Authored by Federal Trade Commission
In a 2009 study of the debt collection industry, the Commission concluded that the “most significant change in the debt collection business in recent years has been the advent and growth of debt buying.”
“Debt buying” refers to the sale of debt by creditors or other debt owners to buyers that then attempt to collect the debt or sell it to other buyers. Debt buying can reduce the losses that creditors incur in providing credit, thereby allowing creditors to provide more credit at lower prices. Debt buying, however, also may raise significant consumer protection concerns.
The FTC receives more consumer complaints about debt collectors, including debt buyers, than about any other single industry. Many of these complaints appear to have their origins in the quantity and quality of information that collectors have about debts. In its 2009 study, the Commission expressed concern that debt collectors, including debt buyers, may have insufficient or inaccurate information when they collect on debts, which may result in collectors seeking to recover from the wrong consumer or recover the wrong amount.
The FTC initiated this debt buyer study in late 2009 for two main purposes. First, the FTC sought to obtain a better understanding of the debt buying market and the process of buying and selling debt. Second, the Commission wanted to explore the nature and extent of the relationship, if any, between the practice of debt buying and the types of information problems that the FTC has found can occur when debt collectors seek to recover and verify debts.
Many stakeholders recognize the concerns that have been raised about debt buying, including consumer groups, members of Congress, federal and state regulatory and enforcement agencies, and the debt buyer industry itself. Indeed, the debt buyer industry has launched a self-regulatory effort to address some of these concerns, and the FTC is encouraged by that effort. This study of debt buyers is the first large-scale empirical assessment of the debt buying sector of the collection industry. The FTC hopes that its findings contribute to a greater understanding of debt buying, enhance ongoing reform efforts, and prompt further study of the industry.
To conduct its study, the Commission obtained information about debts and debt buying practices from nine of the largest debt buyers that collectively bought 76.1% of the debt sold in 2008, with six of these debt buyers providing the information the Commission used in most of its analysis. The FTC also considered its prior enforcement and policy work related to debt collection, as well as available research concerning debt buying. The study focused on large debt buyers because they account for most of the debt purchased; it did not address the practices of smaller debt buyers that are a frequent source of consumer protection concerns, a limitation that must be considered in evaluating the study’s findings.
The Commission acquired and analyzed an unprecedented amount of data from the studied debt buyers, which submitted data on more than 5,000 portfolios, containing nearly 90 million consumer accounts, purchased during the three-year study period. These accounts had a face value of $143 billion, and the debt buyers spent nearly $6.5 billion to acquire them. Most portfolios for which debt buyers submitted data were credit card debt, with such debt accounting for 62% of all portfolios and 71% of the total amount that the buyers spent to acquire debts. In addition to these data, the debt buyers provided copies of many purchase and sale agreements between themselves and sellers of debts. The debt buyers also submitted narrative responses to questions concerning their companies and their practices, as well as the debt buying industry.
Jan 13 2015
1507524560 / 9781507524565
US Trade Paper
8.5″ x 11″
Black and White
Business & Economics / General