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Who Built the Debtors' Prisons?


Consumer debt is a divisive issue, judging by the reactions to "Prisoners of Debt" (Cover, Nov. 12). The article described a growing business in pressuring individuals to pay obligations they no longer legally owe--debts forgiven by bankruptcy courts but still purchased in the secondary market by outfits hoping to collect payments. Many readers were disturbed by the practice--"a gross injustice," one wrote. Some who responded focused on lax regulatory enforcement and the holes in the law that allow such collectors to operate. But others sided with the creditors, saying indebted consumers are shirking their responsibilities by seeking bankruptcy protection in the first place.

The actions of Capital One [which, the article said, failed to report a discharged debt to credit bureaus] may have been improper. But I have to question the morality of those who borrow money, spend it, have the debt "erased," then feel no obligation to return anything to the lender--no matter how wealthy they become. Your "prisoner of debt" is buying a home worth close to $300,000 and has enough income to cover a $275,000 mortgage. Would any of us accept that level of greed or indifference if the lender were a relative or friend? This is why we now have bankruptcy reform. If I had made that loan from my savings account, I'd be pounding on that brand-new front door demanding my cash back. No matter what the bankruptcy court said.

Screen name: Jack Heismann

As an attorney and law professor involved in bankruptcy law issues for over 20 years, I found the article insightful. It revealed the damage done when our legal system is hijacked by special-interest groups. Only two years ago, the credit-card industry compelled an all too malleable Congress to fix a system that wasn't broke when it passed the Bankruptcy Reform Act, which makes it more difficult for consumers to file for bankruptcy. Now putting salt in the wound, the same industry and its willing confederates have the audacity to pursue claims on debts lawfully eradicated. As your article points out, a market for discharged debt not only exists, it thrives. Congress created this mess, and only Congress can set it right by putting real teeth in the discharge-of-debt laws and by providing a means to enforce them.

Anthony Michael Sabino

NEW YORK

I have little sympathy for debtors who file for bankruptcy. They may not have a legal responsibility for discharged debts, but they do have a moral one. Small business owners such as myself lose money because of the people who purchase our products and then declare bankruptcy.

Screen name: Paul

No one should be allowed to leave high school without basic education in finance and in how the legal system works. Corporations can get away with scams. The sad fact is that the government isn't going to stop them. So consumers have to.

Screen name: CS

Capital One should have cleared its books. But Van Rathavongsa [whose credit-card debt was legally discharged] had no business applying for a mortgage. A year earlier he proved he couldn't pay his bills.

Brian Olson

HIGHLANDS RANCH, COLO.

Stop all excessive consumption. Say no to the credit-card companies.

Screen name: Joe America

It is a fallacy that all debt arises from reckless spending. Without health insurance, for instance, it is easy for people to run up debt.

Screen name: lbie

When I wrote to my senators about the bankruptcy reform bill [of 2005], I was assured that dishonest debtors were scamming the system. Apparently, the case was not as one-sided as they suggested.

Dan Lozer

LE MARS, IOWA

Regarding "Citi may have a new mess on its hands" (News, Nov. 12): Same old stuff. For many years as a stockholder I groaned, along with probably millions of other shareholders, as Citigroup (C) went through rounds of fines, penalties, and embarrassing admonitions from regulatory agencies. There is more than a miscalculation of risk associated with these problems, be they legal or moral. With no respect left for the management of this company and no desire to do business with them, I hope this new round of personnel changes will lead to a major evaluation of the ethical standards of this business and for banking as a whole. Citi is a rudderless ship in need of a new compass.

Ed Bragg

SKANEATELES, N.Y.

"America's angry patients" (News, Nov. 12) failed to show the relative percentage of costs associated with care given in the last six months of life or to those over 80. I believe the U.S. ranks high on both measures and that the quality indicators in the article may reflect more about unequal access than the quality of care when it's available.

Recently, the father of a friend of mine had hip replacement surgery at the age of 88, paid for by Medicare. How many countries have their national health service cover such procedures? I'm afraid the American political climate will never allow us to address health-care costs the only way they can be--with the hard decisions that come with knowing that some of what is technically feasible is not financially viable.

Bill Powar

PALO ALTO, CALIF.

In its chart comparing health care in seven countries, the article should have included the annual income per physician.

Victor Donnelly

JACKSONVILLE, FLA.

About "Shirking working: The war on hooky" (What's Next, Nov. 12): I let my employees take time off whenever they like, as long as their work is done. The results? They have found it in their best interest to cross-train one another. And when there's critical work to be done on a tight deadline? They work nights and weekends. I'm smelling another dysfunctional HR move in this article. HR as in Human Restraints.

Screen name: Dante

I agree with Steve Wildstrom's column about the need for legislation to keep the big communications companies from meddling with the Internet and its content ("Get your hands off the Web," Tech & You, Nov. 5). The job of communications companies is to get the bits from A to B efficiently. Period. End of story.

Peter Thorton

ANNAPOLIS, MD.


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