For the ability to elicit a pure jaw-dropping reaction to a news story, the award today goes — again — to the New York Times for its story on a debt collector to the dead.

Even better for those of us in the constant search for the elusive local angle, it involves a debt collection firm in Minneapolis (Golden Valley) — DCM Services, which — the story says — specializes in calling the distraught relatives of the recently departed.

Dead people are the newest frontier in debt collecting, and one of the healthiest parts of the industry. Those who dun the living say that people are so scared and so broke it is difficult to get them to cough up even token payments.

Collecting from the dead, however, is expanding. Improved database technology is making it easier to discover when estates are opened in the country’s 3,000 probate courts, giving collectors an opportunity to file timely claims. But if there is no formal estate and thus nothing to file against, the human touch comes into play.

For those who survive, many tools help them deal with stress: yoga classes and foosball tables, a rotating assortment of free snacks as well as full-scale lunches twice a month.

Most new employees don’t make it past 90 days and for those that do, there’s yoga classes and foosball tables, free snacks, and full-scale lunches twice a month. (The company says it was named one of the best collection places to work.)

The company gets no love from the people who commented on the article. Says one:

I have personally spoken with several people from DCM while helping my daughter sort through the mess that her father’s suicide left. No matter how “nice” the person was on the other end of the phone, the industry is preying on the innocent. It speaks volumes of the state of this country when debt collectors masquerade as “grief counselors”.

If you work or have worked for a debt collection agency, I want to talk to you.

  • Bob

    I guess this raises grave-robbing to a whole ‘nother level. Just goes to show that you can run, but even dying won’t hide you from those you owe.

    Aren’t “best place to work for” and “collection company” oxymorons?

    I’m thinking “Dun of the Dead” would be an excellent title for a movie…

  • Talking Points Memo Muckraker actually broke this story first. The difference? TPM Muckraker pointed out that heirs are not obligated to pay the debts of the deceased (assuming the deceased died with more bills than assets). The Times, oddly, omitted that helpful information.

  • Bob Collins

    Actually the Times alluded to that in the third graph, didn’t they?

  • Bob

    The following may provide some clarification on whether heirs are obligated to pay the deceased’s debts:

    A. As a general rule, survivors of a deceased person are not responsible for that person’s debts. There are exceptions to that rule:

    * Co-signer. If someone co-signs a promissory note along with the deceased person, then he/she will be liable even if the co-signature was an accommodation only and did not benefit the co-signer financially.

    * Guarantee. If someone guarantees the payment of the debt then on the death of the primary obligor, if his estate has insufficient assets to pay the debt, the creditor can demand that the guarantor pay the debt.

    * Necessaries. If someone has supplied the deceased person with necessities of life, such as food, clothing, medicine, shelter and so on, that also benefit the survivor, then although the primary responsibility is that of the deceased person’s estate, the supplier may look for payment to the survivor who benefited from the necessaries.

    Also, if the deceased person’s estate distributes estate property to its beneficiaries before all debts of the deceased person have been paid, the creditor can recover all or part of the debt out of the property distributed to the beneficiary. The creditor cannot get at the beneficiary’s other property, only the property received from the estate can be reached by creditors.

  • just me

    I consider it the height of my post-college-paying-off-student-loan era: I managed to get a collections agent to hang up on me.

    People tend to feel obligated to pay off others’ debts. As Bob pointed out (above), they often don’t have to. Anyone who loans money is taking a business risk of it not being paid back – either through default or death.

    This is yet another good reason to have a formal will.

  • Crap. That’s what I get for reading what a blog said about the article instead of reading the article.

    Mea flagrante.

  • bsimon

    If it takes someone with that special absence of empathy and remorse to do this job well, there are likely innumerable former mortgage brokers looking for work.

  • JOE

    I would think that if someone benefitted from the purchases on the credit cards that were ran up, they should pay it. This is why the country is in the shape that its in, people do not think that they have to pay their bills! If my wife were to die tomorrow, and we just bought a new roof six months ago, are you all saying I shouldn’t pay the bill because her name is on the card? Yeah right! I wouldn’t feel right, and either should anyone else!