A debt collector’s view on the recession

Julie Moore owns a Twin Cities collection agency. It’s a vantage point on the recession no one really wants to see.

She’s heard just about every kind of economic struggle, every painful circumstance and angry excuse, the “tragic and heartfelt stories of shear panic and frustration on the other end of the phone.”

Moore, a former debt counselor and source in MPR’s Public Insight Network, opened a window for us on what it’s like on her end of that call.

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“We’re talking to humanity, not criminals,” she told us, “and our hearts hurt for these conditions….we called a mother collecting on her son’s medical bills, to learn that she’ll have to call us back after his funeral today and see what she can do. He was to be buried on his birthday where he would have been seven.”

This market is severely distressed. Our collectors hear everything from lost jobs, under employed, no insurance to cover the health care bill, mounting debt load and the debt we’re wanting them to pay is on the bottom of the pile.

From our commercial department where we collect from physicians, we’re told of delayed Medicare / Medicaid payment, adjusted down rates and flat out bad debt issues that affect their ability to pay.

(There is) the restaurant who can no longer buy from their supplier and is forced to shop at the grocery store by paying cash, and can no longer see a recovery in sight to stay open.

If there’s any money going around it’s not hitting the pockets of the debtors of whom we are trying to extract cash from.

While there’s been plenty of work for collection agencies in this lousy economy, Moore says it’s no bonanza and that profitability has slipped.

Yes, her consumer collections business has jumped the past 18 months. But the percentage they recover on each debt has dropped significantly “as the job loss, skipped debtor and bankrupt debtor scenarios have increased.”

Moore says she’s seen the past abuses of people abusing credit and “living large” and didn’t have a whole lot of sympathy. But her view’s changed dramatically in the recession.

She offers some advice:

“If you happen to be on the other end of the collector’s call, be honest, share your situation. Most companies will work with you and even offer suggestions and ideas to keep both creditor and debtor content during the repayment period.

“Don’t be ashamed if your financial condition is bleak…”

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Debt collector is not the world’s most beloved profession. They generate more complaints to the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general than any other business.

The Federal Trade Commission has a good consumer guide on debt collections. The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office has a similar guide.

Good or bad, if you’ve had an experience trying to collect a debt or being collected on, post below or contact us directly. and share your story.

  • Linda

    We purchased a foreclosed home a two years ago. We are getting 3-6 phone calls a day from debt collectors for the previous owners of the home. We’ve repeatedly told them we are NOT the former owners and have no affiliation with them. We’ve sent registered letters (the law says they must stop contacting us if we send the letter). We can’t block their number, because they call from UNAVAILABLE numbers or a different number every time. We can’t afford a lawyer to make them stop (which is often the suggestion we are given for this situation).

    That’s nice Ms. Moore feels for the debtors, but how about having a little common sense and respect and stop bothering people who have nothing to do with the debt or debtors.

  • Paul Tosto

    Linda, thanks. I hadn’t thought about the folks who wrongly get contacted by debt collectors. How do you convince them you’re really not the one they”re seeking?

    Paul / MinnEcon