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Jerry Ashton Headshot

Demand That Collection Agencies Keep "The 5 New Year's Resolutions for the Conscious Bill Collector"

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If there is one thing that most Americans might agree upon is that the debt collection industry and the work it performs ranks in status somewhere below that of a Wall Street Banker and slightly above that of a U.S. Congressman.

To a person, this industry laments this bad press and lack of appreciation. However, they don't do much as individuals or agencies to change this viewpoint. Perhaps, just perhaps, they need motivation.

As a 30-plus-year veteran of this industry, I invite my readers to campaign with me on this platform: that bill collectors must make -- and keep -- "5 New Year's Resolutions for the Conscious Collector."

Whoooa, the "conscious" collector I can hear my own associates in that industry say? And coupling this up with making resolutions -- those annual proclamations that people don't keep? Am I setting up a false dichotomy? Perhaps, even insulting?

Considering the track record, maybe, maybe not.

Third-party agencies and debt buyers are coming off a banner year for collections made it possible by the hard work of the guy and gal on the front lines, the ones directly interfacing with the consumer or debtor. But, how could the worker bees be to blame for the hive's reputation? After all, they're just doing their job...

To paraphrase Shakespeare..... "The fault... is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings."

2011 has been a Record Year for Collection Lawsuits. Lawsuits citing FDCPA violations reached 11,359 from 1/1/11 through 12/15/11 -- exceeding last year's 10,914. Here are a few examples of how you have earned your place on the popularity scale.

*The President of an Erie, PA collection agency is accused of using a fake courtroom to intimidate debtors... (debtors were 'summoned' to a fake meeting room and 'counseled' to pay their debts or face consequences) and invokes the Fifth Amendment in a more authentic courtroom.

*A San Diego based debt buyer and its subsidiaries employ collection approaches which investigators claim had "very little information about the debt... provided no supporting documentation... and included no proof that they actually acquired the debt from the original creditor... and also sometimes targeted the wrong individuals for collection and attempted to collect debts that had been fully or partially paid." Wisely, the company had "set aside an additional $500,000 in anticipation of a settlement."

*A federal court ordered an individual behind a payday lending scheme and two companies he controls to pay $294,536 for illegally trying to garnish borrowers' wages... along with other illegal collection practices.

*There are 30 states that will allow imprisonment for unpaid debt -- even though this has been illegal in the U.S. since 1833 -- and underhanded agencies are taking advantage of loopholes to see the debtor land in the slammer. Even in the case of incomplete or false documentation...

And, a news piece hot off the Newsweek Press on January 1, 2012, "America's Abusive Debt Collectors" by journalist Gary Rivlin, best-selling author of Broke, USA. To read it is to weep.

So, that's the "reality" of debt collection as others see it. Where, exactly, can consciousness or "resolution" come in for a bill collector? It is one thing to be conscious of our circumstances, but an entirely a different thing to have the resolve (resolution?) to change things. And, why bother?

You want positive change as a debtor, collector, creditor? Then, make it possible for the collector to put into effect the resolutions that can turn things around.

Resolution #1 -- I will not work for an agency or debt buyer which employs or encourages duplicity in its collection efforts, i.e., phony courtrooms.

Resolution #2 -- I will only work accounts which have supporting documentation as to proof of debt. If my agency, or its client, cannot provide that proof -- that account is returned with a "write it off" recommendation.

Resolution #3 -- I will refuse to attempt collections on OOS (out of statute) accounts.

Resolution #4 -- I will refuse to collect on personal loans (the infamous "payday" loan as example) which include "bumps" or fees and collection charges in tandem with egregious interest rates. Basically, I will exercise the Golden Rule.

The result of this would be a Conscious Collector who is aware of the applicable laws, knows the originator (and legitimacy) of a debt, and acts ethically and professionally.

Oh yes, and Resolution #5? That one belongs to the employers -- the creditor, the agency and/or the debt buyer -- the ones who set the bar: "I will hire only collectors who have made -- and live by -- the above four resolutions."

Hard working, ethical and conscientious bill collectors. Now, that should grab the headlines in 2012.