Smart SpendingSmart Spending

Report: A third of US adults have debt 'in collections'

The new study is based on the review of credit files from TransUnion. Does the large number surprise you?

By MSN Money Partner Jul 30, 2014 1:39PM

This post comes from Krystal Steinmetz at partner site Money Talks News.

Money Talks News on MSN MoneyDo you have delinquent debt? Apparently, you're part of a very large group.

Worried Man © CorbisA new study (.pdf file) by the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank, and Encore Capital Group's Consumer Credit Research Institute found that last year more than 35 percent of U.S. adults with credit files -- or 77 million Americans -- had bills that were unpaid for so long that they were considered "in collections."

What does that mean? CNN Money explains:

Once it is categorized as in collections, … it can follow one of three courses, according to the Urban Institute report. The creditor can charge it off and sell it to a debt buyer, put the account into default, or seek to collect what's owed through an in-house department or a third-party debt collector.

The Urban Institute used 2013 data from credit bureau TransUnion to measure Americans' past-due, non-mortgage debt. In the 7,000 credit files studied, that debt ranged from as little as $25 to a jaw-dropping $125,000. The average non-mortgage debt in collections was $5,178. The median was $1,350.

The debt in collections included credit card bills, medical bills, child support payments and car loans, as well as unpaid parking tickets, past-due gym membership fees and unpaid cellphone contracts. How old unpaid debt has to be to go into collections varies; for credit cards, it's more than six months, CNN Money says.

According to The Associated Press:

The study points to a disturbing trend: The share of Americans in collections has remained relatively constant, even as the country as a whole has whittled down the size of its credit card debt since the official end of the Great Recession in the middle of 2009.

Although the number of Americans with debt in collections sounds unbelievably high, that number hasn't changed much in the past 10 years, says The Wall Street Journal. It further explains:

A combination of issues is at work. For one, debt in collections stays on consumers' credit reports for at least three years. So a debt that was in default in 2007 is just coming off credit reports this year. Delinquencies built up during the dog days of the recession will only start to disappear in the next few years. Meanwhile, some people might not even know they have unpaid balances.
"Consumers themselves may not realize they have debt in collections. Some consumers report becoming aware of this debt only when they review their credit report," according to the Urban Institute report.

From a geographic standpoint, delinquent debt is spread across the country, although Nevada had the highest percentage (47 percent). North Dakota had the lowest, with just 19 percent.

Delinquent debt can have long-lasting implications. According to CNN Money:

"(It) can harm credit scores, which can tip employers' hiring decisions, restrict access to mortgages, and even increase insurance costs," said Caroline Ratcliffe, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute.
Indeed, the case can stay on your credit report for up to seven years even if you've paid off the debt. And it will lower your credit score for years.

The Urban Institute also said that about 1 in 20 Americans are past due on an account by 30 to 180 days, though it's not in collections yet.

Are you surprised that 77 million Americans have unpaid debt in collections?

More from Money Talks News

Jul 30, 2014 4:30PM
And how much of that number includes/is based on false and/or incorrect information and/or fraud/identity theft?
Jul 30, 2014 7:37PM

Now...interesting would be how many of these are senators and congressmen/women...or how their percentages stack up. If at all.

I know some owe perhaps have these problems as well.


Jul 30, 2014 7:35PM

And what is the criteria? What if you have an outstanding debt of $1...that you disputed...


Jul 31, 2014 11:58AM

Caught this report on CNN,this report being a little more politically correct only skirts the fact that majority of

delinquent debtors is in the south.It must be the result of all the prosperity brought to them by republican

governance.Can hardly wait for them to do to the entire nation what they have done for the south.

Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.


Smart Spending brings you the best money-saving tips from MSN Money and the rest of the Web. Join the conversation on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.