Over the last 15 years, the way consumer debt is pursued has undergone an aggressive transformation. Debt collectors are chasing far more consumers than 10 years ago – currently more than 30 million. Debt has a longer life after it goes bad. And it’s now routine for collectors to sue consumers to collect. Once they win a judgment, they’re free to seize debtors’ wages or bank account, even if doing so is financially crippling.
For consumers, the experience can be bewildering. Little-known companies buy and sell debts by the thousands, leaving consumers confused about what company really owns their obligation. The legal process has its own traps. Consumers may never receive notice of a lawsuit or be confused about the consequences of not responding to a suit if they do get notice. Some may not discover they’ve been sued until after their wages are garnished.
ProPublica is investigating how consumers are affected by this new system of debt collection, particularly the frequent use of the courts and garnishment.
If you have been sued over a debt, you can help our reporting by filling out the form below. We promise not to publish any personally identifying information without your permission. It asks quite a few questions, but please don't be intimidated. Just do your best. Also, if you’ve had a debt collection experience that doesn’t really fit with our questions but you want to tell us about it, please contact Paul Kiel at email@example.com.
Last week, two lawmakers introduced a bill to put new limits on what debt collectors can take from debtors’ paychecks and bank accounts. It is the first legislation to address the issue in decades and follows a series of ProPublica stories about the widespread practice of garnishment.
by Paul Kiel, ProPublica, and Chris Arnold, NPR, June 1, 9:52 a.m.
A story by ProPublica and NPR and a Senate investigation prompt a Missouri nonprofit hospital to change its policies and forgive thousands of patients’ debts. But without similar scrutiny, it’s unclear if other hospitals that sue the poor will change.