It was all downhill for Jane Bailey's credit score after she let her nephew — and eventually his girlfriend and her six dogs — move in with her at her former home in San Gabriel, Calif.
Now she estimates her nephew owes her about $200,000 for everything from paying for her nephew's gas card, his divorce and even trying to help him get into the jewelry business.
“I maxed out all of my credit cards — I refinanced my house,” said Bailey, a retired schoolteacher who let her nephew move in after her husband died.
Now living in Oklahoma City with a friend and sharing expenses while she gets back on her feet, Bailey says she is getting help paying down her debt from the Tulsa-based debt collection CFS2.
“I took my nephew at his word when he said he would pay me back — now that's sort of what CFS2 is doing for me,” said.
When Bailey told her caseworker at CFS2 she was spending more than $40 every month on vitamins for her 18-year-old cat, they helped her find the products for cheaper so she could afford to pay more on her credit card bills. The company also called her credit card companies to negotiate down the balance on what she owes, all in order to help Bailey repay the debt that CFS2 bought from her other creditors.
“They're nice when they call me — they ask me how I'm doing,” Bailey said.
Founded by Tulsa business man Bill Bartmann, CFS2 hopes to change the way debt collectors operate by working with a debtor to pay down debt, even helping them improve their resume or land a job interview. The company has even helped people gain access to discounted medical care or home repairs to help them repay their debt.
Now Bartmann wants to extend CFS2's services to victims of Oklahoma's May tornadoes — free of charge. People whose homes were damaged in the storms can contact the company for help with their bills. CFS2 will attempt to work with the person's creditors to put a temporary halt to payments on any of the persons' outstanding debts and keep their credit from being damaged.
“I already have the staff and the structure set up to do it, so why not?” Bartmann said. “I'm doing it because it's the right thing to do.”
Bartmann also hopes to eventually extend the services to victims of future natural disasters across the country.
Over his more than 20 years in the debt collection industry, Bartmann estimates he has bought up about $15 billion in bad debt, typically for pennies on the dollar.
While other debt collectors wear people down with constant phone calls and threats of legal action against a debtor to make them settle up, Bartmann's company has a policy of never suing to recover money.
“When I got into this business, people thought you had to yell at people or they would never pay you.”
He's become an advocate for reforms in the debt-collection industry over the years, giving talks at the White House and before Congress and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
“I have found that 90 percent of people want to repay what they owe; they want to settle up,” Bartmann said.
Oklahomans who have been affected by tornadoes in the state can a hotline CFS2 has established at (877) 772-0951 to arrange for a customized forbearance program to ensure that negative information is not reported against them while they recover from the storms.