When applying for a mortgage, everyone knows that your credit report rating is of great importance. If you can lower the interest rate the lender charges you, you can save thousands of dollars each year on hundreds of thousands of dollars borrowed for your home purchase. In addition, as most of us know, the credit report will show your payment history on cars (and other installment loans), and it will also show your credit history on credit cards (and other revolving accounts).
Many do not know that the credit report also picks up the docket from local courts, and reports any judgments that have been filed against you. In addition, one more matter is reported by the Bureau, which is of great significance to those who have borrowed money: their accounts which are in collection.
“In collection” simply means a collection agent is attempting to collect on the alleged debt. This does not mean the debt is owed, or that a judgment has been entered by a court allowing for garnishment of wages. It simply means that the collector is trying to collect money on a debt he says is owed.
You may be “in collections” and not even know it. Nevertheless the rest of the world knows, and the obvious inference is that you’re unwilling or unable to pay your debts. This little known secret of the credit reporting agencies can have great significance when you’re attempting to secure an apartment or job, get a loan, or even get utilities turned on.
Surprisingly, statistics show that 35% of Americans currently have unpaid bills reported to collection agencies, according to an Urban Institute study conducted in the last few months. And it’s not just hospital bills, auto loans, and student loans. Even past due gym membership fees or unpaid cell phone contracts can end up with a collection agency.
And the collectors are always ready. The Federal Reserve Philadelphia bank branch estimate that in 2013 the collections industry employed 140,000 workers, to recover $50 billion of debt that year. Oddly enough, delinquent debt is overwhelmingly concentrated in southern and western states. Texas cities have a large share of their populations reported to collection agencies: Dallas (43%), El Paso (44%), Houston (44%), McAllen (52%), and San Antonio (45%). And the blight is not limited just to Texas. Almost half of Las Vegas residents have debt in collections, and other southern cities a large number of their people facing debt collectors: Orlando, Jacksonville, and Memphis, among others. But some cities fare better, with some demographic populations have low collection rates, just around 20% for Minneapolis, Boston, Honolulu and San Jose (California).
How do these differences come about? Some say this can be blamed on income disparities, and a stagnant economy. US Labor Department statistics show wages have barely kept up with inflation during the five-year recovery starting in 2009, and after-tax income fell for the bottom 20% of earners during that same period.
So what is the morale of the story? The wise consumer will make sure his debts stay out of collection. This practice will reap rich rewards when it comes time to buy a home or car, secure a job or apartment, or secure the lowest loan rates.