Debtor Nation: 35 Percent of Americans Owe Bills to Collection Agencies

Alert Net – by  Lynn Stuart Parramore

new study by the Urban Institute says that over 35 percent of Americans have debts and unpaid bills that have been reported to collection agencies. This means the bill is so overdue (generally at least 180 days) that the account has been closed and placed in collections.

That comes to 77 million souls who face the sleepless nights and anxiety that comes from an inability to meet debt obligations. These citizens owe an average of $5,178 each (median $1,349).

It’s happening to us in all walks of life.  

For some, it’s an unpaid credit card bill. For others, it’s a medical bill they couldn’t pay on time. Students are behind on their debt payments. Homeowners can’t pay their mortgages. From past-due gym membership fees to delinquent utility bills to unpaid parking tickets, Americans owe more than they can pay, and face damaged credit scores and job prospects once collection agencies get their hooks into them. This creates a vicious cycle in which people become less able to pay debts, which then continues to mount.

Urban Institute senior fellow Caroline Ratcliffe put it this way: “Roughly, every third person you pass on the street is going to have debt in collections. It can tip employers’ hiring decisions, or whether or not you get that apartment.”

Certain parts of the country are debt hotspots: Nearly half of the people living in Las Vegas, where the housing crisis hit hard, have debt in collections. Big chunks of the South are battlling debt, notably the cities of Orlando, Jacksonville, Memphis, Columbia, South Carolina, and Jackson, Mississippi. On the other hand, Salt Lake City, San Jose, and Seattle have the least amount of debt.

Many people dealing with debt collectors report bullying and harassment. But financial distress is a worry not just for the individual, but for famlies and communities, too. With increasing numbers of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, any emergency, big or small, can push them into financial hell. Psychologists and sociologists are beginning to explore the debt-stress connection and how it destroys social bonds.

In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, the heroine pleads for debt relief by appealing to Christian mercy. In contemporary America, no such mercy exists. Debtor’s prisons appear to be on on their way back.

Lynn Parramore is an AlterNet senior editor. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of “Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture.” She received her Ph.D. in English and cultural theory from NYU. She is the director of AlterNet’s New Economic Dialogue Project. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.

5 thoughts on “Debtor Nation: 35 Percent of Americans Owe Bills to Collection Agencies

  1. These heartless bast@rds will probably even try to collect from the ones living in the storm drains.

  2. “It can tip employers’ hiring decisions”

    I’m so sick of this blackmail shit. It’s Communist/Fascist bullshit and it’s unconstitutional!

    How you do your job has NO effect with how you pay your bills and if you had a good job, then you would have NO problem PAYING those bills.

    But of course the businesses never think about that now, do they? All they care about is finding an excuse to weed people out and save an extra penny for their profit holders while you slave over them.

  3. “Psychologists and sociologists are beginning to explore the debt-stress connection and how it destroys social bonds.”

    They need to explore all of that? I wish I had their job, as it’s not rocket science.

  4. Did you notice? All the non debt cities like Seattle and Salt Lake City are white towns? The cities most in debt are loaded up with your nig nog black pavement apes? Not only are these dregs of society non working welfare pukes but they are so violent that you can’t even walk down a city street at night without the thought of being robbed or shot when you see one of these crips approaching you on the sidewalk. They are so stupid that they thought O’bama was going to pay for their mortgages and get (git) free gas for their car. About all they got was an O’bama phone (an outdated defective old phone that white people throw away when they upgrade). I guess we all go into debt at one time or another, bankers set up such traps and landmines it’s nearly impossible not to get into debt. But most smart people figure out the game eventually and throw their credit cards away and buy a good second hand car with cash. Just wait until these South Americans infiltrate our country (which is happening now). You want to see debt? Those people will break all the records.

  5. As others have said, the problem is jobs, no money to pay bills. This situation is now so acute that it can only end in chaos and violence.

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