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Collecting Consumer Debts: Talk to the FTC

posted by Katie Porter

In the nearly  year of Credit Slips' existence, posts on debt collection have provoked consistently strong responses and lots of interest. The Federal Trade Commission is all ears if any Credit Slips readers would like to share their perspectives on issues relating to collecting consumer debts. The deadline is June 6th, and comments may be submitted by mail or electronically. Here are the technical details. The public comments to date offer some scary stories about abusive debt collection practices and seem to be submitted by consumers with real-life experience with debt collection. Read them. The FTC clearly is interested in comments from lawyers on the front lines of debt collection, whether their clients are creditors or debtors. For our professor audience, note that FTC says that it also welcomes "original research, surveys, and academic papers regarding consumer debt collection issues" and these papers are due September 7, 2007.

The topics for comment that interest the FTC illustrate a range of trends in debt collection, and hint at the FTC's interest in redirecting its regulatory focus in certain areas. As I read the topics for comment, I repeatedly was struck by pessism about obtaining reliable information on these questions. The sad reality is that there simply is not a substantial body of serious academic research on debt collection. Most empirical research is about bankruptcy, in part because the court process facilitates data collection. Many of the inquiries would require corporate proprietary or industry association data to answer, such as "provide data illustrating trends in the number or percentage of accounts in collection with each of the following: (1) credit issuers; (2) collection agencies; (3) collection law firms; (4) debt buyers; and (5) other identifiable industry sub-groups." On the other hand, an optimist could read the topics for comment as a future research agenda, a list of possible news stories, a manisfesto for legislative action, depending on one's livelihood.


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