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CFPB Releases Findings from Its Debt Collection Survey

February 02, 2017

The CFPB recently released its findings from its Survey of Consumer Views on Debt. The report is of limited value as it contains a relatively small sampling of consumers. 10,876 consumers were selected based on de-identified consumer records provided by one of the three major consumer reporting agencies.  Of those, only 20% participated, yielding a sampling of 2,132 consumers.  Moreover, to “ensure that the survey included a sufficient number of responses from consumers who had experienced debt collection, credit records with a recent 60-day delinquency on a loan, a reported collection, or both as of September 2014 were sampled at a higher rate than other records.” Consumer Experiences with Debt Collection, p. 8. Be that as it may, the findings provide some insight as to how the CFPB is approaching debt collection as it continues to fashion its debt collection rules.  Here are our key takeaways:

  • Past due medical bills, credit cards and student loans were among the most frequently cited debts consumers identified as being referred to collection.  This, coupled, with other comments recently by the CFPB have identified the collection of medical debt as a source of concern for the Bureau.  The medical community, as well as debt collectors, focused on medical collections, should pay close attention to this issue moving forward.
  • Over half of the survey sample stated that they were contacted concerning debts that were not theirs, owed by a family member or for a wrong amount.  The CFPB has previously identified this concern in its Supervisory Highlights and Monthly Complaint Reports as a chief complaint from consumers.  While this is nothing new, the survey finding is being used to help shape the CFPB’s debt collection proposals concerning new substantiation requirements for debt collectors.
  • Of those surveyed that reported having been sued by a creditor or debt collector in the past year, only a small portion of those appeared at the court proceeding.  The implication is, of course, a significantly high number of default judgments and this is likely to present a concern to the CFPB – one to which there is no good solution.
  • The survey includes some interesting demographic information concerning those who disputed a debt in collection.  The CFPB noted that consumers with annual household incomes of $70,000 or greater were nearly twice as likely to say they disputed a debt as consumers with incomes below $20,000. As acknowledged by the Bureau, “[t]his suggests that, for example the greater fraction of prime consumers contacted about a debt in collection who had disputed a debt compared with non-prime consumers is not driven entirely by differences in the likelihood of having experienced collection efforts the consumers felt were in error.” Id. at p. 26.
  • The survey also included a series of inquiries regarding communications with debt collectors and reflects the difficulty of balancing privacy needs with the need for effective communication.  As those who have reviewed the CFPB’s proposed Third Party Debt Collection Proposal may recall, the proposal attempts to deal with this difficult issue by providing some certainty as to the number and timing of calls, as well as acceptable messaging content. The CFPB survey reflects that “[c]onsumers feel it is important that others not overhear a message about their debt from a creditor or debt collector.  At the same time, most consumers also want the creditor or debt collector to include, for example, their name and the purpose of the call (debt collection) on a voice mail or answering machine.”  at p. 6.  In fact, nearly 90% of the survey pool indicated that they would prefer the message include the name of the debt collector and about 2/3 of the survey pool indicated they wanted the debt collector to state in the message that they were attempting to collect a debt.  Id. at 38.
  • The survey sample also tended to take a dimmer view generally of debt collectors than of creditors.

The Findings, as well as the Survey are available on the CFPB website.

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