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The Almighty Buck United States

35% of American Adults Have Debt 'In Collections' 570

New submitter meeotch writes: According to a new study by the Urban Institute, 35% of U.S. adults with a credit history (91% of the adult population of the U.S.) have debt "in collections" — a status generally not acquired until payments are at least 180 days past due. Debt problems seem to be worse in the South, with states hovering in the 40%+ range, while the Northeast has it better, at less than 30%. The study's authors claim their findings actually underrepresent low-income consumers, because "adults without a credit file are more likely to be financially disadvantaged."

Oddly, only 5% of adults have debt 30-180 days past due. This latter fact is partially accounted for by the fact that a broader range of debt can enter "in collections" status than "past due" status (e.g. parking tickets)... But also perhaps demonstrates that as one falls far enough along the debt spiral, escape becomes impossible. Particularly in the case of high-interest debt such as credit cards — the issuers of which cluster in states such as South Dakota, following a 1978 Supreme Court ruling that found that states' usury laws did not apply to banks headquartered in other states.

Even taking into account the folks who lost a parking ticket under their passenger seat, 35% is a pretty shocking number. Anyone have other theories why this number is so much higher than the 5% of people who are just "late"? How about some napkin math on the debt spiral?
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35% of American Adults Have Debt 'In Collections'

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  • by mythosaz ( 572040 ) on Tuesday July 29, 2014 @07:19PM (#47561727)

    This was discussed on Fatwallet today, and most of the sensationalism was debunked quickly. []

    A few juicy tidbits:

    More details: "An alarming 35 percent of people with credit files have debt in collections reported in these file s . This percentage is nearly identical to results from a 2004 analysis of credit bureau data by the Federal Reserve, which found that 36.5 percent of people with credit report s had debt in collections reported in their file s (Avery et al. 2004). Note that consumers themselves may not realize they have debt in collections. Some consumers report becoming aware of this debt only when they review their credit report (CFPB 2013)"


    The actual source: []

    Only 5.3% are currently past due on a bill. "5.3 percent of people with a credit file have a report of past due debt, indicating they are between 30 and 180 days late on a nonmortgage payment"

    So most of the people have old debts which could be up to 7 years old.

    So there you go. A lot of us have an outstanding medical bill on our credit reports, and we should check them more often.

  • Re:Not surprised. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by anagama ( 611277 ) <> on Tuesday July 29, 2014 @07:37PM (#47561845) Homepage

    I have a "debt" in collections right now. Comcast claims I owe $95 to them. Last winter I moved to a place where I could not only get other service, Comcast doesn't even serve (thankfully). So I told Comcast I'd be terminating my service effective Jan 15. Comcast had my credit card to auto-bill for it's "service".

    Then in March I started getting collection calls from companies Comcast hired to get this from me. Nobody will prove to me that I actually owe this money. And what's odd is the amount: $95 when my monthly bill for internet-only service was about $60 or $70. I just got another call yesterday on it.

    I could easily pay it and never even feel the hit. But fuck that! Comcast sucks beyond the ability of science to measure and I'm so sick of being taken by them, they're going to have to take me into small claims court and get a court order for this sum.

    And yeah, I get that this will harm my sterling credit rating, but what a great means of extortion. Bill people small amounts under the threat of losing their good credit rating and even when people don't actually owe the money, they'll pay up to save their rating.

  • by Austerity Empowers ( 669817 ) on Tuesday July 29, 2014 @07:40PM (#47561881)

    The medical thing is important, more than once I've been told my debt is being sent to collections because the hospital and insurance were bickering over who pays what. My wife and I have adopted a policy of not paying until at least 6 months later, or after those two sort it out, since you can never get your money BACK once sent, but until they settle it out there's no way to know what is owed. There has also been a case where something was on my bill to the hospital that was not a rendered service, and having disputed it endlessly, the hospital would still not relent that my 6 yo son had required a breast pump for his treatment.

    I've also heard of, particularly gym memberships, being sent to collections because the company had constructed a labyrinth of obstacles to cancelling membership (e.g. Gold's Gym). So people would simply stop paying, and ultimately be sent to collections for non-payment of a service they didn't use. I suspect this form of collections will be on the rise, as the growing trend of writing mandatory recurring payments into contracts increases. I fully support anyone who cancels such things de facto (as long as they actually stop using the service), it's a horrible practice.

  • by mythosaz ( 572040 ) on Tuesday July 29, 2014 @07:50PM (#47561947)

    I actually suspect that's a lot of people's 35%.

    We've been fighting a small medical bill because the hospital couldn't bill insurance correctly. Bill trickle in after major events (doctors and other specialists bill separately, badly, incorrectly coded) and rarely are they all seamless. Even perfectly covered items might leave a hospital (or doctor, or...whatever) chasing you around the world for a co-pay. ...and knowing they'll rarely see it, they sell them for pennies on a dollar to debt collectors who'll ding your credit.

    If my wife wasn't a benefits specialist in a previous life, we'd drown in the things - all so badly handled by incompetent billers and insurers.

  • by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Tuesday July 29, 2014 @08:14PM (#47562121) Journal
    Father here.

    Just accompanied my son to a credit union to begin to build his credit with a secured card... he wants a newer vehicle, has saved well, and was able to transfer the necessary security from his account with the financial institution for his pending secured credit line.

    His loan officer told him his credit score would reflect more positively if he used only about 60% of his available credit line each month, and left 15 or 20 dollars per month in carryover balance, instead of paying off the entire balance each month.

    Truth or bullshit?

  • by Loki_1929 ( 550940 ) on Tuesday July 29, 2014 @08:24PM (#47562201) Journal

    The whole point of a "credit score" is horribly broken.

    The idea isn't bad. The implementation is okay, though it can be gamed to some degree. The biggest issue most people actually have with it comes down to a serious lack of financial education. It isn't the easiest or most intuitive system; it's the one that's worked well for a long time thanks to a lot of trial and error.

    In order to get approved for debt, you must have debt.

    Now that's just untrue. If it were true, you'd have a chicken and egg problem with debt. The reality is that certain types of credit/debt (e.g. student loans) don't care whether you have other credit/debts or not. Some types of credit/debt (e.g. credit cards) are rate-sensitive to whether you've demonstrated - through your behavior with previous credit/debts - the likelihood that you'll stick to the terms of the new credit vehicle. Some types of credit/debt (e.g. a mortgage) are much more difficult to get at all without a demonstrated ability to manage credit/debt responsibly. That's due to the fact that different types of credit have different risk profiles. A credit card company can set a ceiling on how much the issuer can lose if you're a high or unknown risk. When it comes to a mortgage, you're talking about tying yourself to the borrower for a very long time with an asset that could tank in value anywhere during that time. Since student loans survive everything up to and including the end of the world, they're easy to get.

    If you have money in the bank and no monthly debt payments you have a reduced score.

    The first part is another myth. The amount of money you have in the bank means absolutely zero to a FICO score. It means something to a mortgage company, but that's it. FICO scores are completely unaffected by money in the bank. The second is somewhat true, depending on circumstances. Cracking 800 is going to be very tough without some sort of installment loan (vehicle or mortgage). That said, you can hit top-tier rate scores (740+, even 760+) without either of those. You can have credit cards you pay off every single month and hit the scores you need to secure the best available rates. No debt required. It's just tougher.

    It's a SCAM! A scheme to make sure that you are constantly in debt, and yet it's perfectly legal.

    Wait, what? People with the highest FICO scores typically have little to no debt, aside from perhaps a mortgage, maybe a car loan. It's rare that they'll have any serious credit card debt or other revolving accounts with any substantial balances. In fact, having substantial balances on your revolving credit accounts hurts your score. The point isn't to keep anyone in debt, it's to provide a score that tells potential lenders how likely it is that an individual they've never met before will stick to the terms of their agreement if they're granted credit.

    I don't have a lot of debt so have a laughably low credit score.

    If your credit score is "laughably low", it isn't because you don't have enough debt. In reality, what drives your score is 5 simple things. The largest component is payment history. Don't pay back debts? Bad history, bad score. A perfect score here is no delinquencies or bankruptcies. Any accounts listed should be "paid as agreed" or something to that effect. If you have no debts, pay your utilities and medical bills (things that report delinquencies to the credit reporting companies), and pay that car loan on time, you should have a perfect score here. The second is the balance of all your revolving accounts. No balances on credit cards? Low balances relative to total available credit? Perfect or near perfect score. That's 65% of the total score right there. More info here: [] (bank balance isn't listed because it doesn't apply).

  • by jxander ( 2605655 ) on Tuesday July 29, 2014 @08:35PM (#47562281)

    Same thing happened to me with my ISP, Cox. The bank has no record of any canceled, refused, returned, failed, or otherwise erroneous attempted payments. As best I can tell, Cox just decided to stop my automatic monthly payments for no adequate reason.

    Luckily (luckily?) they just cut off my service before it went to collections. I called them up and payed the bill, but now face a different problem. They've blocked auto-payments by credit card, to include the automated phone system. I have to either mail out a physical check, or call them up every month, wait on hold for an hour or so, and fight with the phone rep to not charge the $10 service fee for speaking with a phone rep. Once they've canceled the bonus charge, I can just say, "Pay with the card on file" and that's fine. Till next month, when we do the dance all over again

    Gotta love a monopoly.

  • by AthanasiusKircher ( 1333179 ) on Tuesday July 29, 2014 @11:24PM (#47563171)

    I once went to a US hospital, I asked how much would it cost, they wouldn't tell me. I asked will it in the range of $100, or $1000, or $10,000 still wouldn't tell me.

    How is any sane person meant to go into a contract without actually knowing even an approximate price.

    THIS. With all the complaints about health care costs and clarity about insurance plans, the most fair and straightforward thing they could do is force doctors to give an estimate, like you'd get from any mechanic or painter or tradesman. Obviously this wouldn't quite be possible for complex procedures where quick decisions to do additional things are needed. But a general estimate or range, or maybe a list of "potentially necessary add-ons during complications" would make things so much clearer.

    But that kind of reform would never pass, and not just because of the complexity -- doing this would reveal the true cost of care, it would show the gross disparities among charges at different hospitals, and it would make clear that all the "discounts" granted large insurers is just some weird kind of game where hospitals nominally charge often twice or three times as much as they actually expect to get paid, and the amounts are "adjusted" down by the insurance companies.

    Healthcare costs are spiralling out of control in the US partly because we have a system where the true cost is hardly ever seen or paid by anyone, making it impossible for consumers to make choices or comparison shop in ways that could actually improve care and make the whole system more efficient.

  • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @12:38AM (#47563467)

    its cute that you people can take a large and complex problem with many angles and reasons and boil it down to a simple catch phrase you heard on talk radio

    This is especially silly considering that actual socialist countries don't have consumer credit at all. Do you think Cuba has people in collections? I lived in the People's Republic of China for several years (which is nominally socialist) and everything was based on cash. I paid cash for my cell phone (I was not even asked for my name or ID) and paid cash for the minutes. I would buy token cards for my electric meter, and feed them in to pre-pay for home electricity. The electricity company neither asked, nor cared, who was living in the apartment, and certainly had no need to do a "credit check". I had electricity five minutes after I moved in.

    In America, I have been in collections several times. Usually when they send the bills to the wrong address, or I move and forget to shut off the trash service, but the bills still go to the old address. It was always for something that I would have preferred to pre-pay, if that option had been available.

  • by PhoenixFlare ( 319467 ) on Wednesday July 30, 2014 @07:36AM (#47564569) Journal

    Seriously, I moved to the US last year... and I'm shocked that I can't pay my bills electronically and automatically... WTF?
    I have never used a check before coming to the US, no wonder people end up in collections because of wrong addresses, etc.

    Please tell me you're trolling and not really this ignorant.

    I've lived in the US my whole life, currently reside in a town of about 20,000 people, and I haven't paid using a check for anything besides my rent for about 15 years now. My cable, electric, water, trash, phone, Netflix, credit cards, etc. can all be paid electronically, and set up to automatically pay what's due (or any amount of my choosing) every month, on-time, via their websites. Although I prefer to keep a few things on manual for better control, all the bills can still be seen online with all the pertinent information & due dates.

    They other day I just found out that I hadn't payed my electricity bill for 3 months, because apparent that's not what an ebill does...

    So you signed up for e-billing, which if it's like my local utility, sends you an email every month with an electronic copy of the bill basically saying "Hey, you have $xxx due, log in and pay it by this date". And then...what? Just ignored it or figured you were getting free power?

"If the code and the comments disagree, then both are probably wrong." -- Norm Schryer