban Asylum: Politics, Lunatics and the Refrigerator (more...)

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